Why The Phoenix Suns Are Poised To Be This Year’s Version of the Denver Nuggets
September 9th, 2020: the Los Angeles Clippers defeat the Denver Nuggets in game four of the second round of the Western Conference playoffs by a score of 96-85. This gives them a commanding 3-1 series lead, and for all intents and purposes the series is deemed over. Fast forward three games and the Clippers proceed to blow 16, 19 and 12 point leads in games 5, 6 and 7 and the Denver Nuggets shock the basketball world by advancing to the Western Conference Finals. They would go on to lose in five games to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, but nobody expected the Nuggets to even get that far so they vastly overachieved.
Now, let’s talk about the Phoenix Suns and why they will be 2021’s version of the Denver Nuggets. When I was having a discussion with some of my friends prior to this NBA season I made the somewhat bold prediction that the Suns would not only make the playoffs but win their first round series. After watching them play through 20 games this season, I am going to take that a step farther and predict that they will be in the Western Conference Finals.
Going back to last year’s playoffs, they were the hottest team in the Orlando bubble, going undefeated and nearly sneaking into the final playoff spot in the West. Devin Booker was on fire during that stretch, averaging 30 points a night while shooting at over a 50% clip from the floor, including this game winner over Paul George versus the Los Angeles Clippers.
Booker has the potential to be a top five shooting guard in the league within the next few years and is a certified bucket on any given night. Admittedly he has struggled a bit this year as his stats are down across the board. Last season he averaged 26.6 points, 6.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds, while this year his averages sit at 22.8, 4.1 and 3.5. Booker has been bitten a bit by the injury bug this year, missing a total of four games due to a hamstring strain, so I’m giving him a pass. I also have full confidence that he will be putting up huge numbers come playoff time.
The main reason for my belief in this team being sky high though, is their offseason acquisition of the point god, Chris Paul.
He may be a bit long in the tooth at 35 years old but that’s exactly what I feel this team needed – a scrappy veteran leader that can set up the scorers on the team but can also drop 30 points when he’s feeling it. Paul is averaging 16.4 points and 8.2 assists on the year, and while these may not be jaw-dropping statistics, it’s his knowledge and experience that are going to be invaluable to the team in the playoffs when the pace of play grinds to a slow crawl and you’re playing against the same team for a few weeks at a time.
Deandre Ayton, their highly touted centre out of The University of Arizona is the only reason for me to have any pause about my prediction. I think he has the potential to be one of the premier centres in the league and he is a walking double-double, averaging 14.0 points and 12.7 rebounds this season.
But I’d like to see him get more involved in the offense as he only averages 10 shots a game. He also needs to improve on his assist totals as there is no reason a player with his offensive talent and the number of shooters around him that Ayton can’t be averaging at least five assists a night. He has a habit of defering a lot to Devin Booker and Chris Paul in the offense and is sometimes afraid to shoot, even though he has the ability to dominate offensively in the paint night in and night out. In order for the Suns to have a realistic chance in the playoffs I think he will need to up his averages to around 20 points and 5-7 assists.
I really like the Suns complementary pieces such as their trio of 3 and D guys, in Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson. They do a great job spacing the floor, playing solid defense and none of them have egos. Everyone on this team knows their role and plays to their strengths and I feel this team is a well-oiled machine functioning as a cohesive unit.
I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from them so far and if the playoffs started today, they would face the San Antonio Spurs in a 4 vs. 5 matchup, a talented team in their own right but in my opinion no match for the firepower that Phoenix possesses. That would likely pit the Suns against the current one-seed in the West, the Utah Jazz. Another surprising team this year that is playing some excellent basketball, but again, I think the combo of Booker and Ayton matchup well with the likes of Mitchell and Gobert for the Jazz.
I’m aware that the standings will change and the Suns may have to face off with one of the mighty Los Angeles teams but I would take the Suns over the Clippers because the Clippers are known to be playoff chokers and I think the Suns are more of a tight-knit unit. The Lakers are the only team that scares me because I don’t think Phoenix has an answer for LeBron, and Anthony Davis would have a scoring party against Ayton.
I would take the Suns against any other team you lineup in the West including the Nuggets, Blazers, Warriors, Kings, Rockets, you name it! This team is simply bursting with potential and I think it gets realized this year. I am all aboard the hype train and to quote an infamous Smashmouth hit song: “I might as well be walking on the Sun.”
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