The Phoenix Suns head into the 2020-21 season with a veteran-laden roster around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Phoenix had a busy offseason, landing future Hall of Fame guard Chris Paul in a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul upgrades Phoenix in every way and his presence promises to elevate the Suns from cellar dwellers to playoff contenders. The franchise is looking to build off an unbeaten run in the bubble, where they surprised the NBA, winning eight straight games.
Given where Phoenix was just two years ago, General Manager James Jones and Head Coach Monty Williams have done a spectacular job. Jones was named the interim general manager following the firing of Ryan McDonough in 2018 and has since made every post a winner. Jones hired Williams last offseason, leading the team to a much improved 34-39 record and missed the play-in game for the postseason by a tiebreaker.
The pair have worked, inspired, and ingrained a culture that has been absent for some time. Phoenix will be looking to see where they are this season and how they fare against the league’s elite. Let’s take a look at goals for the Suns this upcoming season.
Phoenix Suns to Shoot for the Stars, Big 2020-21 Season Ahead
Phoenix Suns Must Learn from 2019-20 Lesson
While the undefeated run at Disney was a wonderful story, Phoenix’s self-inflicted wounds early in the year hurt them. Ayton tested positive for a diuretic causing him to be suspended for a whopping 25 games. In that span, the Suns won just 10 games before his return in the loss against the Los Angeles Clippers. Ayton suffered niggly injuries throughout the year and their early performances were too difficult to overcome. The big man played 38 games last year with Phoenix, accumulating a 20-18 record.
Phoenix absolutely cannot afford to start slowly in a loaded Western Conference. The 2020-21 season promises to be even more competitive as several teams have upgraded their rosters. Phoenix must avoid self-inflicted wounds and start fast or be left behind.
Wheeling and Dealing in the Offseason
The expectations for the Phoenix Suns this upcoming season are tremendously high and rightfully so. Jones added Paul, Jae Crowder, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore, and Damian Jones. The Suns’ depth chart as it stands right now is truly impressive.
PHX traded Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque & a protected 2022 FRP for Chris Paul & Abdel Nader
Jae Crowder 3-years, $30m
Jevon Carter 3-years, $11.5m
E'Twaun Moore 1-year, $2.4m
Langston Galloway 1-year, $2.4m
Damian Jones Undisclosed
— THUNDER MONEYBALL (@geola388) December 3, 2020
As it stands, this is the breakdown of Phoenix’s roster:
PHOENIX SUNS DEPTH CHART
Great Job by GM James Jones pic.twitter.com/ZfAUm89gwi
— THUNDER MONEYBALL (@geola388) December 3, 2020
Given the moves Jones made, his offseason goal was to add a lot of shooting. Paul, Galloway, and Moore are excellent while Crowder is streaky at his best. He gives plenty of versatility at the three and four spots while Jones gives cover behind Ayton.
Overall, this was an extremely successful offseason.
Phoenix Suns’ Expectations this Season
My expectations for this Suns’ squad don’t rest on just making the playoffs. Phoenix is loaded and with Paul, Booker, and Ayton leading the way, I expect much bigger things than just making the postseason. Let’s dive into three goals the Suns should look to achieve this year.
Homecourt Playoff Advantage
By pairing Paul with a scoring star in Booker and budding big man Ayton, there is no reason why Phoenix can’t be a top-four seed. The Suns lacked leadership and a reliable closer in tight games. Phoenix finished the year with a 16-21 record in clutch games.
On the other hand, Paul was an absolute monster in the clutch last season. He averaged 3.5 points on 52.2 percent shooting and 37 percent from three leading Oklahoma City to a 29-14 record. The Suns have an opportunity to flip some of these losses and turn them into wins.
Top 10 on Both Offense and Defense
Last season, the Phoenix Suns ranked 12th overall in offensive rating (111.3) and 17th in defensive rating (110.8). However, in their final 20 games, the Suns possessed a 114.7 offensive rating (sixth) and 111.8 defensive rating (11th). Aiming for a top 10 rating in both categories is attainable.
Veterans Paul and Crowder are two fantastic defenders that will hold younger players accountable. Phoenix was exceptional in the bubble and ranked second overall offensively (120.3) and fourth in defense (107.4). Ayton also showed big strides on the defensive end, improving his reads on the drop as well as staying in front of smaller players.
Phoenix should be a great-to-elite team on both sides of the ball and I expect them to be in the top 10.
Deandre Ayton Becomes an All-Star
The number of All-Stars on a given roster is not overly important but it’s great for players and their reputations. Phoenix will definitely have both its guards competing for All-Star berths, but one player who should go is Ayton. He was criticized for being too flat-footed and heavy on defense in his rookie year as he was attacked religiously in isolation situations. However, he was able to correct some of his faults by becoming one of Phoenix’s best defenders.
Ayton finished the 2019-20 season with a defensive rating of 108.5, just behind defensive guard Ricky Rubio (108.4) and wing Mikal Bridges (108.1). Of players who defended at least 14 shots, Ayton ranked second in field goals attempted (18.6), fourth in defended field goal percentage (41.0), and eighth in field goal percentage (47.0). Finishing just behind the likes of Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert and Los Angeles Lakers’ champion Anthony Davis is a tremendous step in the right direction.
The former number one overall pick finished the year averaging 18.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks on 54.6 percent shooting. I foresee Ayton averaging somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 points, 13 rebounds, and three assists to make his first All-Star team.
Predictions for the 2020-21 Season
With all things being equal, I believe the Suns should finish a top-four team with homecourt advantage. Many NBA outlets aren’t as high on Phoenix as I am, but I also spent an entire year watching Oklahoma City. Paul led the Thunder to the fifth seed last season with less overall talent and was within a missed 10-foot floater of advancing to the second round of last year’s playoffs. Paul was able to elevate his team to play above themselves and he has the opportunity to do the same with a more talented roster.
Booker and Ayton should take a step in their development into true stars alongside Paul. Crowder is an underrated acquisition who brings attitude to a soft defense while Cameron Johnson and Bridges will also gain experience. I project Phoenix to compete and be one of the NBA’s best teams next season.
Win Total: 49-25
Embed from Getty Images