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Season Preview Special: Experts weigh in on Phoenix Suns expectations

I was able to chat with some experts around the league about their thoughts on the Suns offseason and expectations entering the season.

2020-21 Phoenix Suns Content Day Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s that time of year. Typically speaking, almost every fan is drinking the preseason optimism Kool-Aid entering a new season. This year it feels much different.

Are Suns fans rightfully excited? Absolutely. Are the lofty expectations set too high or just right? I brought on some well-respected folks in the industry to ask them what their general, unbiased thoughts on the Suns offseason were, along with some expectations heading into the season.

It’s always nice to get a pulse from those that aren’t directly tied to the team to get the feel for what the rest of the league is thinking about your team for some fresh perspective. I'd like to personally thank each of them for taking the time to talk Suns basketball with me.

The experts that weighed in

  • Bobby Marks- ESPN NBA Front Office Insider. Former NBA Executive.
  • Matt Babcock- NBA Draft Analyst, Former NBA Agent, Founder of Babcock Hoops.
  • Bryan Kalbrosky- NBA Reporter for HoopsHype. Contributor for “For The Win”.
  • Josh Eberley- Hoop Mag for Co-host of the Dunks and Discourse Podcast.
  • Spencer Pearlman- Director of Scouting S.A.C Sports Agency, Former Suns Draft Consultant, The Stepien.
  • P.D. Web- NBA Draft Analyst, Player Development Expert. All-around smart basketball guy.

The Questions

What are your initial thoughts on the Suns offseason as a whole?

Bobby Marks: The initial thought was that the 8-0 record in the Orlando bubble was not good enough. The Chris Paul trade showed that the Suns are not thinking about just competing for a playoff spot but taking a leap into the top six of the Western Conference. If the roster had stayed intact, the Suns would have been in the mix for the play-in game.

Matt Babcock: After going undefeated in the bubble, they’re clearly going for it, and I respect that. Of course, the key move for them this off-season was bringing in Chris Paul, who’s experience, leadership, and talent should help them move the needle. I was a bit surprised they selected Jalen Smith as high as they did in the draft, but I understand what they’re doing; they’re valuing glue guys that can complement their stars. Jalen’s ability to stretch the floor and protect the rim should be valuable to them right off the bat. The same can be said about the addition of Jae Crowder and the re-signing of Dario Saric, who are both great glue guys as well.

Bryan Kalbrosky: Generally speaking, I love what the Phoenix Suns did this offseason. By adding Chris Paul, they have catapulted themselves into likely playoff consideration. While I’m not entirely confident in what the Suns did in the 2020 NBA draft, as I’m not sure Jalen Smith was the best value pick at No. 10 overall, it only reaffirmed a clear identity for the franchise and the front office. Phoenix is going to target shooters, no matter the position, and it seems like a smart idea for the modern NBA. Smith is someone who can help spread the floor alongside Deandre Ayton in the front court and that cannot go understated.

Josh Eberley: I loved that the Suns committed to getting competitive without blowing up all their youth. I’m a huge Chris Paul fan and despite his superstar status, I’m not sure he’s ever really got his proper due as the culture changer he is. I’ve got three of his former teammates on record saying he’s the best teammate they’ve ever had and in an NBA climate with so many stars being clocked on their lack of leadership, — Paul stands out. I think they’ve got a conference finals level ceiling and they are definitely among my top league pass looks heading into this season.

Spencer Pearlman: Aside from the Jalen Smith pick which I’m lukewarm on, I really liked it — didn’t like the Jalen pick because of the poor value picking someone to back Ayton up with the guys left on the board and I don’t like the fit next to Ayton if they were to play next to each other. Obviously the biggest move was the Paul trade, but retaining Saric was great (especially at the value), bringing in Ty-Shon Alexander as a UDFA was a nice move, signing Carter to his contract was great value, and bringing in Crowder was a good move as well. Barring health, I believe they’re a playoff lock.

P.D. Web: THEY GOT CHRIS PAUL!!! Wow. Uh, yeah. The moves around the edges are nice, but they are not particularly consequential when a move is made that allows the whole roster to make sense. Book can be used as a primary (Point Book) or secondary (ISO Book), there is even more shooting, less demand on Ayton to score, more demand on Ayton to focus on the little things defensively. Jae Crowder is a nice pickup who bringing shooting and experience and should be a nice mentor to Mikal, Cam and Ty-Shon Alexander. But it all centers around CP3.

Where do you rank the Chris Paul/Devin Booker backcourt league-wide?

Spencer: Probably tops in the NBA, right? Both guys can play on/off ball, Booker took another massive jump last year showing no signs of slowing down, and between Paul and Carter, Phoenix has two bulldog defenders at point guard. It’s going to be awesome to watch the synergy between Paul and Booker on offense. Having someone who can help Booker on offense and not force him to shoulder the scoring/playmaking load should be great for Booker and the Suns as a whole.

Josh: That’s tough. I’d assume any fall-off you see from an aging Paul you make back from a growing Booker. I’d take them over Lillard and McCollum, I have no idea if James Harden will be in Houston. No Klay Thompson leaves the Warriors as an unknown in the conversation. Now that I’ve audibly spewed and typed simultaneously, I think the answer might be number one. There are definitely some better star pairings but they might be the top backcourt on paper heading into next season. I did pause on Westbrook and Beal, that’ll be a fun backcourt to compare and contrast all year long.

Bobby: It has to be in the top three and we could certainly debate the best in the entire league. The Suns now have two no. 1 options to rely down the stretch in close games, something few teams have.

Bryan: I think that everyone should continue to tip their cap to the Portland duo Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet deserve consideration. So, too, should Bradley Beal/Russell Westbrook for the Washington Wizards. But the combination of Book and CP3 should be in immediate consideration for the top two or three backcourts in the NBA heading into the upcoming season. Booker was playing some of the best basketball of his life in the bubble. Extrapolating on we saw during his time alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, CP3 is only going to elevate the performance of Booker next season. He will put Booker in a position for success while not only shouldering some of the load on offense but also helping solidify a professional and winning attitude within the club.

P.D.: Hmmm. Top four? They just fit so seamlessly together as a pairing. I’m not sure there is a better player to pair with Book on or off-court. Two famously competitive dudes who want to just want to win, both technical savants whose games are based on the smallest leverage. It’s a match made in heaven. Let Book slack off on any possession on defense or miss a coverage, Chris WILL let him know. For a franchise that has been trying to turn a corner for about three years, this is the sort of presence that will engender accountability while being a dog on court. There are locker room guys, there are series changing players, Suns got 2 in 1.

Matt: If Chris Paul is able to perform close to the level that he did last season, I think they’ll be one of the best backcourts in the league, and likely only behind Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers, respectively.

Other than the Paul deal, what was your favorite move Phoenix made this offseason?

P.D.: Ty-Shon Alexander on a two-way fits the model of wings that Phoenix has favored. Long armed and sweet shooting who doesn’t need real usage possessions to make an impact. Ty-Shon shot 40% from 3 on more than six three-point attempts per game with solid shot versaitility at Creighton. He is also a straight up dog on defense, balanced as a POA defender or an off-ball havoc defender (2.2% steal rate). There are going to be three-minute stretches where he gets turned loose on some unsuspecting ballhandler for 94 feet and it will be glorious. TSA is the sort of ideal 2 guard archetype for a second unit when CP3/Book are staggered and the remaining star goes into super usage mode. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Ty-Shon is the immediate contributor of the rookies, as all his skills are a simple translation, while Stix will most likely need time to adjust to the NBA.

Matt: My favorite move the Suns made this off-season aside from the Chris Paul trade was the re-signing of Dario Saric. I’ve always been a big fan of Dario’s game. To be honest, I thought it was a mistake when Philadelphia traded him—I thought he’d be a Sixer for a long time. For the Suns to sign him to a 3-year, $27M deal seems like a very reasonable price for an effective player that’s likely only stepping into the prime of his career. I think Dario is a great team guy and a winner. The Suns should be very happy with that deal, and I’m sure they will be.

Spencer: Other than the Paul trade, it has to be the Saric contract. Getting someone of his caliber for roughly MLE money is a steal. I was surprised that was all he got given his skill level, but even outside of the value, I can’t watch to see him on offense next two two ++ perimeter creators, including one of the GOAT PGs — less pressure on offense.

Bryan: I was really happy to see that Phoenix re-signed Cameron Payne after giving him a shot at the end of last season. Payne was one of the best surprises of the bubble and they were outscoring opponents like crazy when he was on the floor. Payne is someone who can create his own shot off the dribble with fancy footwork. He can be a spark plug scorer off of the bench in a Lou Williams-lite type of role. He is a hungry scorer who is able to take the game over when Paul and Booker are resting.

Josh: I would say drafting Jalen Smith. Not because I’m a college hoops expert and love him as a prospect but because it shows a level of confidence from within the organization to go off board and trust their own scouting. Too many franchises stuck in the echo chamber and the Suns betting on themselves is fun to see.

Bobby: Jae Crowder for the $9.25M midlevel exception. The Crowder signing gives Monty Williams another versatile forward that he could either start or bring off the bench.

What are your realistic expectations for the Suns next season?

Bryan: This year is going to be chaotic because of the ongoing pandemic. But I am fairly confident that Phoenix will make the postseason in 2021. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton projects a winning percentage of .536 and gives them a 63% chance of making the playoffs. That seems like a fair range and if I had to pick an over-under for their projected win total from Vegas (38.5), I’d pick the over. It’s more than just the addition of CP3. I trust the development of DeAndre Ayton, Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges will be fairly obvious and I think Booker is going to have the best season of his career. In fact, I’d be far from shocked if Booker ended the season in MVP conversations based on how hot he was at the end of last year.

Spencer: Low hanging bar here is the playoffs, for which I think they are a lock. It wouldn’t surprise me if they get within the top 5. Lakers, Clippers, and Nuggets are the only locks to be better (barring health). Mavericks have injury concerns, OKC lost Paul, and Houston has Harden issues. Utah is another one that could be in the top 4, but it wouldn’t surprise me either seeing Phoenix make a push with Utah. Either way, I think 5th is a fair expectation.

Matt: After their success in the bubble, it’s no secret that the expectations are high for the Suns. However, the Western Conference is loaded, and I think it’s hard to predict how it’s all going to unfold at the moment. In addition to established teams like the Lakers, Clippers, and Nuggets, there are young up-and-coming teams like the Mavericks, Pelicans, Grizzlies, and Timberwolves hoping to make a jump up as well. Let’s also not forget talented teams like the Trail Blazers, Warriors, or Jazz either. If the Suns are able to sneak into the 4th or 5th slot in the West, I’d consider that a success. I know one thing’s for sure: I’m looking forward to watching this season!

P.D.: Playoffs or bust. 6-8 seed and a battle of a first round playoff series would be a success in my eyes. Of course, this is going to be the strangest season on record & a million different things could change between now and the Finals - but CP3’s teams compete. I think this is the year that playoff light shines on the valley of the sun.

Bobby: If you breakdown in the West, Phoenix is probably a tier 3 team — along with Memphis, Dallas, New Orleans. That should be good enough to finish in the top 8 of the Western Conference.

Josh: I think realistically, missing the playoffs would be seen as a failure. That’s got to be their floor. Get back to the playoffs, have a good team that’s worth watching and worth talking about at a national level. I spoiled it earlier but if things break right — I could see a conference finals ceiling. Deandre Ayton feels like a solid pick for Most Improved, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson both got lots of room overhead. In a packed Western Conference nobody should ever feel safe but I can’t remember the last time the Suns had this much going for them.

Thanks again to everyone that participated and I hope Suns fans found this exercise as entertaining as I did.

P.S.- Subscribe to P.D. Web’s Patreon (linked in text) for some unique and thrilling basketball insight and draft coverage. He does great work and it’s well worth your time.

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