The heart and soul of the Phoenix Suns’ 2020-21 squad was its defense. Night in and night out, it was this unit’s fortitude on that side of the ball that paved the way for its success.
Don’t get me wrong — the Suns offense was a well-oiled scoring machine. And when you employ names like Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton buckets in bunches are to be expected on bountiful occasions.
But this troupe hung its hat on defense. The Suns held the sixth-best defensive rating league-wide (110.4) last season, finishing third in total net rating at +5.9, which pit them behind only the Jazz and Clippers.
It was defense that carried them through the playoff gauntlet, and helped them slow down forces like LeBron James, Nikola Jokic and Paul George en route to the association’s final set of games.
And it will be defense that continues to fortify the group, starting inside with the self-professed “anchor” Deandre Ayton and matriculating outwards toward the perimeter, with capable protectants at every position.
This is a Suns team that’s vehemently focused on stopping opposing offenses, and creating opportunities to push the pace, while converting easy baskets in transition.
Offseason moves like acquiring JaVale McGee and Elfrid Payton, plus re-upping Abdel Nader solidify that pursuit.
But while they’re primed and poised to be staunch guardians of their own basket, they’re also showing a deliberate desire to increase their points output.
Adding Landry Shamet and Chandler Hutchinson, and bringing back Dario Šarić and Frank Kaminsky bolster them in that department.
The Suns made 3s at a 37.8% clip last season, good for the 7th-best mark in the league. Shamet’s 3-point percentage last year: 38.7
Šarić and Kaminsky meanwhile, are reliable shot-makers from beyond the arc, each hovering around the 35% area on attempts from that territory.
Also back in the fold: Cam Payne (44% last season) Jae Crowder (38.9%) and Cam Johnson (34.9%).
Then of course, there’s the brilliant backcourt couplet that is Devin Booker and Chris Paul.
On paper, the Suns present themselves as one of the most well-rounded offenses in the league. It’s difficult to pinpoint any one glaring weakness.
They’re solid from deep, have efficient mid-range aficionados, and possess readymade paint beasts inside as well.
But when Phoenix was truly at its best in 2020, it was a magnificent 3-point shooting machine.
The Valley Boyz shot 41% from deep through the first two games of the Finals, before sinking to 37.7% in Games 3 through 6. But had a fiery Game 5 showing in which they nearly broke the nets with a whopping 68.4% clip not upped their ratio, Phoenix would’ve sat below 30% in that metric.
That’s the quintessential recipe for losing games.
In a league that’s largely transitioned to high-volume shooting for a significant portion of team’s baskets, the Suns know they’re going to have to be elite shot-makers. Going into 2021-22, they’re squarely built to do exactly that.
They’ve got offensive firepower that’s more than capable of lighting of the scoresheet in a variety of ways.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker are deft isolation creators. Cam Payne possesses the quickness and craftiness to find, and make space for an increasingly efficient dribble pull-up.
Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges are readymade catch and shoot marksman, and while Johnson and Bridges generally thrive from the corner, Crowder has shown potency from both the right and left hash marks.
Big taking 3s, including Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee. Can see that 1-2 motion for DA. pic.twitter.com/TeU2rjGivD— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) September 30, 2021
Meanwhile, Kaminsky, Šarić and even Jalen Smith (that’s right) can do damage when given pick and pop opportunities.
All of the aforementioned men are capable of hitting at least half of their 3-point attempts on any given night.
It’s safe to say that James Jones (a known sharpshooter in his own right during his celebrated NBA tenure) is well aware of what he’s doing.
And the Suns know that they’ll have to kick their offensive production up a notch given their newfound regency. They’re no longer the hunters.
Paul, Booker and Ayton will undoubtedly have the biggest of targets on their backs, and the roles of the troops who surround the trio will have a substantial impact on the Suns’ ability to collect wins.
But each prong of the triangular juggernaut dishes out dimes with the best of their fellow positional pros, and each knows that their individual feats are only as good as the ones they can help their teammates attain in conjunction. It’s a complete team-centric mentality, from top to bottom.
Landry Shamet could feel that energy from the beginning, and has bought in on it.
“It’s a ‘we score’ mentality,” Shamet told reporters about his group.
“It’s all a collective, you really feel that. A lot organizations try to preach it, but it’s not felt and translated. That’s not the case here at all. It feels good, everybody roots for each other and it’s all about how successful we can be.”
"It's a 'we score' mentality. It's all the collective. You can really feel that. There's a lot of organizations that preach it, but it's not felt or translated. That's not the case here at all. You can feel it."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) October 1, 2021
Landry Shamet impressed early with #Suns https://t.co/gFtk2nUGWE pic.twitter.com/9WCUtdEvoF
That scoring forge will depend in large part on the troupe’s chemistry. Thing seem to be going well in that department. And the better this team clicks as a unit, the more open looks they’ll be able to create. More open looks mean...well...
As for their shooting standards, the Suns have already showcased an apparent emphasis on consecutive made baskets during training camp. Just take a look at this shooting game at practice.
They don’t call him CP2.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) September 30, 2021
Incredible comeback attempt in the shooting game by Chris Paul in progress pic.twitter.com/FhpjVJ0yfg
You get the gist of the game’s object.
The gist of basketball’s object is crystal-clear as well: Win.
And for Phoenix to capitalize on their winning chances in 2021, they’re going to have to be lethal from 3-point territory.