Fear not, Valley boys and girls, for Phoenix Suns basketball is (almost) back upon us! Preseason kicks off on October 4th against the Sacramento Kings and the real adventure begins October 20th versus the Denver Dust Bunnies. Before the first preseason game, this year’s rendition of our beloved Suns begins training camp, where they have several questions to answer before embarking on another quest for the elusive Larry O’Brien trophy.
1) Is the Point God Ready to Rumble?
After missing a combined 48 contests during his two years in Houston, Chris Paul switched to a plant-based diet in the summer of 2019. It is hard to argue with the results. The ensuing two seasons have seen Paul return to All-Star glory with the Thunder and Suns, all while missing only four total regular season games. Alas, while Chris continued avoiding soft tissue injuries last year, no amount of Beyond Meat can prepare you for a Patrick Beverly undercut.
After gutting it out through the Finals, reports are that Paul had offseason surgery on his left wrist. He should be good to go for camp, which will be our first opportunity to see the future Hall-of-Famer back running the show for the Suns.
2) How Do the New Arrivals Fit In?
Looking to fortify the bench, James Jones signed JaVale McGee and Landry Shamet this offseason. Both players bring extensive playoff experience and will look to get acclimated with the Suns’ schemes during camp.
McGee figures to slot in as Deandre Ayton’s backup at center, where the Suns hope he can provide the depth and physicality that was missing along the backline in last year’s finals. Having proven his championship mettle with the Warriors and Lakers, JaVale averaged 7.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 1.2 BPG during the 2020-21 season with the Cavs and Nuggets.
Shamet, a lights-out shooter, figures to provide wing depth behind Devin Booker. He is a few inches taller (6’4”) than departed flamethrower Langston Galloway, and he can earn his spot in the rotation with his marksmanship and consistent perimeter defense. He averaged 9.3 PPG on 39% three-point shooting last season with the Nets, and Monty adores him:
Phoenix’s Monty Williams grew close with Landry Shamet as an assistant in Philly. He called him tonight the type of person he’d want his daughters to marry.— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) October 27, 2019
The Suns signed two additional players in free agency to help round out the roster. Elfrid Payton is back in the Valley after recently playing for the Knicks, and figures to be point guard injury insurance after averaging 10.1 PPG and 3.2 APG in 2020-21. Wing Chandler Hutchison was signed to a two-way deal after averaging 4.3 PPG and 3.1 RPG last season between the Bulls and Wizards.
3) Will Someone Seize the Tenth Rotation Spot?
With all five of last season’s starters returning, plus JaVale and Landry joining The Cams, the Suns already have a reliable nine-man rotation. There is a chance, however, that Monty expands his rotation at the beginning of the season. That expansion could be decided in camp.
If Monty wants to inject the bench with athletic switchability and slashing, he could use Abdel Nader. If he prefers adding size and playmaking to the unit, Frank Kaminsky could get the call. Both players are capable three-point shooters. If either has a standout camp, it could force Monty’s hand.
Perhaps there is another player that could contend for minutes...
4) Is Stix Ready to Contribute?
In a perfect world, Jalen Smith would make rotation questions a moot point. After skipping out on this year’s draft, the Suns would be ecstatic if last year’s lottery selection parlayed a strong camp into a spot in Monty’s lineup. Hypothetically, Stix could fill a role as a rim-protecting, sweet-shooting big.
Given the McGee signing, it would seem that Smith’s most ready-made path to rotation minutes this season are as a backup forward or small-ball five. In order to justify those rolls, Smith would need to show much better consistency in both on- and off-ball defense, as well as his perimeter shot. While Jalen’s Summer League performance was only four games, the exhibition provided a glimpse at his tantalizing skillset.
✔️ 4 double-doubles in 4 games— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) August 18, 2021
✔️ 16.3 points per game
✔️ 12.5 rebounds per game (led Summer League)
Congratulations, Stix! pic.twitter.com/rxXmEg1dib
Still, the jump between Summer League and the regular season is steep, and after last year’s limited showing Stix cannot afford an inconsistent camp. If he cannot earn Monty’s trust, then Coach could elect to delegate the power forward minutes exclusively between Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder.
5) Will James Jones Make a Move?
The Suns return every rotation player (sans Dario) from a team that fell two games short of the franchise’s first NBA championship. Will James Jones wait and see if Stix can seize a rotation spot, or is he looking to upgrade immediately? It is fool’s gold to guess which direction the notoriously stealthy GM is leaning. However, with the Suns’ title window open and Chris Paul playing hide-and-seek with Father Time, Jones could be aggressive if the right deal presents itself. Thad Young is one name (maybe the name) to keep an eye on.