Just about everything went right for the Phoenix Suns last year during the regular season, and despite some strange short-term injuries things continued to go well through the playoffs all the way to a Western Conference Championship and 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals.
The team had unreal chemistry from day one — “this team is special,” Chris Paul said as early as the end of training camp — and played every minute like it was the exorcism needed to wash away the demons of the last five seasons. They never let their foot off the gas, never suffered any major injuries and somehow got MVP-candidate play from their 36-year old acquisition at point guard.
How can 2021-22 be even better? Well, let’s see what the Bright Side writing staff has to say on it. Inside each player preview article, the author listed a ‘One Key Factor’ for each player that would define their season.
One Key Factor for...
Health remains the main factor for Chris Paul.
He was hampered throughout the playoffs and ultimately the team lost in the NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks. Part of this was due to CP3’s wear and tear. Days after the season ended, Paul had surgery on his left wrist.
The debate will occur all season as to whether the Suns should give Paul rest in hopes that he will be fresh for the postseason. You won’t be able to pull the “load management” card on CP3, however. He isn’t playing out his career willingly watching from the bench. As long as Monty manages his minutes, much like he did last season, Paul will be successful.
As his “volume shooter” label begins to further morph into “scoring floor general”, Book will see his assist numbers creep north as well. They were down about two points from 2019 to 2020 (he averaged 6.5 apg in the former year), but as he defers less to Paul for playmaking, he’ll dole out more ready-made care packages to teammates.
Monty, CP3 and Book have done wonders helping Deandre find himself and he also wants to be the best he can be, especially now that he has a kid. The addition of JaVale McGee will assist in his development and drive also. That drive is what will push him to be one of the best players in the NBA, on both ends of the court.
Adding functional core strength/filling out his frame.
The is the key to Bridges being able to guard “up” positionally or take on larger wings defensively is strength. Adding useful strength that can be applied towards basketball situations in the key, not just bulking up for the hell of it.
This will also aid him in taking a leap with his finishing ability, especially through contact. He’s already an elite finisher around the rim with his limbs wrapping around defenders, but if he has the option to go through defenders too it makes his finishing game far more complete.
The three-point percentage.
Crowder actually shot on the high-end from long range last season, posting his second-highest three-point percentage of his career. Second only to his time in Boston in 2016 where he shot 39.8% from deep.
He is a career 34.6% three-point shooter and shot 38.9% last season for the Suns. If he can replicate something close to that mark, or even flirt with the 36-38 range throughout the year, that should be sufficient.
“Doolie” is loved by Coach Monty and well-liked by fans, Torrey Craig departed for the Indiana Pacers and the Suns have yet to fill that other backup forward spot. The “Egyptian Sensation” has a real chance to have even more of a role this upcoming season.
Payne’s season might be defined by the extent he’s able to make strides as a true playmaker in the Suns’ backcourt. If he can further refine his drive and dish game, he could be a crucial part of the Suns for at least the length of his contract. If he does not, or regresses in that area, that’s a different story.
It will be interesting to see how often Monty Williams deploys the services of JaVale McGee. He is a player who, just three seasons ago, averaged 22.3 minutes a night. His minutes have dwindled in the last two years which most likely have been due to circumstance rather than ability.
He is 33 years-old and has 13 years of mileage on him, so I am not sure Monty will rely heavily on McGee throughout the 82-game regular season. That being said, with Dario Saric out all season due to an ACL injury, the balance between Frank Kaminsky and JaVale McGee to provide productive minutes behind Ayton will be paramount to the Suns’ success.
While athletes are typically cleared to return to their sport around the six-to-nine month mark after ACL surgery, recovery time can vary. If Dario’s operation was performed around the beginning of August, he could be cleared around the all-star break at the earliest. It is possible that regardless of Dario’s progress, James Jones plays it safe and sits him the entire season.
The shooting from three came back to Cam in the postseason and his play gained him steam leading into next year. I see him as a player that wants to learn and improve. That is what fits this Suns culture.
You’d love to see Shamet improve from last season relative to his three-point shooting. He took many by surprise when he shot 42.2% from deep his rookie season and “slumped” to 37.5% his sophomore year. The 38.7% from last season, although acceptable, isn’t what you hired him for.
He’s not a defender. He’s not a playmaker. He’s a shooter. He needs to make the shots to be effective.
Playing to his strengths, Payton needs to stick to hustle and defense. The Suns have added shooting with Landry Shamet, so there will be nothing to prove in shooting the ball especially from beyond the arc. He needs to focus on running the offense and setting up players like Shamet rather than playing isolation ball and trying to create his own shot.
Something that fellow BSOTS writer John Voita always says is that James Jones likes players who possess one elite skill (rather than a bunch of skills that are average). Trying to be a player that you are not will not help Payton’s case in trying to get on the floor. Stick with who you are, Elfrid.
A starting point guard in the NBA that is now a backup (to a backup) is an adjustment for him. Knowing his role off the bench will guarantee him to be a Monty/James Jones guy this season.
Every player wants to improve their whole game in the offseason, but the best players pick one thing that they are going to improve on. For Frank, that might be getting into the best shape of his career so he can close the athleticism gap against his opponents.
Skill-wise, Frank can become even more lethal from range. Better than league average would be nice. If he makes 38% of threes consistently, he will more chances to show his point-five connector skills on the offensive end.
If Smith can clean up his field goal percentage around the rim, he could be a good contributor in 2021-22. The Suns need someone who can rebound next to/behind Ayton that can also make threes. We just need that person to be a threat near the rim who can finish what he starts.