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Suns starting lineup dominates SI, ESPN Top 100 NBA players list

Ayton, Book, and CP3 all back, with Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges now on the list

2021 NBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Make it all the way to the NBA Finals, and the flowers start appearing. That’s happening for the Phoenix Suns, as their starting lineup is skyrocketing up the rankings of best NBA players.

The league has roughly 450 players each season, so the annual preseason Top-100 lists give extra recognition to what they consider the league’s top 25% of players.

The Suns bench unit has gotten some love this offseason too. You might remember that recently The Athletic did a top-125 which mentioned both Cams — Cam Payne was in the tier that grouped players 80-125 while Cameron Johnson was noted as ‘just missed’.

On ESPN’s Top 100 list, four of the Suns starting lineup made the Top-100, while on SI.com’s list the whole starting five appeared among the top 90.

Don’t get too happy on the farm, though. Seeing four Suns on the ESPN Top-100 is cool, but consider that the Atlanta Hawks led all teams with 6 players on the list and two others had all five of their starters in the Top 100 — including one that barely made the first round (Blazers).

ESPN declined to include Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard due to their injuries, which allowed Norman Powell (100) and Danilo Gallinari (99) to squeak in and bloat those Blazers and Hawks counts. If Murray and Kawhi had been listed, the Jazz, Nuggets and Hawks would all have had five players in the Top-100. Eleven teams had four players listed in the Top-100, including the Suns.

SI.com did list all five Suns starters in their Top 100 while — as mentioned above — TheAthletic.com writer Seth Partnow mentioned seven Suns among his Top-130ish (Top 125 + first five out).


Chris Paul — Top 15

2021 NBA Finals - Practice and Media Availability Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

ESPN

Cause for concern: As brilliant as Paul was in making the first Finals run of his career, it came at a cost. His left wrist, which he injured in the conference finals and played through, required surgery in the offseason. Now entering his 17th season, the 36-year-old point guard will be tasked with the challenge of a full, 82-game season for the first time in two years while playing for a team that opponents will circle on their calendars all season long. — McMenamin

  • 2021 rank: 13
  • 2020 rank: 15
  • 2019 rank: 32

SI.com

Chris Paul didn’t just revive the Suns and quarterback a Finals run at age 36: he also put together one of the most efficient seasons of his career, posting his best field goal percentage (49.9%) since 2009, shooting nearly 40% from three and a league-best 93% from the line. He’s staved off any serious physical decline thus with irrepressible acuity and competitive fire. He certainly doesn’t look ready to enter a late-career role player phase anytime soon. While younger stars, including running mate Devin Booker, have started to surpass him on our list, Paul’s all-around impact can still be every bit as massive on a given night. He is, after all, one of the best point guards ever. — JW

  • 2021 rank: 18
  • 2020 rank: 14
  • 2019 rank: 8

Devin Booker — Top 15

2021 NBA Finals - Game Six

ESPN

One big question: After the Suns took a 2-0 lead in the Finals, Booker’s championship round was a mixed bag. He struggled mightily in Game 3, scoring 10 points on 3-for-14 shooting, followed that up with back-to-back 40-point outings in Games 4 and 5, and went 8-for-22 with six turnovers as Phoenix was eliminated in Game 6. Booker responded with a gold-medal summer in Tokyo, with the disappointment still fresh. Can he keep up his revenge tour by helping the Suns back to the mountaintop? — Dave McMenamin

  • 2021 rank: 15
  • 2020 rank: 17
  • 2019 rank: 30

SI.com

Booker’s supernova scoring talent finally coincided with winning in 2021, as he helped lead the Suns to the NBA Finals. Booker is a three-level scorer who makes up for his slightly less deadly three-point game with a killer bucket-getting prowess inside the arc. He’s adept at using his body to create space in the lane before burying you with off-balance shots. And when his pull-up is working, he can easily go for 40, as he did back-to-back times in the Finals. Individual defense will always be a slight question mark for Booker, though he did prove during Phoenix’s run to the championship round he can absolutely contribute to a great team defensive effort. Book definitely received a healthy bump on this list because of the team success he finally experienced for really the first time in his career. His next challenge will be to prove the Suns can sustain that level moving forward. —RN

  • 2021 rank: 16
  • 2020 rank: 24
  • 2019 rank: 50

Deandre Ayton — Top 40

2021 NBA Finals - Game Six

ESPN

Ayton has been an almost nightly double-double for his whole career, but he made major strides as a defender in his third season. Ayton finished 11th in the NBA in DRPM as one of the highest impact defenders and anchor for the Suns’ top-10 defense. — Snellings

  • 2021 rank: 35
  • 2020 rank: 52
  • 2019 rank: 66

SI.com

Ayton’s all-around evolution, particularly on the defensive side, earned him appropriate acclaim during the Suns’ Finals run. By sacrificing post touches and using his sheer size to influence the run of play, Ayton became more than simply the most physically gifted 7-footer in the sport. He’s one of the game’s best rebounders, a much-improved screener, and too mobile to scheme off the floor in the playoffs: in essence, why he was the No. 1 pick. — JW

  • 2021 rank: 37
  • 2020 rank: 74
  • 2019 rank: Not ranked

Mikal Bridges — Top 60ish

2021 NBA Finals - Bucks v Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

ESPN

The prototype 3-and-D player in the modern NBA. Good size, strength and versatility give him the tools, and his defense-first mentality make him a highly valuable role player who barely blinked under pressure in last year’s playoff run. He has developed into a lethal 3-point shooter who stands in the corner poised to launch. — Brian Windhorst

  • 2021 rank: 66
  • 2020 rank: Not ranked
  • 2019 rank: Not ranked

SI.com

If Merriam-Webster had a definition of 3 and D, a picture of Bridges—perhaps the league’s best role player—would appear next to it. His never-ending arms help make him an elite wing stopper. He’s drastically improved from deep, hitting 44.1% of his tries this past season. And his 76.3% mark from the restricted area ranked tenth in NBA among those with 100 attempts. — CH

  • 2021 rank: 53
  • 2020 rank: Not ranked
  • 2019 rank: Not ranked

Jae Crowder — Top 100ish

2021 NBA Finals - Game Six

ESPN

  • 2021 rank: Not ranked
  • 2020 rank: Not ranked
  • 2019 rank: Not ranked

SI.com

Every NBA team needs a player like Crowder—a veteran leader and defensive anchor who handles the small hustle plays that don’t always show up in the stat sheet to help teams win. Heading into his second season with the Suns, Crowder still has a lot to offer to a young team looking to get back to the Finals. — WJ

  • 2021 rank: 90
  • 2020 rank: Not ranked
  • 2019 rank: Not ranked

There you have it, folks.

What do you think of the rankings? Spot on, or spot off?