Yes, the Suns will enter the season as a contender for the NBA title, but along the way must overcome the stink of that playoff meltdown. So it’s perfectly perfect to start the season against the very team they melted down against... right? A win on opening night won’t erase the bad vibes from that series, but it would at least start the healing process.
The Suns will start the season with mostly the same team that led the league in regular season wins last year, having made almost no changes to their rotation. Among the missing are Jae Crowder, currently away from the team as he holds out for a new contract, and JaVale McGee, who signed with the Mavericks in the off-season. In their place, the Suns bring Dario Saric from a year-long injury and have added preseason surprise Jock Landale. The only other changes are minimum-salary signings for the last few spots on the bench.
Let’s take a closer look at that roster now.
This week, I put out the call to my fellow writers and podcasters with Bright Side to rank the Suns players from 1 to 18. I gave them no criteria, asking simply for their votes on who is the Suns best, second-best, third-best player and so on.
A whopping 13 of us placed votes, including the entire writing team plus Solar Panel, Fanning the Flames and Into The Valley podcasters!
The best on the team
Of course, we already know who are the top 4 players on the team: Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges. But in what order would we rank them?
There’s a case that 37-year old Chris Paul will regress this year. Does that drop him below Mikal and/or DA? There’s also a major fan-split between the value of Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton. Many fans think Mikal is the better overall player, while others stan for DA.
Here are the results:
Among our contributors, the final order turned out as expected.
Nobody had Devin Booker lower than 1st on their list.
But Chris Paul is no longer a lock as the best or second-best player on the team, according to our writers and podcasters. In fact, none of us ranked him first, despite him being the only Phoenix Suns player to make All-NBA in both of the last two years and leading the league in assists last season. CP3 received 9 votes for 2nd place, and 4 votes for 3rd place. No one had him lower than 3rd.
Next up: Deandre Ayton. Votes for Mr. M-A-X were all over the top of the board: 3 votes for 2nd, 6 votes for 3rd, 3 votes for 4th and 1 vote for 5th. At least, no one thinks he should be demoted from the starting lineup.
Fourth: Mikal Bridges — but not a clear 4th. More like 3rd-plus. Mikal got 1 vote for 2nd-best player, 3 votes for 3rd-best, 8 votes for 4th and 1 vote for 5th.
Cam and Jae
Behind the top four, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder were the next two ranked players, well above the rest of the team.
Our contributors are (almost) universally all in on Cam Johnson being the better player of the two. My guess is we all shifted en masse because of the Suns declaration of making him the starter over Jae. Without that declaration, we’d probably be more evenly split.
Fifth: Cameron Johnson got 10 votes for 5th-best player, but also 2 votes for 4th best player (one had him ahead of DA, another had him ahead of Mikal) and 1 vote for 6th (behind Jae).
Sixth: Jae Crowder, despite starting whenever healthy his first two years with the Suns, has dropped solidly to 6th on our radar. Crowder got 11 votes for 6th, 1 vote for 5th (ahead of Cam J) and 1 vote for 7th (behind Dario).
Unfortunately, the Suns 6th-best player hasn’t even shown up to play games, which leads to...
The rest of the team
After ranking the top 6 so cleanly, all hell broke loose. There was no consensus for 7th best player or even 8th best player. Which goes to the worry that this team is Shallow with a capital-S. Funny how that happens, though, because just last spring they were considered one of the deepest teams in the league.
Four different players got at least 1 vote for 7th-best: Dario Saric (5), Landry Shamet (3), Cameron Payne (2), and Jock Landale (1).
Is that a good thing, that so many players ‘could’ be considered the 7th best on the team? Or does that just mean ‘if you have 4 different 7th-best players you really don’t have any’?
We shall see. Here’s how the voting shook out.
Dario Saric, who has not played in over a year but led the team in plus/minus during the Finals season, got the most 7th-best votes with 5 of our 13 contributors giving him that 7th place. He also got 1 vote for 6th with the remaining 7 votes split through the 8-11 range.
No one knows what Dario is really going to bring this year. He’s in a real battle for playing time with Jock Landale and Bismack Biyombo. Coach Monty Williams loves Jock’s versatility (what they always loved about Dario, but even more mobile) and Bismack’s rebounding. We’ll see how the season shakes out.
Cameron Payne comes in next. He got only 2 votes for 7th (none higher than that), 3 votes for 8th, 5 votes for 9th and 3 votes for 10th.
Landry Shamet, Jock Landale and Bismack Biyombo round out the top 10 (if you don’t include Jae in the mix).
But then Landale and Biyombo will rarely play in the same game, so the 10th guy could be anyone from Duane Washington to Torrey Craig to Damion Lee to Josh Okogie, depending on need.
Everyone else is just a guy, who would only play if there are injuries or someone above them plays poorly.
Note: If Cameron Johnson cannot start the season, expect to see Torrey Craig getting those minutes and the starting nod. But once Cam returns, Torrey will have to fight Dario and Jock for backup power forward minutes.
Where have we gone wrong, Suns fans?
Let’s chat about it.