We have a new Top-100 list of NBA Players!!!!
This time it’s The Ringer. They now make it a Top 100 (used to be Top-25), and they’re calling it a ‘live’ ranking that’s being updated throughout the season (used to be only pubbed in May, toward end of year).
As I broke down the ‘where’ the Phoenix Suns popped up on the list, it occurred to me that the Ringer got it exactly right because it shows the good AND the bad of this current Suns iteration.
- The Suns are one of only four teams with at least their whole starting lineup listed in The Ringer’s Top 100 (the other three are the Celtics, Warriors and Hawks). Only the Celtics (8) have more of their players in The Ringer’s Top 100 than the Suns’ five.
- only 3 teams have a better #3 option than the 50th-ranked Chris Paul (others are Bucks/Holiday, Warriors/Wiggins, Cavs/Mobley)
- only 2 teams have a better #4 option than the 56th-ranked Deandre Ayton (others are Bucks/Lopez, Cavs/Allen)
- only 2 teams have a better #5 option than the 92nd-ranked Cameron Johnson (others are Warriors/Poole, Celtics/Horford)
- half the league (15 teams) have a higher-ranked #2 option than the 44th-ranked Mikal Bridges
No one besides Devin Booker ranks higher than 44th overall. The biggest reason for this gap is the age-related decline and injury issues of the 37-year old Chris Paul. This may be the ‘new normal’ and the Suns need to look at the trade market (not free agency, since they are well over the luxury tax line) to find a new #2 that rivals half the league’s #2 options.
On the positive, the Suns are in great position at the top of their roster and have good quality among their entire starting lineup. Once you get past that #2 option, the Suns are among the few teams with five players among league’s top 25%. That’s how they’ve done as well as they have these past two years, and will continue to be relevant in playoff standings.
Let’s break it down further.
Today, Dec 2022: Ranked 11th overall
Booker continues inching his way up the charts despite not having a windmill dunk, unicorn skillset or championship ring.
Booker has spent his seven-plus seasons in the league eliminating every weakness from his game. There’s nothing left for opponents to attack. Trap him at your own risk. Challenging his handle is a recipe to get beat. Think twice before isolating to attack him defensively. There’s no pattern that makes Booker predictable, and no hand or shoulder a defender can take away. Any strategy an opponent tries can be countered. Booker’s going to get his, and it’s going to be smooth as hell.
- May, 2022: 13th
As recently as seven months ago, The Ringer was still skeptical of ranking Booker as high as they did.
Is Booker the 13th-best player in the world? I would argue that he’s not, and we might be giving Book the “contribution to winning” bump here. Phoenix is winning, a lot—at one point going 21-2 from the start of January until Chris Paul went down with a thumb injury—and Booker remains a key aspect of that success.
Booker has exceeded the initial expectations for his career because he’s an exceptional shot creator, predominantly facing up in the midrange or creating off the dribble, but he’s much more of a craft scorer than someone who relies on burning defenders with dribble separation. Footwork, fakes, angles. Even when contested, he’s one of the best deep midrange scorers in basketball, averaging 6.7 points per game on 44.1 percent shooting.
- May, 2021: 20th
There are scorers with a signature, and then there are scorers like Booker—comfortable in so many spaces and actions that it can be a challenge to decide how to even defend them. Booker can beat you by curling into midrange jumpers; he can exploit matchups by posting smaller guards; he can make longer wings chase him around screens, only to change directions and attack the basket once they catch up. Playing with Chris Paul helps him to leverage all of those threats in phases throughout the course of a game, but only because Booker’s breadth of ability is the skeleton key.
Today, Dec 2022: 50th overall
That’s a 40-spot drop from The Ringer’s Top 25 rankings just 8 months ago! We’ve all seen CP’s decline since his 37th birthday. The All-Star days are over now. His key to this season is bottling up his best play for the playoffs, rather than being worn out by then. Let’s hope he plays better as the year goes by.
Paul has long been the master of wringing the most out of every situation, every possession, and every advantage. Now we’ll see what more he can draw from the twilight years of a Hall of Fame career—an endeavor complicated by a hard turn in Paul’s historically rock-solid shooting numbers.
Paul—despite his detail-obsessed, micromanaging style—just might not have as much direct influence on the way those plays evolve, or the forms the offense ultimately takes.
- May, 2022: 10th
Paul’s high-water mark with the Suns (or even the Thunder or Rockets before this). Crazy to think this was only seven months ago!
We marvel at LeBron continuing to produce at an elite level into his 19th season at age 37, and justifiably so. We should sing similar hosannas for CP3, who’s just two months away from his own 37th birthday, in Year 17, with more than 44,000 NBA minutes on his body, and who has been, according to a slew of advanced statistical metrics, one of the 10 best players in the world. With the exception of John Stockton, no small guard has ever aged this well. But then, there haven’t been many small guards, or many players period, quite as exceptional as Chris Paul.
- May, 2021: 12th
And work he has, turning in one of the most productive seasons ever by a guard on the wrong side of 35 while serving as the straw that stirs the drink for a dynamite team that has blown away even the most optimistic preseason expectations. Booker’s the headliner, but the Suns operate like a classic CP3 team: slow-paced and careful with the ball, elite in the half court, disciplined on defense, excellent in crunch time. He augments both Phoenix’s poise and its snarl.
Today, Dec 2022: 44th overall
This is the first time The Ringer has gone beyond a Top 25. For other comps, ESPN had Bridges ranked 49th before the season started, while SI.com had him at 51.
Mikal comes in as the Suns second-highest ranked player by the Ringer, through early December 2022. He’s setting career highs (if only by a little bit) across the board and doing more offense-initiation than ever.
His ranking over Chris Paul at this point (who’s 50th in early December) might be short-lived, but I also think he will rise up these charts too.
If you had to draft a brand-new team tomorrow but weren’t allowed to choose any All-Stars, Bridges is the smartest first pick. He’s everything you want in and need from a modern wing—the beau ideal supporting actor.
He’s the mark of resiliency, never missing games or complaining about having to check off so many important boxes on a team where he’ll never be the first or second option
It’d be interesting to watch him grow in another situation where he had the ball in his hands, learning pick-and-roll reads on the fly and diversifying his skill set, like Paul George or Jayson Tatum did. But that developmental path wasn’t in the cards, which is fine. Every team needs what Bridges provides. He’s a star in his own role.
Today, Dec 2022: 56th overall
This is the first time The Ringer has gone beyond a Top 25. For other comps, ESPN had Ayton ranked 51st before the season started, while SI.com had him at 49.
For a no. 1 pick, you don’t really hear a ton of chatter about Ayton. He’s the starting center on a team that’s enjoyed both playoff and regular-season success in the past two years, and yet, if I were the basketball equivalent of Billy Eichner—stopping NBA fans on the street and asking them who the best centers in the league are—how long would it take for Ayton’s name to come up?
There’s a bias at work here—big guys really irk people if they don’t exert their will often enough...If Ayton stunk, I think we’d lay off, but he’s got tools that 99 percent of big guys would die to have...Ayton has impressively supple hands around the rim (some of the softest in the league), and his post repertoire is more than adequate. We stay mimicking the Kylo Ren “more!” meme because we think he can give it.
Today, Dec 2022: 92nd overall
This is the first time The Ringer has done a Top 100. For other comps, ESPN did not have CamJ ranked in the Top 100 before the season started, while SI.com had him at 79.
Cam has played only 7 games this season (knicked meniscus; surgery to repair). He’s not scheduled to return to action until January or February, but should be healthy for the stretch run of the season.
Johnson was a punch line on his draft night... After two highly efficient playoff runs, a Sixth Man of the Year–caliber season, and what figures to be a monstrous payday next offseason in restricted free agency, the joke is officially on everyone else.
Johnson is precisely what every good team in the NBA is searching for: an accurate 3-point shooter who guards multiple positions and makes plays off the dribble. And even though he’s already 26 years old and in just his fourth season, his game isn’t static. Whoever pays him his next contact—the Suns failed to extend him during the offseason—will get someone who’s better than they are today.
My guess is that once Cam J gets back to good, he will rise up these charts to the range that Bridges and Ayton currently reside.
What do you think, Suns fans?
Will any of Bridges, Ayton, Cam J or Chris Paul rise into that true #2 option come playoff time to help them get further in the playoffs than last year’s second round?