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Inside the Suns: Chris Paul at 37, the Suns’ ceiling and who is expendable

Your weekly Inside the Suns analysis straight from the BSotS community who live and breathe the team.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.

This week we actually touch on some topics other than Deandre Ayton and the possibility of Kevin Durant coming to Phoenix for a change. Why? I have no new news on the KD situation and DA is here to stay... at least for a while. There are other things about the Suns worth discussing!

And now, on to the Fantable — a round table of Bright Siders who give their takes on the Suns latest issues and news.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - I expect the Suns to do more (through trades or FA acquisitions) this offseason but unless they pull off something fairly big they will largely be go into 2022/23 with the same team as last season. What do you think is their ceiling if that’s the case?

GuarGuar: I still think their absolute ceiling is a championship team. They won 64 games last year and went to the finals the year before. Just because we ended up well short this past season doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of winning it all next year.

OldAz: It depends... It depends on if you are going to measure next season based on the whole season (regular season factored in) or just the post-season results (like most fans will a year from now).

If healthy we have already seen this group win 64 games in the regular season so that has to be a reasonable ceiling for the same team this year. People thinking that “running it back” makes the Suns a play in team just doesn’t make sense. Having Biz for the full year balances losing McGee from a regular season perspective. All the other pieces are in still in place and unless every team brings Playoff intensity to every Suns regular season game, they will be a top 6 seed. However, this also assumes the Suns will continue the strategy of trying to win as many regular season games as possible. If so, they could replicate a 60+ win season, a top 2 seed . . . and lose again in the 2nd or 3rd round when Book and CP3 get blitzed (again).

Instead, if they run back the same team but prioritize development of additional offensive weapons (Like Monty talked about after the Dallas series) then they will probably NOT win as many regular season games (maybe 53-57 as a guess and be a 3-5 seed), but their postseason ceiling would be higher, but how high is much harder to predict. We know that the floor is competing for the Western Conference Finals, because they have already done that. If, however, DA becomes more of an offensive force, Mikal gets closer to actually being Scottie 2.0, and/or Cam J from the Knicks game becomes a more regular occurrence, then here is no reason that this team could not win it all.

Basically, while the Suns floor is known with this unit based on the greatness of CP3 and Book, the Suns ceiling in 2022-23 will be 100% dependent on the improvements by DA, Mikal and Cam.

Cliff30: The ceiling is a championship. But the likelihood of reaching that ceiling is obviously smaller than if they added KD or even a lesser impact talent. But this group can win as is if things go right. I don’t know what the heck happened in game seven. But if they respond positively to that adversity and everybody gets better then they can get over the hump and win. We’ll see.

Jim C: The ceiling is an NBA championship.

Johnson (26), Booker (25), Bridges (25) and Ayton (24) are all young enough that some improvement seems like a reasonable expectation. The Suns will probably not be the best team in the NBA next season. Teams like the Warriors, Clippers, Bucks and Celtics should be pretty formidable... plus there is usually at least one team that takes a big step of improvement (maybe Memphis or New Orleans this season). Health and luck can be big factors, though, so as long as they are near the top... and they should be... anything is possible. The core has also had another year together and continuity can have advantages.

But let’s get real. If this is basically the team... then the championship hopes most likely rest on Ayton. He’s the guy that can make the big leap. He has untapped potential. If he doesn’t get better they won’t win a championship.

Q2 - At 37, what do you expect from CP3 this coming season?

GuarGuar: I really hope he rests more this year throughout the season. We just need him to be ready come playoff time. Hopefully we can get a solid backup guard to take pressure off CP. I think this is his last “all star” caliber year and I want to get the most out of it when it matters.

OldAz: I expect regular season CP3 to be very similar to what we have seen in the past on most nights. He is too competitive to limit his minutes unless that game dictates it. I do expect to see some “load management” applied, but really only in back 2 back situations. I also think we will see instances where CP3 exerts himself to take over a game, followed by longer stretches (a game or two) where he simply can’t play to his normal level. We started seeing this in the playoffs, but the lowered intensity in the regular season and diversity in the Suns regular season offense covers it up. This will become more pronounced and happen more often as age continues to catch up with CP3.

Unfortunately, I also believe that what we have seen in the past with CP3 in the playoffs is not even a realistic baseline (floor) for what to expect this year. He might still be able to pick his spots and dominate a quarter to take over a single game like against NO, but it will likely be followed by a longer period where he can’t contribute as much and needs others to step up. This is why I believe (absent a KD trade) improving backup PG is far and away the #1 priority the rest of this off season or at the trade deadline.

Cliff30: I have no idea. Not a lot of guys play to this age. It could fall apart at any time. But during the regular season he showed no signs of slowing. I could see that repeating again. But I hope Monty steps in and manages his minutes more. I don’t think that was really the issue in the post-season, but a 37 year old playing 33 minutes per game isn’t a great way to try to preserve him.

Jim C: Steve Nash made the All-Star team at age 37 after leading the league in assists the year before. That was Nash’s last good season. John Stockton also made the All-Star team at age 37... and was still effective for two more years... but nowhere near the player he was in his early 30’s. Some of these all-time great point guards that rely on IQ and awareness more than athleticism seem to be able to play well at Chris Paul’s age.

That being said, my examples would suggest that the end of the road for Chris Paul as a top 5 or top 10 point guard is very near.

I think Paul will still be very effective, but minute management will be an issue. It is also worrisome that he has had issues with nagging injuries the last few postseasons... and through his career. I think it is a given that as people age it gets harder to stay healthy and play rigorous sports day in and day out. If Paul has been dealing with age related issues... it doesn’t make sense to dismiss this as a potential problem.

Q3 - Which Suns player would you miss least if he were traded?

GuarGuar: Probably Torrey Craig. He is not a good 3 point shooter and his rebounding was not what it was last year. I’d rather give Ish Wainright a chance over him as Ish has shown he might be capable from 3.

OldAz: There are only 7 players to consider here outside of Book and DA (not tradeable), CP3 (better fit to trade next offseason), and the 3 recent signings. That leaves Mikal, Crowder, Cam J, Saric, Shamet, Payne, and Craig. I would put them in that order of importance and break it down into the following categories:

  • Mikal and Crowder : If traded, the Suns better get an overall upgrade (“win the deal”), otherwise keep them.
  • Cam J: I would like to keep, but understand if he has to be included in a package for an upgrade.
  • Saric, Shamet, Payne, Craig: JAGs - Would not miss if Suns traded any combo of these.

As to which of those 4 I would miss the “least” it would have to be Craig. He carried no value last year and did not even bring the energy off the bench like he did in 2021.

Cliff30: Landry Shamet. Wouldn’t miss the player, would be glad to be off the contract. Dario and Payne have at least had runs where they played well for us, so there’s at least some fan connection. I don’t really have any fond memory of Shamet’s time with the team.

But if we’re talking more about our core players the guy I’d miss the least is CP3. He’s been great, but his age makes him scary. You’d rather move on a year early than wait for him to fall apart. I also just don’t have the same fan connection to him that I do for Booker, Ayton, Bridges or Cam. Those guys are home grown Suns. We’re CP3’s fifth stop. And you know that if things went South in Phoenix he would be requesting to move on to his sixth spot in short order.

Jim C: Jae Crowder among the rotation players. He has always been inconsistent, but became maddeningly so during the postseason. He was absolutely awful in the first round.

Booker, Bridges and Johnson are really the only specific players I’m looking forward to watching again next season. I really enjoyed watching McGee play last season. I like savage alley-oops. Those are individuals whose games match up with what I enjoy watching. Watching games is about having fun.... at least for me. I don’t like every player that plays for the Suns... I do like some non-Suns. At the end of the day I’m a Suns fan. Players have come and gone.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable members for all their extra effort this week!


Interesting Suns Stuff

Mikal Bridges Is UNDERRATED! | BEST OF 2022 SEASON

Cam Johnson Highlight Mix! (Vol. 1 • 2021-22 Season)


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Do you believe that the Suns still have a realistic chance at making a trade for Durant this summer?

42% - Yes.

58% - No.

A total of 434 votes were cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

How do you expect 37 year old CP3 to play this season?

  • 4%
    Better than last season.
    (21 votes)
  • 53%
    About the same as last season.
    (277 votes)
  • 40%
    Worse than last season.
    (210 votes)
  • 2%
    Much worse than last season.
    (13 votes)
521 votes total Vote Now