By many measures, the Phoenix Suns as a team appear to have already reached their peak. They first tied a 53-season franchise record for playoff wins, and followed that up with a franchise record in regular season wins before that playoff flameout that no one can properly explain, even their opponent.
The Suns may have reached that peak, and the only direction from here could be down.
But you should never make assumptions based on what’s visible in the moment, because there could very well be another peak hiding behind this one.
When it’s not too hot around here, I love to hike in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve because it’s only about five minutes from my house and yet it feels like a total getaway from the city. Not Piestewa Peak though. There’s just way too many people on that trail and I like having a bit of alone time with my thoughts and podcasts uninterrupted by the constant step-aside-or-barrel-through dance.
My favorite trail head is at Lincoln and 32nd street. The hike can be mild to moderate depending on which turns I make, but again I’m doing it for the zen equity not the sweat equity. One path is surprisingly difficult for about twenty minutes, because every time you think you’ve reached the top of the climb, another rise appears right behind it. It’s not until the fourth, or is it fifth, little peak that you finally reach the top.
For all we know, the Suns have not yet reached the top of their mountain, but for that to be true we will have to see some dramatic internal improvement from some of these guys.
We have no idea who is actually going to improve this coming season.
What we can do, though, is rank the players the Suns most desperately NEED to improve this coming season, whether that improvement is likely or not, if they want to ascend to that first-ever franchise championship.
Here are your candidates:
- Devin Booker — to top 8 player in the NBA
- Deandre Ayton — to top 20 player in the NBA
- Mikal Bridges — to top 30 player in the NBA
- Cameron Johnson — to top 50 player in the NBA
- Cameron Payne — to top backup point guard in the NBA
Let’s take them one at a time, with a little help from the Bright Side staff.
Today, Khaleel makes the case for Mikal Bridges needing to make leap, and how he can do it.
Mikal Bridges— to top 30 player in the NBA
Why it needs to happen:
Title teams need that glue guy. Someone that doesn’t care about individual stats or his touches. Instead, he just does whatever needs to be done on the court. This guy guards the opponent’s best player, whether it’s Curry, LeBron, Tatum or anyone in between.
However, just defense alone doesn’t make a top-tier player. Ask Marcus Smart or Ben Simmons or Matisse Thybulle for example. All of them are exceptional on defense. But... can you imagine Simmons or Thybulle if only they could develop a jumper? They would go to another level.
Offense goes a long way. Smart did quite a bit better on that end this past season and that’s a big reason why the Celtics were in the Finals. He shot 41 percent from deep on 34 attempts in that championship round.
How it can happen:
Mikal finished second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year last season. He’s already rock solid on that end.
It wouldn’t take TOO much to get him to be at that top 30 level.
Again, it’s offense that helps the type of player that Bridges is.
First, let’s talk about shooting.
He is elite at getting to the rim, finishing 62.8 percent of his two-point shots. In 2020-21 he made 42.5 percent of his 315 three-point attempts. At the free throw line, he has an 83.1 percent clip throughout his career.
Last season he scored at least 20 points in 18 games. Dare to strike a guess at the Suns’ record when he did? 16-2!
On January 30th vs the Spurs, he set a new career-high with 26 points. The very next night on February 1st vs the Nets, he broke that career-high with 27. Both games saw Phoenix come out on top.
Defending at the level he does is exhausting. Many people don’t realize that and choose to judge him on offense, which really isn’t fair. However, if he could just take a few more shots and score a little more, more consistently, he is that much better.
How about playmaking?
The Suns could use another play maker on the court to take some pressure off CP3 and Book. We have seen signs that Mikal is indeed capable of this. Last season he dished out at least 4 assists in 20 games. The Suns were 14-6 in those matches.
If he can facilitate more often, that helps the team that much more.
No opponent wants to see him on defense but us Suns fans would all like to see just a tad more offense from him. That would elevate his game and get him into that next tier.
Khaleel: I am a huge Mikal fan and feel this is 100% possible, as he’s gotten better each year on offense. So, to me this is likely. It is all a question of when, not if.
Dave: Mikal is already a top 50 player, maybe even top 40. To make that leap to the cusp of an All-Star berth (i.e. top 25 player) or fully into the All-Star conversation seems like it should be easy, but would require Mikal to make a leap on the mental end. He needs to become more of an alpha scorer at times, even when Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton are all on the floor with him.