For at least three seasons running now, I have begun the year with a lengthy writing somewhere on Bright Side that Deandre Ayton was the man to watch in the upcoming year. Every year I said it. “We know what Devin Booker can do, we know what Chris Paul will do...is this the year Ayton ascends to superstar status?
I’m done with that. If you look around you’ll notice that yes, that same storyline is popping up both here and in other sports media. “Ayton has a big chip on his shoulder this year, Ayton has a lot to prove, Ayton is primed for a breakout year...” same story as the last four seasons.
Ayton is important, but at the end of the day I’m now ready to put him into the category next to Booker and Kevin Durant in the category of “we know what to expect.” He won’t be counted on as a lead scoring option, which seems to be his preference and has been the case his whole career. He will put up his efficient 15-18 points per game and 10-12 rebounds per game. He’ll be an important part of the defense, even though people will argue about his effectiveness as a rim protector.
No. The real x-factor this season is Bradley Beal. Beal is the new guy, having come over in the major June trade that saw the Phoenix Suns part ways with Chris Paul and Landry Shamet.
Beal is a guy who HAS spent a majority of his career as a lead scoring option, though will now logically become a third option behind Booker and Durant. How he adjusts his game accordingly, and if he does, is a serious question for he and the Suns’ new coaching staff to tackle.
Beal is also a guy who has performed all over the map lately, though in part this could be blamed on his health and the inconsistency of the team around him with the Washington Wizards. He posted a 59% true shooting percentage last season, but came up shy of 54% just a season before that when he shot an ugly 30% from downtown.
He’s a career 40% on corner threes (potentially a hugely important part of his game as a third option scorer), but hasn’t hit that 40% mark for a season in five years now.
He’s a guy who has played some passable defense in his career, but has also been a turnstile for long stretches.
And that’s not to mention his health. Beal didn’t miss a single game for two seasons between 2017 and 2019. Since then, he has missed at least 22 games every year.
A healthy, engaged, and accurate shooting Beal is a massive game changer for the Suns in comparison to the team that bowed weakly out of the playoffs at the hands of the Denver Nuggets last season. All respect to CP3, but his inability to provide any offensive firepower on his own held the Suns back in a way Beal would not.
There are other questions about how exactly the Suns make their starting five work with no truly natural point guard in it, and how that point of attack defense looks without CP3, but those will answer themselves in time.
For now, I’m keeping my eyes on Bradley Beal. You’re off the hook at last, Deandre.