Over the last decade, the Phoenix Suns have been one of the laughing stocks of the NBA. From missing out on talent in countless drafts and being at the bottom of the western conference time and time again. The momentum started to swing upwards for Phoenix when they of course drafted guard Devin Booker back in 2015, but there were still people pleading to get Booker to a winning situation. Warriors Forward Draymond Green even said on Inside the NBA for Booker to get out of Phoenix. But in the last couple of seasons, the Suns have been slowly acquiring talent to build around Booker. In 2018, they drafted DeAndre Ayton, then acquiring talent on the wing in Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges. The hiring of GM James Jones and Head Coach Monty Williams breathed some new air into the Suns’ Franchise.
Last season, the Suns finished with a record of 34-39. Even though the record may look bad, Phoenix showed signs of being a good team. Key players from the roster like DeAndre Ayton and Kelly Oubre missed substantial amounts of time throughout the season. When they entered the Bubble last season, the Suns showed flashes of the future, going 8-0 in their time in the Bubble. The culture of the franchise was moving in a positive direction and the Suns seemed like the next new team to breakthrough. After the season though, news broke that perennial All-Star Chris Paul would be joining Devin Booker and the Suns. Chris Paul was coming off one of his best seasons, leading an unsuspected OKC to Game 7 of the First Round of the playoffs. Paul was fortunate enough to have a considerate GM in OKC, Sam Presti, to help get Chris to a preferred destination. Chris Paul CHOSE to come to Phoenix and play for his former coach Monty Williams and with Devin Booker. Along with Paul, veteran Jae Crowder who just started for the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals came to Phoenix as well. The Phoenix Suns’ expectations went from possibly making the playoffs to not being one of the contenders in the West.
When the season began, people were wondering how Devin Bookers would be affected by Chris Paul and his ball-dominant style. This wouldn’t be the first time Paul or Booker has seen a player of their styles before. Paul spent two years in Houston next to James Harden, who led the NBA in scoring both years. Booker spent the last season playing alongside Ricky Rubio who of course isn’t the caliber player Paul is, but both are pass-first point guards. When the season began, the backcourt fit perfectly. Even though Booker seen a slight dropoff in his shooting percentages, there was no denying that Paul made his life easier. In the past, people tried to label Booker as a good player on a bad team putting up “empty stats”. Between 2016-2020, Booker averaged 24.9 points and 5.3 assists, while being one of the best mid-range shooters in the game. But with Booker just turning 24, you can only expect so much from a young player with the minimal talent surrounding him. Chris Paul helped relieve the pressure of Booker facing constant double teams and teams forcing his teammates to beat them rather than allowing Booker to go off. We have seen throughout the season how deadly the backcourt has been.
On the defensive side, Phoenix has been one of the top teams in the NBA. With big and switchable wings in Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, and Tory Craig, with DeAndre Ayton anchoring the paint and Chris Paul directing traffic, Phoenix has also been winning games with defense. The Suns are very tactical with their defense, exposing teams and individuals’ weaknesses. With a point guard that’s as smart as Paul with Monty Williams who has been a tactician this season, Phoenix ranked fourth in opponent field goal percentage. They did rank in the bottoms of the league in steals (19th) and blocks (25th) per game, but that doesn’t define a good defense. A good defense makes up players just simply giving a damn on every possession and that’s what Phoenix does. They communicate well, they execute, and they fly all over the court and contest every single shot. Phoenix ranked sixth in opponent effective field goal percentage this season, as well as third in opponent three-point percentage. Those numbers are a sign of solid defense and great effort.
This season, Phoenix finished their regular season with the second-best record in the western conference (51-21). In this playoff run, they defeated LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets, and Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers. Granted, those teams were not 100%, but that still takes nothing away from how impressive the Suns have been this season. They will not play the Milwaukee Bucks tonight in the NBA Finals, their first Finals appearance since Charles Barkley led Phoenix in 93′. The story of individuals on the Suns makes this team that much more special. Cameron Payne being out of the NBA just last year, Chris Paul having an MVP caliber season in year 16 and making his first career finals, Monty Williams leading this team to the summit, and other stories coincide making this season one to never forget. From not making it to the playoffs for a decade to making the NBA finals, the Valley Boys take the stage tonight for Game 1.