Many different ways might be used to characterize Phoenix Suns’ journey to the NBA Finals last season. Some referred to it as a fluke with one of the highest payrolls, others as a surprising run, and some referred to it as a voyage out of a novel. Despite winning only 34 games during the 2019-20 season, the Suns ended last season with 50 or more victories for the first time since the “Seven Seconds or Less” era of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire in the mid-to-late 2000s, according to the NBA. They eliminated the 2019-20 champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, dispatched the Denver Nuggets in the second round, and sent the Los Angeles Clippers packing in the third round to win a spot in the NBA Finals. They are now gearing up for the next season. Below you will find out exactly how they are preparing for the coming season!
New Team Chemistry
The Phoenix now has the assurance that this collection of players is capable of carrying them all the way to the top. It was tough to predict what the Suns would get out of rookies Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, and Cameron Payne entering the playoffs last season, but they all showed that they are not frightened of pressure in big moments. Johnson should be set for another jump in his growth after shooting an absurd 46 percent from outside in the playoffs. Bridges demonstrated that, although he is the NBA’s perfect 3-and-D wing, he can generate his own shot, as seen in the playoffs. When Paul was ruled out of the first two games of the Western Conference finals, Payne filled in nicely, scoring 29 points. Then there are the guys acquired by the Suns to bolster their depth, most notably Landry Shamet. Shamet was obtained from the Brooklyn Nets in an offseason deal for Jevon Carter. Although Carter provided a defensive edge, Shamet provided Phoenix with another 3-point shooting threat off the bench to complement Johnson and Payne. He hit 38.7 percent from outside the arc for the Nets last season, ranking in the 73rd percentile for corner three-pointers made during the regular season. That will come in useful when Paul and Booker seek a teammate to assist them in scoring a long-range bucket.
Deandre Ayton Needs To Show His Worth
Perhaps the most fascinating storyline to monitor this season with the Suns is Deandre Ayton potentially playing out the last year of his rookie deal since he and the franchise have yet to agree on an extension. This is a surprising development, considering that Ayton watched other members of his draft class receive large rookie contracts this summer, including Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Michael Porter Jr. The Suns have until Oct. 18 to sign Ayton to a contract extension; if they do not, Ayton will be eligible for restricted free agency next summer and has been posting Instagram stories hinting at his future. The deadlock occurs because Ayton is seeking a maximum contract for $172.5 million with an option to grow to $207 million, but the Suns think he is not worth that much. This leaves Ayton responsible for proving Phoenix’s front office, particularly club owner Robert Sarver, wrong this season.
After just three seasons, Ayton’s numbers from last season highlighted his meteoric rise in the NBA. He averaged 11.8 rebounds, 15.8 points, and one block per game in the playoffs and shot a very efficient 65.8 percent from the field. Ayton restricted Giannis Antetokounmpo to 48.4 percent shooting from the field in the NBA Finals. This is modest compared to Antetokounmpo’s 70% shooting against almost every other defender, proving Ayton’s tremendous impact on Giannis’ defense.
Now that he’s entering this season, he’ll be even more eager to demonstrate that he’s more than worthy of a contract on par with those of his peers. He has already established himself as an excellent pick-and-roll partner for Paul and Booker, and his mid range shooting was in the 78th percentile last season among all centers. Ayton had his most efficient season overall, and his effort on the defensive end of the floor shows that he is also motivated to grow on that end of the court. If he continues to improve his game, which the Suns’ executive office’s snub will definitely aid, Phoenix should brace itself for a spectacular season from Ayton.
A Newly Motivated Booker
Last season, the Suns’ surprise success was mainly attributed to the presence of Paul, and while that may be somewhat true, Booker’s presence was just as significant in the team’s unexpected run to the playoffs. Last season, Booker showed that he could play inside a system to help build a winning culture while also acquiring a feel for playing with Paul. This season, with the Suns returning the majority of their starting line-up and entering Year 2 of their collaboration with Paul, we might see Booker have an even more dominating season, as well as being perhaps more efficient as a result.