NBA

NBA 2021/22: can Phoenix Suns repeat last season's heroics?

After their surprise run to the NBA Finals in 2020/21, Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Co are now tasked with proving that last year's successes were no fluke.

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NBA 2021/22: can Phoenix Suns repeat last season's heroics?
Mark J. Rebilas USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns surprised all basketball fans last year, finishing second in the west in the regular season before making it to the NBA Finals, where they were beaten by the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite not winning the championship ring, the Suns surpassed all expectations in a campaign which, given the fact they hadn’t made the playoffs in a decade, can only be considered a resounding success for the franchise.

Paul, Booker and Ayton integral to Suns' success

Aside from the numerous injury absences suffered by their opponents, the key to the Suns’ fruitful campaign was the signing of the veteran Chris Paul, who completely transformed the team’s play. We also shouldn’t forget about their franchise player, Devin Booker, and DeAndre Ayton, who found his best form in the playoffs. After such a surprisingly good season, the question now is: can the Phoenix Suns make it back to the Finals this year, despite the increased competition they’re set to face?

The franchise’s strategy has been to maintain the strong spine they already have and improve where they can, with the signings of Landry Shamet, Chandler Hutchinson, Elfrid Payton and JaVale McGee. There can be no doubting that their starting five will be left as is, as it works very well. The new arrivals have been brought in with the task of improving the Suns’ rotation, as this is where they had the most difficulties last season. McGee and Shamet are the two most important additions to Monty Williams’ roster, as they have strengthened the Suns’ options in the positions that most suffered when the coach had to turn to the bench.

Chris Paul (centre) was a hugely influential figure in the Phoenix Suns' run to the NBA Finals last season.

Phoenix Suns: the starting five

Barring injuries, the Phoenix Suns’ starters will be: Paul, Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Ayton. Let’s take a closer look at each of them:

Paul: the Suns’ most influential player. He pulls the strings and makes the whole team around him better. After his spell at the Houston Rockets, some had given him up for dead, but last season he proved them wrong. He steps up in the decisive moments.

Booker: the Suns’ most talented player. A youngster with huge potential who, despite his fine performances for Phoenix, still has plenty of scope to getter. Until last year, he hadn’t had a good enough team around him; when he finally did, he helped the Suns to the Finals.

Bridges: key in defence. A player who is still developing and, because of the new additions to the roster, could see his court time affected.

Crowder: versatile. A small forward who can play on the inside, but who likes to come outside to shoot. A hugely dedicated player when it comes to defensive duties.

Ayton: an old-school center. The paint is his comfort zone. Powerful but agile, he can score points beneath the rim but is also a good passer of the ball and is adept at creating space.

Ayton renewal at an impasse

The Suns are 17th in the NBA in terms of salaries, below the luxury tax threshold. Between them, Booker and Paul, who has just signed a four-year extension worth $120 million, take up half the franchise’s wage budget. Right now these two contracts aren’t a problem for the Suns, but Ayton’s is.

Ayton is tied to the Phoenix Suns until next season and is seeking a maximum rookie contract extension. The franchise are reluctant to give him such a bumper deal, but after seeing the contracts signed by fellow 2018 draftees Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Michael Porter Jr, Ayton also wants his piece of the pie, ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski says. If team and player don’t reach an agreement before 18 October, ahead of the start of the regular season, Ayton will become a restricted free agent next summer.

With a settled team and new signings to strengthen their areas of weakness, the Phoenix Suns go into the 2021/22 season with the aim of showing that what happened last year was no fluke. It won’t be easy, as the Western Conference looks to have got significantly stronger. They’ve already surprised us once… why not a second time?