What’s the Ceiling for the Phoenix Suns?
The first blockbuster trade of the NBA offseason came when the Oklahoma City Thunder sent Chris Paul to the Phoenix Suns. Paul is coming off a resurgent year in which he was named to the All-NBA Second Team. He averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 assists, and five rebounds per game, while leading the Thunder to the postseason.
Last season had a bit of magic to it for Chris Paul. First, he and Oklahoma City weren’t supposed to be there. The Thunder were given a 0.2% chance to make the playoffs. Paul had other plans however, propelling OKC to a tie for the fourth seed. Oklahoma City was also just one possession away from advancing to the second round.
So how did Paul and the Thunder do it?
The biggest reason was clutch time. No team was better in these moments (the score within five with less than five minutes to play) than the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s because no player was better in these moments than Chris Paul. The All-NBA point guard scored the most clutch points (150), while also having the most clutch steals (10).
Paul will now be looking to bring the same magic to Phoenix. So what should the expectations be for the Suns this season?
Despite finishing 34–39 last year, Phoenix got hot in the bubble. They were the only team to go 8–0, and were a tiebreaker away from making the play-in games. Even though they ultimately missed out on the postseason, there were still positives that came out of last season for the Suns. The team ranked in the top ten in points per game (tenth-most), field goal percentage (ninth-best), free throw percentage (best), assists per game (best), and three point makes allowed (eighth-fewest).
Phoenix isn’t devoid of talent either. Devin Booker is a superstar in the making. He finished last season averaging the ninth-most points per game (26.6). Booker also added in 4.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. Second year center Deandre Ayton also flashed star potential last year. He only played in 38 games, but was dominant whenever he was on the floor. Ayton averaged 18.2 points and 1.5 blocks per game. The former Arizona standout also averaged 11.5 rebounds per game, which would’ve ranked sixth in the NBA.
The ability to keep both of those players in the trade was huge for the Suns. Phoenix also was able to keep the number ten pick in this year’s draft. Really the only true loss for the Suns was Kelly Oubre Jr. Sure Phoenix traded Ricky Rubio, but Chris Paul is easily an upgrade. Oubre Jr. however, was coming off a season in which he averaged a career high 18.7 points per game. A trade for Chris Paul wasn’t going to be free though. Phoenix did what they had to in order to get the All-Star point guard.
This puts the Suns in position to finally return to the playoffs. I expect Phoenix to reach the postseason for the first time since 2010. Anything after that however, is anyone’s guess. The Suns will definitely be improved this season. That doesn’t mean the Western Conference is going anywhere though. Multiple teams are still better than the Suns in my opinion. The Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, and healthy Warriors will in all likelihood outperform the Suns. The best case for Phoenix this upcoming year would be the fifth seed. If the Suns can finish better than teams like the Jazz and Mavericks, then the season should be considered a success. Even a possible victory in the first round of the playoffs is not out of the realm of possibility. But if you’re expecting a championship run for Phoenix, you may end up disappointed.