After years of operating under a basement-dweller status in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns have finally positioned themselves atop the Western Conference. Pouncing on their stellar performance in the bubble months ago, the organization chose to go for broke and win now. Through two-thirds of the season, they have far exceeded everyone’s expectations. It all begs the question: are the Phoenix Suns championship contenders this year?
Chris Paul has fit in seamlessly, Devin Booker has continued his growth into superstardom, and Monty Williams has led the team well as head coach. Their collective efforts have led Phoenix to have the second-best record in the league overall. With all these factors and more thriving in their favor, we ought to wonder if they truly have what it takes to be champions. Here are three reasons why I don’t think the Phoenix Suns will win the NBA title.
As already mentioned, the Suns were basement-dwellers in the league for years. Their last playoff appearance was in 2010. It goes without saying that a lot can happen in 11 years. However, there’s something to be said about the lack of playoff experience for the young core.
None of Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges, DeAndre Ayton, or Devin Booker have played in the postseason before. Moreover, no player outside of Chris Paul or Jae Crowder can say that they have a bevy of playoff experience to lean on. This is crucial because it is typically the experienced teams that excel in the postseason.
Devin Booker has more than proved himself as an outstanding talent. He has performed as advertised this season, scoring 25.5 points per game on 49.5 percent field goal shooting. He is an elite scorer consistent enough to thrive in the regular season, but he’s never made the playoffs before.
We’ve seen great players in postseasons past get diminished for one reason or another. Guys like Paul George, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and others come to mind. Not to say that Booker will meet the same fate, but it is a possibility, especially since he’s the only player on the Suns averaging over 20 points a game. Teams will emphasize stopping him on defense, which is a lot to take on in your first playoff run.
Additionally, it’s rare for any group to get it together and win a title in their first year. The last team to accomplish such a feat was the 2007-08 Boston Celtics. Even then, that team struggled throughout the playoffs, playing no less than six games in every series. For this Suns team to do something like that, they’ll have to take out teams with the requisite experience first.
Phoenix may have a top-two record in the league, but that doesn’t exactly make them a top-tier championship contender. Come this postseason, they’re likely to come across squads of a more credible status as contenders. The teams in mind include the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Who’s to say that they have enough to take any of these teams out?
In any playoff series, success becomes more oriented around tactics and adjustments. I wonder If Phoenix has enough talent to make the necessary adjustments should they have to. As previously mentioned, Devin Booker is the only player on the Suns averaging over 20 points a game. If he’s limited, there may not be any way for Phoenix to triumph.
Looking at their competition, most of them have other players to lean on should their stars be halted. If they manage to stop Nikola Jokic in his tracks, Denver still has Jamal Murray to recover. Should Phoenix keep LA’s Kawhi Leonard in check, Paul George is capable of picking up the slack. If LeBron James hits a slump, unlikely as it may be, Anthony Davis still looms large for the Lakers.
You could argue that Chris Paul or DeAndre Ayton would make up the difference if the Suns run into that problem. However, they don’t exactly have a bevy of depth to fall back on. Also, DeAndre Ayton has yet to live up to his offensive potential, and Chris Paul’s health remains a concern.
Throughout his career, Chris Paul has struggled to stay healthy in the playoffs. Back in 2015, a sore hamstring had him hobble his way through the postseason. His LA Clippers would eventually bow out in the second round. In 2016, a fractured right hand ended his season, and the Clippers went on to lose in round one to Portland.
In 2018, now on the Rockets, another hamstring injury kept him out of games six and seven in the West final. Houston lost both games. Now you could say that he’s managed to stay healthy in the playoffs the last two years. Then again, his team hasn’t played that many games in the playoffs those times. On top of that, as Paul ages, like all athletes, his health becomes more of a concern.
The Phoenix Suns have well overachieved this season and have earned their due respect for it. Even with the acquisition of CP3, few people will tell you they saw them having this good a year. Despite this, I have a hard time seeing the Suns as championship contenders. But who knows? Unprecedented as this season has been, maybe we ought to be open to expecting the unexpected.