After this morning’s trade that landed the Phoenix Suns Chris Paul, there’s been plenty of debate over social media: How good will the Suns be in 2021? Recent history tells us Phoenix might be dangerous this year, so let’s talk this out.
Roster wise, Phoenix didn’t give up a whole lot in the deal. They lost just one starter, Ricky Rubio, from their 8-0 Orlando bubble squad. Rubio was a solid point guard, but he was limited offensively. The Suns needed a player with Rubio’s playmaking ability who could also be a threat to score himself. Rubio averaged just 13 points per game in 2020. That’s just not going to cut it.
If you look at the best teams in basketball, you can see a clear common denominator: title contending teams all possess ball handlers who can score and who can help others score too. They are true dual-threats. It’s the reason why LeBron James’ play style has become so popular in today’s game.
Ricky Rubio made every pass Phoenix needed in 2020, but he also killed spacing. Even after Rubio shot a career best 36% from three this past season, NBA defenses still didn’t respect him out there. He was defended like a player that posed no threat to score, and that impacted the way they guarded Devin Booker as well. Chris Paul has a long track record of hitting mid-range and three-point shots, which may help fix the spacing issue.
The big name to emerge in the desert last year was first-round pick Cam Johnson, who showed flashes of stardom late in the season. Johnson struggled early but still somehow found a way to flirt with 40% from deep (39%). That shooting ability likely gave the Suns confidence to feel comfortable parting with starting small forward Kelly Oubre. Here’s what next year’s lineup should look like:
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Cam Johnson
PF: Mikal Bridges
C: DeAndre Ayton
Everyone on this projected starting lineup can shoot the rock. There isn’t a single player in this lineup a Western Conference opponent can leave open in the corner in order to double-team Devin Booker. So how good will this team be in 2021?
They should contend for the four or five seed in the West, especially since James Harden just asked to be sent packing East. Which Western trio tops Booker-CP3-Ayton? Most teams that fared better than expected this past year, like Portland, are currently struggling to make additions to their core players. We can assume OKC will stink in 2020, so there goes last year’s five seed. The four seed Rockets look like they’re divorcing James Harden and Russell Westbrook, so we can kiss them goodbye too.
Phoenix should land themselves right in the 43-47 win range, which makes them a team to watch. Most cynical basketball fans see Paul’s age (35) and fear he’ll disappoint. These are the same people that crucified OKC GM Sam Presti for trading for Paul last offseason, and the move worked like a charm. This time, Suns GM James Jones is the one taking a risk on Paul, and it’s about to make Phoenix a destination for NBA free agents for the first time since 2010.