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OPINION: Are the Phoenix Suns contenders or pretenders?

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David Skinner | The Daily Wildcat

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton warms up on the court prior to his NBA Summer League debut versus the Dallas Mavericks on July 6, 2018 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev.

The Phoenix Suns are one of the hot topics in the NBA these days, currently sitting in second place in the Western Conference. There is a lot of talk of whether or not they are legitimate contenders come playoff time. Sports reporters Bryan Savic and Sean Fagan give their take with Savic believing they are contenders and Fagan believing they are pretenders. 

Why the Suns are contenders (Bryan Savic)

“We’re going to the playoffs.” Five words that have been nonexistent in the Phoenix Suns vocabulary for a better part of a decade. The Suns' last playoff appearance came in 2010, where they would go on to lose in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual NBA champion, the Los Angeles Lakers. Since then, the Suns' playoff hopes have been drier than the Sonoran Desert. They were consistently in the NBA basement and a franchise that was okay with tolerating losing in the hopes of receiving an abundance of high draft picks.

A new era of basketball has been ushered in as things are looking a bit different in Phoenix these days.

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We caught a glimpse of the team’s resurgence to relevancy back in last year’s NBA bubble where the Suns posted a promising 8-0 record while in Orlando. They were the only team to go undefeated in the bubble. However, this wave of momentum couldn’t quite sneak them into the playoffs due to a very poor start last season. Regardless, Phoenix looked resurrected from the dead as they showed glimpses of what was to come next season and in the foreseeable future.

That next season quickly became this season thanks to the NBA’s shortened offseason where players and coaches only had two months of vacation before reporting back for team activities and kicking off their first games late last December. The Suns started the season right where they left off in Orlando last year as they posted an excellent 24-11 record right at the All-Star break. How Devin Booker got snubbed from an all-star selection is absolute criminal, but that is a discussion for another article.

Phoenix was able to tap into their potential last year in the bubble as they came into Orlando with house money and had nothing to lose. I saw a young, hungry team that started to learn how to win and preached unselfishness in basketball. This unselfish style of play is largely indicative of head coach Monty Williams. If their play in Orlando wasn’t any indication, the Suns were ready to break out and become a formidable force in the Western Conference.

Over the offseason, if you even want to call it that, the Suns' front office made key moves that would add leadership and playoff experience to an already promising roster full of young talent. Acquiring a veteran like Chris Paul in a trade who brings tremendous leadership, savviness and true point guard ability was a perfect fit since the first day he arrived in Phoenix.

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Paul was an excellent pickup and has already become a huge difference maker for the team this season. His points per game average may not be what it once was in previous seasons, however he’s still posting a respectable 16.0 in that category. Paul continues to dazzle as a facilitator as he’s averaging 8.7 assists per game which is fifth in the NBA. Proving once again why he’s considered one of the greatest true point guards of all time.

Paul’s addition to the Suns is a perfect marriage as he’s reunited with his former coach in Williams. Williams coached Paul when they were with the New Orleans Hornets together back in 2010. What do you know, 2010 is the same year the last time the Suns were in the playoffs. Coincidence much? I think not. Okay fine, I’ll save the Illuminati talk for later.

Paul got along well with Williams during their lone season together in New Orleans. Paul appreciated how he was a player's coach and his high IQ for the game. It’s only fitting that they rekindle their relationship a decade later, this time in the desert. 

A player that has really benefited from Paul’s style of play and presence is center Deandre Ayton. Does that name ring any bells University of Arizona basketball fans? The former UA basketball standout and No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft has seen a slight dip in scoring numbers compared to his first two seasons, however, he’s experiencing a career-high field goal percentage of 61.1%. Paul is mainly responsible for this uptick as he has created excellent shot selections and easy buckets for Ayton around the rim all season.

Ayton isn’t the only player who has benefited from Paul’s play and leadership. Booker is another name that comes to mind as Paul has been the perfect Robin to Booker’s Batman. Paul’s pass first mentality and high basketball IQ has been a great compliment to Booker’s game. Not to mention, Paul has served as an ideal mentor for the young Suns superstar.

Adding Paul to the roster was a great decision by Phoenix. They made another under-the-radar addition over the offseason that isn’t getting enough attention. That moved involved a man by the name of Jae Crowder.

Crowder has been an NBA journeyman his entire career. He has bounced from team to team since he got drafted by the Dallas Mavericks back in the 2012-2013 season. His jersey collection is so big at this point that he could literally open his own sporting goods store if he wanted to. Nevertheless, after being traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Miami Heat last year, Crowder took full advantage of the opportunity of landing on a playoff contender and showed teams why he’s one of the better role players in the league. He played an integral part in Miami’s run to the finals last season thanks to his transformation into a knockdown three-point shooter and the ability to lock down an opposing team’s best player on any given night.

One of the teams that took notice of Crowder’s inspiring play in last year’s playoffs was the Phoenix Suns. As soon as he hit the free agent market, they were wise enough to bring him out west on a contract worth three years, roughly $30 million in total. A wise investment indeed as Crowder has been worth every penny. An excellent two-way player in his own right that helps space the floor as a stretch forward along with his lockdown defense and vastly improved three-point shot.

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Everything is falling into place for the Phoenix Suns at the right time. They haven’t been this good since the righteous Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash led teams that were famous for their “seven seconds or less offense” back in the early to late 2000s. For as bad as the Suns have been since the end of that era, those days seem like ages ago.

Now, the Suns have a very legitimate chance of not only finishing as a top three seed in the Western conference but also being a permissible playoff contender that could make it all the way to the Western Conference Finals. I know this a hot take, but I believe that they could give the Lakers or Clippers a run for their money if they ever do end up colliding with each other in the conference finals. I really think that they can be the Miami Heat of last year and possibly make an NBA Finals appearance this year.

There, I said it.

Tell me I lost my mind all you want, but I don’t feel that this take is as hot as it sounds. The Suns have a hall of fame point guard that knows how to make everyone around him better and put them in the best positions to have the most success. They have a formidable big man that anchors the paint with solid defense, gets tough rebounds and is a reliable scorer down low. Let's not forget their superstar shooting guard who can get you 25 points on any given night and has a knack for getting big buckets in crunch time. Plug in one of the best benches in the NBA full of young players with the ability to space the floor who can knock down timely three pointers at a high rate and you have a dangerous and hungry team that not even the Lakers want to see come playoff time.

Your move Sean Fagan.

Why the Suns are pretenders (Sean Fagan)  

I will admit, the Suns are having a better year than many people thought. Paul is doing what he does best, which is making everyone better. Devin Booker is a baller and the future of the franchise without a doubt. However, everyone in Arizona needs to relax. The playoffs have not even started, and everyone is saying this team is finals bound.

First, the best players on this team have never been to an NBA final. As good as CP3 is, he has failed every year of his career to carry his team there. He could not do it in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston or Oklahoma City. I know the other guy will say he did not have good teams in New Orleans or Oklahoma City, but that is not necessarily true. If you are in the playoffs, you have a good team, period. 

You know who else has absolutely zero playoff experience? Booker. Since he was drafted in 2015, the Suns have finished last in the West three times. I don’t want to hear how good Booker is in the regular season. It means nothing come playoff time. Even the biggest stars melt in the playoffs, such as his teammate Paul. 

The only guy on this roster who has been to an NBA final is Crowder. The only reasons that Crowder ever got there were Lebron James and Jimmy Butler. Regardless of what the other guy says, Crowder is not a difference maker. He is a dirty player who tried hurting multiple Lakers in the 2020 NBA finals, including Lebron. 

If the Suns make the playoffs and miraculously win the West, then I will give them credit. However, I will need to see them beat a healthy Lakers squad featuring both James and Anthony Davis. That is if they can even get past any of the other powerhouse teams in the West. 


Follow Bryan Savic and Sean Fagan on Twitter



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