On Monday, we had our first official legitimate Woj Bomb of the transactional madness that is the forthcoming weeks of NBA reporting — both exact and erroneous.
All-time floor general turned franchise-saving mercenary Chris Paul is a Phoenix Sun, joining Devin Booker in an unforgiving uphill quest for the organization’s first playoff berth since 2010. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story and its full details this afternoon (or morning, depending on where you’re Zooming from in the world).
With a carrot in the form of Houston Rockets guard James Harden’s beard dangling in front of the star-craving Brooklyn Nets, there’s no telling where the Suns actually sit amid its Western Conference contemporaries. But on its face, the immediate upgrade from what is ostensibly Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre — a presumably healthy CP3 — is obvious.
Emerging from hamstring hell in Houston, the State Farm spokesman re-emerged as a dark-horse MVP candidate and ballotee, who finished seventh in voting for the award last season. With all due respect to Rubio, Booker badly needed a point guard — and another star — worse than Americans need a harmless White House transition.
CP3 captained the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 44-28 record in the shortened 2019-20 season, serving as the driving force for the franchise’s best winning percentage since 2015-16 … their last Kevin Durant season. (Which means, yes, numerically, Paul spearheaded a better season than every Russell Westbrook-led solo campaign, respectfully.)
Amid the COVID-19 NBA season stoppage, which spanned from March through July, Booker clearly returned having made a distinct spring forward from his lasting impression before the outbreak. The Booker-led Suns were the only 8-0 bubble team, and despite not making the playoffs, laid the foundation for the jumping-off point to strike this Paul deal.
But the key to the Suns’ success transcends CP3 and DB1; it’s DA22.
DeAndre Ayton is the crucial piece Phoenix needs to play to his draft position in order for the Suns to fulfill their playoff aspirations. Now let’s look further, the Suns clearly desire to participate in the postseason, but if Ayton leaps in the way we’re accustomed to third-year former No. 1 overall picks, they could do more than just simply making the playoffs.
Following his 25-game PED suspension early last season — his second season since being the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 — Ayton quickly reminded fans and fantasy owners that there are levels between blue-chip prospects and the Aron Bayneses of the world. (Again, respectfully.)
Ayton quickly returned to his starting role, rapidly returning to his walking double-double ways, and was instrumental in Phoenix’s turnaround alongside Booker. The Bahamian born big started 32 games last season, in which the Suns posted an even 16-16 record, in a season where they finished 34-39. Ayton started in 7-of-the-8 bubble victories the Suns secured, where he averaged 15 points, nearly 10 rebounds, and shot close to 54 percent from the field in 30 minutes per game.
For the season as a whole, Ayton finished with 18.2 points, 11.5 boards, and shot nearly 54 percent from the field. Initially disparaged for his defense — and while still having significant room to grow — he also lowered his defensive rating per-100 possessions from 113 to 108, and slightly improved his defensive rebounding, total rebounding, blocks, and defensive box plus-minus metrics. He’s also trying to shoot 3s, because what good is a modern 7-footer if he can’t, but don’t count on that developing overnight.
While Phoenix will be better off in merit, they need Ayton to be the Conway to Booker’s Benny The Butcher and Paul’s Westside Gunn. The Snoop to their Chris Partlow and Marlo Stanfield. The DeAndre Hopkins for every forthcoming CP3 lob. The missing piece to the Phoenix puzzle.
By sheer odds, it’s likely Paul won’t ever become a champion, but can you imagine how close they could come if a 22-year-old, near 7-foot former first-overall draft choice nears his ceiling?
For the playoffs alone, Paul and Booker are enough, but Ayton’s development could place the Suns over the top.