Phoenix Suns: Three keys for NBA's most complete team this season

Duane Rankin
Arizona Republic

The Phoenix Suns have perhaps the most complete team in the NBA.

They have two closers in Chris Paul and Devin Booker, one of the game's best coaches in Monty Williams, great team chemistry, quality depth and pride themselves on defending, sharing the ball and playing with force and effort.

All those ingredients came together to form a team that was two wins away from winning an NBA championship before losing four consecutive games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the finals.

Now they're back with their sights on returning to the finals and taking that one final step to be called champions.

That's clearly much easier said than done.

Here are three keys to the Suns' season:

Deandre Ayton

Williams has talked all season about needing a third scorer to go along with Booker and Paul.

That player should be Ayton.

Mikal Bridges is expanding his offensive game, Landry Shamet can get buckets and Cam Johnson is a knockdown shooter. They're all capable of having big games as is Jae Crowder or Cameron Payne off the bench, but none of them have the combination of size, athleticism and skill set as Ayton.

Phoenix Suns' Deandre Ayton (22) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis (3) during the first half of their game at the Footprint Center Oct, 6, 2021 in Phoenix.

He's a career 58.8% shooter from the field who has 15-foot range on his jump shot, can finish above the rim and is even attempting an occasional 3.

Ayton will get a little more leeway offensively, but Phoenix still needs him to rebound at a high level and protect the paint. Playing with force must remain a priority for the 6-11 big because when he does that, the Suns are a different team.

Continuity carryover

The Suns have most of their core back from the playoffs, with Torrey Craig being the lone exception, as he's now with the Indiana Pacers.

Craig brought versatility on both ends that the Suns will miss, but having everyone else back makes them special. This will enable them to call fewer plays, thus making the Suns even more difficult to defend. Paul playing off the ball is a different dimension and dilemma for defenses.

Devin Booker (right) and Chris Paul during practice, October 1, 2021, 2021, at the Verizon 5G Performance Center, Phoenix, Arizona.

Beyond that, having that chemistry and unity are going to be even more important this season. The leadership of Paul, Booker and Crowder must remain at a high level, especially when things like unexpected losses arise.

Last year, the Suns weren't expected to win big, but did. This year, they're expected to compete for a title and will hear more about the times they struggle. Staying healthy is a given, but staying together will keep them from crumbling at the first sign of trouble.

Defense and depth

The Suns ranked sixth in the league last season in defensive rating. 

In the playoffs, they finished third in defensive rating behind the Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.

Remaining a top 10 defense is a must to contend for a championship. As great as the offense may be, the Suns won tough games last season with consecutive stops.

May 23, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Suns' Jae Crowder (99) defends Lakers' Lebron James (23) during the first quarter of game 1 against the Lakers at Phoenix Rising Stadium. Patrick Breen-Arizona Republic

As for depth, Phoenix will miss Dario Saric, who is out indefinitely with a torn ACL suffered in Game 1 of the finals. He provided the Suns a physical presence who can stretch the defense, rebound and exploit mismatches.

The Suns don't have anyone off the bench who can do that from the four. That won't matter when playing smaller teams because Phoenix has multiple wings.

Game 5: Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) tries to corral a loose ball against Suns forward Cam Johnson (23) during the second half.

It's when they face a team with size like the Bucks or Los Angeles Lakers when their lack of size at the four is a problem.

Jalen Smith would be an easy solution, but the second-year player may not be ready for that important role.

Johnson can play the four, but is a more natural three. Crowder competes, battles, is strong and physical, but at 6-6, he's can be too short at times.

So Williams might wind up playing new addition JaVale McGee at the five and Ayton at the four in those situations. That 4-5 combo may prove to be what gets the Suns over the hump when playing against size come playoff time.

 Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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