While fans speculated and brainstormed ways to bring the NBA back to finish the 2019-20 season, very few concepts included the Phoenix Suns.
Surely, most fans of the team would be understanding if it was left out. If 16 or 20 squads were brought back, there would be no sensible argument for the Suns (26-39) being there.
But for whatever reason, the NBA went with 22, and Phoenix is one of them. It will compete in Orlando for the 8th spot in the tournament with five other teams.
Realistically, the chances of claiming that spot are slim, but the Suns visit to Orlando will be far from useless. As you prepare for the return of basketball, here are a few things to look out for while watching this young, promising team compete.
Friendly reminder: Devin Booker is only 23 years old.
The young star’s fifth season has been his strongest all-around year. He’s sporting superb scoring numbers (26 ppg) on elite efficiency (61 TS%). In short, this team is the best he’s played on in his career, and he still produces at career-high levels while having to share the ball in Monty Williams’ high-passing offense, which ranks first in the NBA in assists.
Statistically, Booker is well on his way to being a top-10 player in this league. However, he’s yet to play on the high-stakes stage that can showcase his talents nationally. Until now.
Okay sure, these eight games technically aren’t the playoffs. But they kind of are. For the first time since the ridiculously stacked 2013-14 Western Conference playoff race, the Suns will be playing meaningful games late in the season.
That means Booker will get his chance to establish himself among the elite. He’ll have intense duals with the likes of fellow guards Damian Lillard, James Harden, Donovan Mitchell and so-on.
These eight games will serve as a test for him. Can he keep up with the star-studded guards in the west? Or will he be a small fish in a big pond?
A healthy roster
Oh, what could have been.
The Suns played just 21 games with a fully healthy starting lineup this season, going 10-11. They’ve been completely ravaged with injuries, with significant players like Ricky Rubio, Frank Kaminsky, Aron Baynes, Kelly Oubre, and Deandre Ayton all missing time at some point.
Injuries obviously disrupted the depth of this team and forced Phoenix to play unfavorable lineups forcing poor matchups.
If there’s any positive from the NBA’s extended lay-off, it’s that all 22 teams should be healthy.
This means that the Suns should be more competitive. Coach Williams will have the appropriate roster for his catch-and-shoot offense, but the front office will also get a look at what works, and what doesn’t, and make decisions on what players should walk in the off-season.
If the team starts the new slate of games 0-3 or 1-3, Williams will be able to experiment against some of the league’s top teams and evaluate what players work in the system, and which don’t (cough, Ty Jerome, cough cough).
It’s Ayton time
Deandre Ayton was the shining spot of optimism for Phoenix this year. The second-year big man averaged 19 points on good efficiency and led the team with 12 rebounds per game.
After the better part of a decade spent trying to fill an Amar’e Stoudemire-sized hole on the roster, the Suns finally found their guy. Like Booker, he’s going to get his chance to show off on a massive stage.
Running the pick-and-roll with Ricky Rubio, Ayton showed off his tremendous athleticism and power. His size allows him to dominate the boards. Facing off against some of the best bigs in the league will prove to fans that Phoenix is really building something in the desert, and with a lottery pick likely in the cards, the sun is only rising.
Austin covers the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Chargers for OT Heroics. Follow him on Twitter @AustinTurner_ . For more coverage on the NBA, check out the rest of the great content on Overtime Heroics.