In yet another season where the championship feels like a foregone conclusion basketball fans around the league will look for story lines and teams to still keep things interesting. To thee I present, the Phoenix Suns, the most interesting team in the NBA heading into the 2019 season.
Last season, many fans found themselves clamoring around the Houston Rockets as a fresh face in the Western Conference. Although they may not be Western Conference Championship like Houston was last year, the Phoenix Suns are undoubtedly the most interesting team in the league this year. Between their first overall selection DeAndre Ayton, blooming superstar Devin Booker, and the fourth overall pick from 2017 in Josh Jackson, Phoenix looks primed for a bright future.
Despite a 24-58 record in 2017, Phoenix comes into the 2018 season looking much improved. Phoenix’s most proven commodity in Booker signed a 5 year, $158M extension fresh off the best year of his career. Booker’s scoring is without question his best asset but one of his biggest areas of improvement over the 2017 season was his passing. Booker nearly averaged an assist and a half more in 2017, 4.7 per game, from 3.4 in 2016. As talent around Booker begins to improve his ability to pass the ball will be what separates himself from other great scorers around the league.
Big man DeAndre Ayton demanded an immense amount of hype heading into the 2018 Draft. The 7’1′ center with a 7’6′ wingspan out of Arizona was the undisputed first overall pick to most scouts across the league. At his size, it is expected of Ayton to dominate in the paint. However, what separates him from other bigs is his ability to shoot. At Arizona, Ayton hit 34% of his shots from deep. Whether or not that will translate to the NBA, only time will tell. What has translated however is his size. Summer League has been absolutely dominated by Ayton. Ayton is averaging 16 points with 11 boards through three games including a match up with fellow draftee Mo Bamba, who Ayton completely outclassed.
Lastly, Josh Jackson serves as the hinge for this team. As the wing, his ability to space the floor and defend will be crucial to Phoenix’s long term success. As a rookie, Jackson had a quiet, yet productive season that saw him averaging 13 points with just under five rebounds. In the Summer League, Jackson looks like he has improved his game from the year prior. During Summer League, Jackson is demonstrating poise with the ball and well timed aggression when attacking the rim. Not only has his game improved, Jackson has elected to shave the fro, opting for a tighter cut, significantly increasing his swagger on the court. If Jackson can unlock his full potential, he could be the third piece on a future Phoenix Suns championship roster.
Not only does Phoenix have a young core that would get any fans of a floundering franchise excited, they also have a few additional intriguing story lines. Aside from Ayton, the Suns also selected Villanova small forward Mikal Bridges. Bridges comes into the league fresh off a National Championship victory poised to contribute on an up-and-coming franchise. The Suns also added veteran Trevor Ariza from the Rockets on a one year/ $15M contract. Ariza brings leadership and begins to lay the groundwork for a winning culture to Phoenix.
For a franchise that has only seen two winning seasons since 2010, this young roster should provide hope. With a mix of rookies, 2nd/3rd/4th year players, and veterans, the Suns are in shape to compete for a playoff spot in 2018. Whether or not this possibility will come to fruition depends highly on the development of Jackson over the course of the season. Jackson will be the swing player that determines whether or not this rebuild is one year away from being official contenders, or still searching for that last piece.
All in all, there aren’t many teams more interesting than the Suns this season. Teams like Orlando and Milwaukee offer similar situations but neither matches with the potential powerhouse that is the Phoenix Suns. 2018 may not be their year, but it may just be a glimpse ahead into the future of the Western Conference.