After a surprising trip to the NBA Finals this summer, the Phoenix Suns enter the 2021-22 NBA season with something unfamiliar for most of the roster: expectations. While their free agency panned out splendidly and allowed them to run it back with an even deeper squad, the Suns will have to deal with a deep Western Conference and a league that will be far more ready for them now.
Chandler Hutchison (two-way)
Chasson Randle (training camp)
Projected Vegas Win Total: 51.5
Biggest Addition: Landry Shamet
The instinct is to say JaVale McGee, who plugs a hole that forced the Suns to turn to the likes of Kaminsky and Torrey Craig at center in the NBA Finals last season. But the pick here is Shamet, a forgotten yet talented young guard who was once a centerpiece of the Tobias Harris trade for Philadelphia and is still just 24.
Shamet’s defense is likely why he’s never been able to crack an NBA rotation, as he has never had a positive Daily Plus Minus and DARKO projects him to be at minus-1 this season. But what Shamet does give the Suns is another knockdown shooter who should excel in an egalitarian pick-and-roll offense similar to how the Clippers played during Shamet’s career-best 2018-19 season. We also know role players have tended to outplay expectations under Monty Williams in Phoenix, and Shamet should be the latest beneficiary.
Biggest Loss: Torrey Craig
While Craig was probably a rung too high in the Suns’ pecking order during the postseason due to his lack of offensive juice, he is nevertheless a strong defender and offensive rebounder who plays with elite energy and somehow managed to shoot 41 percent from deep during the 2021 playoffs. The problem isn’t that Craig is irreplaceable, or that the Suns should have matched the surprising $5 million deal he got from Indiana, but more so that the Suns will rely on inexperienced players like Nader and Smith to step in for Craig. It’s hard to expect those two to be playoff difference-makers, though it was unlikely that Craig would be, either.
Biggest Question: Who takes a leap?
While this year’s team goes deeper with NBA-level talent, the stars are unlikely to align for them in 2022 the way they did in 2021. We should be in for another fantastic Suns regular season, but come playoff time, they will likely need to raise their game. Because they did not add a major player in free agency, the question becomes more about who from their young core can raise their game. The best money is on Johnson, who has always been an underrated defender and flashed exciting shot creation in the playoffs. He is entering his third season, and due to his age, his prime.
What Makes This Season A Success: A return to the Western Conference Finals
It’s quite hard to pinpoint expectations for Phoenix. Sure, they over-performed in 2021, but not by quite as much as most would think. At the same time, a return trip to the Finals is tough. Split the difference, and it seems reasonable to expect the Suns to get to round three and have a puncher’s chance at Chris Paul’s first title.
What Makes This Season A Failure: A first-round exit
No matter how you slice it, the Suns are one of the four best and most complete teams in the West. That spells at least a second-round appearance. Anything less would be a disappointment in the Valley.