The Ringer’s O’Connor has 3 Suns earning NBA season honors

May 10, 2021, 12:30 PM

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks to Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) and Suns forward ...

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks to Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) and Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during a timeout in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Sunday, April 25, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A meteoric rise by the Phoenix Suns this season has a handful of their contributors being named as top candidates for the NBA’s regular season awards.

At The Ringer, Kevin O’Connor’s ballot for 2020-21 regular season honors includes three Suns — but none of them are Devin Booker. Monty Williams (NBA Coach of the Year), point guard Chris Paul (All-NBA Second Team) and wing Mikal Bridges (All-Defensive Second Team) earned recognition from O’Connor.

Paul did not make the cut as a top-five player in the MVP debate, though there’s a chance he could still sneak in to O’Connor’s list by the end of the week.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic appears to be a head above the rest of the candidates, but Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry are right in the conversation.

O’Connor certainly believes Paul should land on an All-NBA team, but he doesn’t have room for Booker, who is averaging 25.5 points and 4.4 assists per year.

And with every choice, I tried to weigh both ends of the court with games played and intangibles. That’s why Paul is getting some top-five MVP hype and should be a lock for All-NBA. He is averaging only 16 points and nine assists, but he gives his team what it needs to play at an optimal level. He remains a dominant playmaker and clutch shotmaker. He sets the tone on defense. And he’s played all but one game, establishing culture and bringing leadership every day.

I’ve had multiple front office executives argue that Paul should be first or second on All-NBA ballots. What they’re really arguing for is an acknowledgment of the unmeasurable yet known impact he makes beyond the stat sheet. It will be fascinating to see what other voters decide.

What’s another realistic avenue for the Suns to get some acknowledgment?

Williams has juice as the top NBA Coach of the Year candidate, not only because his team appears set to finish with the second-best record in the Western Conference, but because other teams don’t have that fresh of a narrative factored in.

The Bucks, Sixers, Lakers, Jazz, Clippers and Nuggets have won before this season and were expected to compete for a title.

Like the rising Suns, the New York Knicks are a surprise this year. Head coach Tom Thibodeau is Williams’ biggest challenger for the honor because of his team’s respective turnaround, writes O’Connor.

Williams will be my choice to win Coach of the Year after installing new wrinkles in Phoenix seemingly each month this season. He has cultivated an unselfish environment, blending veterans and young players, all for the common goal of winning games.

On the All-Defensive Second Team, Bridges makes the cut. O’Connor has an All-Defensive First Team backcourt of Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday, plus All-Defensive Second teamer Matisse Thybulle of the Sixers joining Bridges.

Ultimately, Bridges and Thybulle get the nod for the second team guard spots. Bridges is the centerpiece of Phoenix’s sixth-ranked defense. The Suns use him as an on-ball stopper across all positions, and he’s active and smart defending off the ball.

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The Ringer’s O’Connor has 3 Suns earning NBA season honors