Trio of Suns players enter Sports Illustrated’s NBA top 100 ranking

Sep 21, 2021, 1:30 PM
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) and Suns forward Mikal Bridges, right, run down the court af...

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) and Suns forward Mikal Bridges, right, run down the court after a Suns score against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half of Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals, Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton is one of three Suns players making major jumps in Sports Illustrated’s annual ranking of the top 100 NBA players.

This is the the ninth year of the annual ranking. Sports Illustrated is releasing its rankings throughout the week, with positions 30-11 coming on Wednesday.

Ayton is 37th in this year’s list, a vast improvement from last season’s ranking of 74th. Forwards Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder made appearances in this year’s list as well.

Despite less statistical output from Ayton last season compared to his two previous seasons in the NBA, he stood out during Phoenix’s playoff run. Ayton secured 14 double-doubles during the playoffs to go along with his 33 regular season double-doubles.

SI’s Jeremy Woo took notice of Ayton’s improvement, saying that his defensive skills back up Phoenix’s decision to take him with the first overall pick in the 2018 draft.

Ayton’s all-around evolution, particularly on the defensive side, earned him appropriate acclaim during the Suns’ Finals run. By sacrificing post touches and using his sheer size to influence the run of play, Ayton became more than simply the most physically gifted 7-footer in the sport. He’s one of the game’s best rebounders, a much-improved screener, and too mobile to scheme off the floor in the playoffs: in essence, why he was the No. 1 pick.

Bridges emerged into this year’s SI ranking at 53rd after being excluded from last season’s top 100.

Bridges shined as a reliable contributor in his third NBA season. He averaged 13.1 points per game with 4.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Bridges scored at least 10 points in 51 of Phoenix’s 72 regular season games and 12 of the team’s 22 playoff games.

He also started every game in the regular season and the playoffs.

SI’s Chris Herring noted Bridges’ improved 3-point stroke and defensive abilities.

If Merriam-Webster had a definition of 3 and D, a picture of Bridges—perhaps the league’s best role player—would appear next to it. His never-ending arms help make him an elite wing stopper. He’s drastically improved from deep, hitting 44.1% of his tries this past season. And his 76.3% mark from the restricted area ranked tenth in NBA among those with 100 attempts.

Crowder checked in at 90th in SI’s list. He was also not ranked by SI last year.

Crowder scored 10.1 points per game with 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists last season. He provided a veteran presence with significant minutes for the Suns, particularly during the team’s playoff run. Crowder started all 22 of Phoenix’s playoff games, playing at least 25 minutes in each game.

SI’s Wilton Jackson likes the experience of Crowder and his willingness to do the small things that can lead to wins.

Every NBA team needs a player like Crowder—a veteran leader and defensive anchor who handles the small hustle plays that don’t always show up in the stat sheet to help teams win. Heading into his second season with the Suns, Crowder still has a lot to offer to a young team looking to get back to the Finals.

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