EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Young Suns roster set to see big returns from NBA Finals experience
PHOENIX — Be careful who you are talking to about the Phoenix Suns’ offseason.
The franchise did what they should this summer, retaining key free agents like Chris Paul and Cam Payne while also making slight but noticeable upgrades to the roster in Landry Shamet and JaVale McGee.
Fresh off an NBA Finals run, though, a portion of the fanbase wanted to see some bigger moves. Maybe not huge needle movers, but names that could help legitimately improve the rotation. To provide this writer’s perspective, I have been asked more about trade rumor king and San Antonio Spurs forward Thaddeus Young more than anyone else in my life the past two months.
Some fans wanted to see a bit more, and it got to a place where bringing up the team’s internal development through a young roster was greeted back with some side-eye. It has become a borderline meme at this point.
But this is a real thing. The Suns are going to massively benefit from making the Finals as a young team, becoming the first in league history since the NBA expanded to a 16-team playoff format in 1984 to make it that far with three starters under the age of 25 in their playoff debuts.
Third-year wing Cam Johnson on the Road Trippin’ podcast said he probably learned more defensively in those two months than he did over his two full regular seasons.
Let fourth-year wing Mikal Bridges expand on what that means.
“Just the scouting and, coaches [are] always talking about, ‘They’re gonna know your plays and same with vice versa,'” he said at the team’s media day Monday. “Really being in that it shows defensively about with the scout and how much you have to help off this person but can’t help that much. It’s complicated, but it’s not that complicated, but if you look at it on paper it looks crazy.”
Bridges said the scouting report he looked at for the Suns’ first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers was the most difficult he had ever seen up to then.
Fourth-year center Deandre Ayton said watching the Finals back has instilled a mentality to compete every day and wasn’t getting too down on the small mistakes they were making in some of those moments, citing the emotions they were going through during those games.
“I know we’re way better than that now,” he said.
As Ayton said himself after the Game 6 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the standard has now been set.
“I’m really excited because now I know how the league is,” he said Monday. “I know what they threw at me and I know what’s going to be thrown at me. I know the type of level of commitment I have to give to my team and the type of dedication it takes to even touch the playoffs.”
Fifth-year wing Abdel Nader was injured for some of the Suns’ run last year but was still able to absorb a lot.
“I think it’s really huge,” Nader said of how making the Finals can help them improve this season. “Even for me personally, I know I missed a bunch of it, but the briefness I did play and just watching I learned so much just about the game in general. And the level you need to play at when you’re [in] the playoffs and the things you have to do and where you have to execute.”
There’s a continuity bonus too. The 16-year vet Chris Paul was sure to mention that as a plus for their group, as the majority of last year’s roster and rotation is back.
And going back to those offseason additions, McGee is a three-time NBA champion that is extremely familiar with what the playoffs take. Ditto for Landry Shamet, who has made the postseason in all three seasons of his career and already has 31 playoff appearances to his name.
They won’t get ahead of themselves, either, if that was even a thought.
As usual, head coach Monty Williams has his squad in the right mindset, one that was echoed by Paul, a regular occurrence the last two years that speaks to Williams’ ability to get his message across.
“I think it’s always step-by-step process-oriented,” Williams said. “I think, at least in my mind, if you think you deserve the right to go back to the Finals, that’s irresponsible. For us, I think we go back to ground zero and we don’t skip steps.”