Why the Phoenix Suns Will be Better Than the Miami Heat in 2021-22

Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Many compared Phoenix’s run to the NBA Finals last year with the Miami Heat’s from the season prior. Propelled by young talent and a few clutch contributions from veterans, Miami also made it to the league’s grandest stage much to everyone’s surprise during the 2019-20 season.

Jimmy Butler carried his team with 26.2 points, 9.8 assists, and 8.3 rebounds per game throughout the championship series. He also logged a wild 43.0 minutes per game—the most during the Finals since Allen Iverson in 2001.

But despite his efforts, Miami’s dream season came crashing down after six games at the hands of LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. But even as the purple and gold confetti fell around them, the Heat held their heads high. They put together an incredible run, and hinted at a future title down the road once their young core reaches its full potential.

However, if they met the Suns on the Finals stage this coming year, things would end disappointingly for them again—with Phoenix as the better team for the 2021-22 season.

The Phoenix Suns will be better than the Miami Heat in 2021-22

For next season, the Heat once again closely resemble the Suns. Both squads carry aging and undersized, yet still effective point guards, a cold blooded scorer along the wing, and an incredibly athletic big man about to enter his prime.

Furthermore, both the Heat and Suns remain relatively young teams with overachieving prospects built around their “big threes.” Phoenix proudly wields Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, while Miami owns Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. Even their team names somewhat relate to each other as well.

But even with all these uncanny similarities, Phoenix clocks into the 2021-22 season as the slightly better group. When two teams match up as evenly as the Suns and Heat do, two things usually dictate the better team: rebounding and offensive efficiency.

Last year, the Suns developed a far greater appetite for glass eating than the Heat, averaging more rebounds per game and posting the higher rebound percentage. With how each team’s roster changed this offseason, that will only continue during this upcoming year.

The Suns lost Torrey Craig to free agency this summer, who averaged the second most rebounds per game on the team. But they also added JaVale McGee, who averaged more boards than Craig on fewer minutes per game—illustrating a clear upgrade for the team’s rebounding department.

On the surface, Dario Saric’s likely season long injury might feel like a serious blow to Phoenix’s rebounding efforts and cancel out what McGee offers, but that remains entirely false. Even as the team’s second big man last year, Saric averaged just 3.8 rebounds per game—the eight most on the team. So Saric’s pending absence barely factors into this discussion at all, still presenting the McGee addition as something to really take Phoenix’s rebounding to another level, rather than merely filling up a new hole.

On the other hand, Miami failed to address their already prevalent rebounding issues this summer. Ayton already out-rebounded Adebayo last year to begin with, and behind him they chose to add Markieff Morris and PJ Tucker, who both embody wing-defending bigs, rather than gritty class cleaners. As proof, they both averaged under 4.5 rebounds per game last season, also coming as marks far below McGee’s despite playing more minutes than him.

While Morris and Tucker absolutely help Miami to stretch the floor better than McGee does for Phoenix, both teams already stand as top-tier shooting groups who need rebounding far more than they need another bomber from outside. Filling their needs rather than fueling their already established strengths, Phoenix embodies the better rebounding squad.

But going back to offensive efficiency, the Suns last year put up the seventh highest offensive rating in the NBA, thanks mainly to Chris Paul—the third highest ranked player in offensive rating of all-time. The Heat contrarily fell back to 18th in offensive rating, shooting worse than Phoenix last year from the field, 3-point territory, and charity stripe.

The Suns also carry all their main offensive weapons from their prior campaign back into the 2021-22 season, likely causing their astute efficiency from a team standpoint to only continue. But Lowry joining the Heat comes into this equation as the only real wildcard.

Last year, Lowry shot 43.6 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from deep. These numbers are very impressive, but even when you factor them into Miami’s projected starting five, they still fail to uplift the Heat to Phoenix’s level. While Miami’s projected starters for 2021-22 averaged an offensive rating at 110.28 last year, Phoenix’s averaged an incredible 121.22 rating.

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So even with Lowry, the Suns remain the far more efficient team. This coupled with their improved rebounding assets lifts them just above the boys from South Beach.