Very few teams bruised, bothered, and belittled their opponents on defense better than the Phoenix Suns last year. Working together to form an intimidating and aggressive force at the floor’s other end, Phoenix often put a lid over their own basket, which contributed greatly to their outstanding 51-21 overall record.
The Suns ended up surrendering the seventh fewest opponent points per game during the 2020-21 campaign. They also finished in the league’s top half for lowest opponent field goal percentage, and contested the 11th most shots per game.
However, anyone that knows basketball also knows that from a defensive standpoint, statistics only tell the half of it.
Game reels from last season reflect Phoenix’s prowess at locking down their opponents to an even greater extent. With Chris Paul and Jae Crowder calling out orders, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton putting their lengthiness and athleticism to work, and Devin Booker allowing his competitiveness to fuel his efforts, the Suns operated as a free swinging defensive wrecking ball.
But ahead the 2021-22 season, their roster looks slightly different. Phoenix’s starting five remains fully intact, but some other players set to work behind them just recently climbed aboard.
Nobody knows what the 2021-22 season might bring at this point, but at one point or another, the Suns might need to throw out an “all defensive” lineup onto the floor to try stop runs during key contests. Filled from top to bottom with gritty and unique players, somewhat embodying Phoenix’s very own “suicide squad,” this lineup poises to seriously rough up some teams next year.
Phoenix Suns Lockdown Defense Lineup for 2021-22
- PG: Chris Paul
- SG: Mikal Bridges
- SF: Jae Crowder
- PF: Cameron Johnson
- C: Deandre Ayton
At a quick glance, this lineup moderately resemble’s Phoenix’s starting five from last year. But that makes sense again due to the team’s former stance as a top tier defensive group. However, this lineup swaps a few players into different positions that appear more compatible to their defensive bodies of work, while also bringing Cameron Johnson in off the bench.
Beginning with Paul, his importance as the captain for this defensive unit cannot go overstated. Almost nobody possesses a higher game-IQ than CP3. He simply sees things before they happen, and then directs everyone around him accordingly.
But even outside of what Paul brings to the table as an on-court leader, his skills directly regarding the game still hold up even at 36 years old. Last season, Paul averaged the most steals for his team with 1.4 per game. Working as a crafty, stingy, and often annoying bug for other teams to deal with, Paul does it all.
Moving onto Mikal Bridges, he almost never plays the shooting guard position for the Suns due to Booker’s all around excellence. But under these “all-defensive” circumstances, it remains the best spot for him.
Unlike most small forwards, he possesses the lateral quickness and fast hands to defend off guards at the NBA level. Those tools paired with his keen defensive instincts make him arguably the team’s best defender even at only 25 years old.
Booker made great strides as a defender last year, no doubt about it. But Bridges’s versatility combined with the team’s additional players able to fill his position gives him the nod here.
Having played small forward mainly during his career, Jae Crowder returns home within this lineup for Phoenix. As far as pure defensive talent goes, he clocks in as an incredibly close second behind Bridges for best on the team.
Last year, Crowder earned the second most defensive win shares for the Suns. No Phoenix defender forced their matchups into a lower shooting percentage than Crowder as well. The journeyman also frequently finds ways to get under his opponent’s skin, embodying that rascal which every great defensive squad needs.
Crowder’s only shortcoming last year came due to his undersized frame for a power forward at six-foot-six. From time to time, the larger and more old school power forwards gained favor over him due to his lacking height. But with him back at small forward and matched up against more guys reflecting his size, Crowder’s defensive game no longer knows any flaws.
Cameron Johnson moves into the power forward role primarily on the account of him being the tallest player across Phoenix’s swingman trio of Crowder, Bridges, and himself. But Johnson’s ability to step up when needed also makes him a valuable cog within this defensive machine for the Suns. During the Finals last year, he frequently illustrated an ability to lock down opposing players during clutch situations, which remains an always appreciated attribute for a defensive player to carry.
The height and athleticism to consistently play power forward already exists for Johnson, he just needs to put on some more muscle. But on the other hand, Johnson’s exceptionally quick hands for a wing player poises to even out this shortcoming for him. If they Suns roll with this lineup, watch for Johnson to really pester his more traditional opponents at the power forward spot and come away with countless steals.
Finally, we return back to Deandre Ayton at the center spot. With Frank Kaminsky and JaVale McGee as Phoenix’s only other options down low, this position becomes far and away the easiest one to decide on.
However, do not let that ideology take anything away from the solid defender which Ayton remains. Stretching out to six-foot-eleven, with a seven-foot-six wingspan, and with game breaking athleticism, Ayton carries all the tools necessary to one day earn All-Defensive team honors.
Last year during the postseason, no starting center held their opponent to a lower field goal percentage than Ayton, and that even includes the onslaught Giannis Antetokounmpo put onto him during the NBA Finals. He also finished with the third most playoff rebounds per game with 11.8 per contest.
With much improved footwork down low and having finally started to show some aggressiveness, Ayton became a true anchor for the Suns last year. But next year, if he manages to play a bit smarter and stay out of foul purgatory, then he likely rises up with Bam Adebayo, Joel Embiid, and Rudy Gobert to become a top tier defensive center.