Phoenix Suns Most Lethal Weapon Against All 7 Playoff Opponents
It took a few extra days with the Play-In tournament needing to run its course, but at long last ,the Phoenix Suns finally know their first round opponent for the 2022 NBA Playoffs.
Scheduled to tango with the New Orleans Pelicans this evening, Phoenix will then play either the Utah Jazz or Dallas Mavericks, and then whoever emerges from the bracket’s other side should they maintain their winning ways from the regular season. On that other side of the bracket, one can find the Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, and Golden State Warriors.
Although the Suns stand above all their NBA counterparts for now, fresh off a record-breaking 64-win season and the sole proprietor of the tournament’s top seed, all these opponents possess some considerable talent. Phoenix needs to develop a unique plan of attack for each team—tailored around their weakness and strengths.
In doing so, they might want to feature a few specific players vs a few specific teams, unveiling a kryptonite of sorts.
While Phoenix’s leaders Devin Booker and Chris Paul promise to make an impact on everyone the Suns play, these guys represent their most lethal weapons against each Western Conference challenger.
Phoenix Suns Top Weapon vs #8 New Orleans Pelicans: Chris Paul
As one of the game’s better stories this year, the New Orleans Pelicans play tough and fight for victories with undeniable grit. The team’s top-10 ranking in both opponent turnovers and transition points this year best exemplifies that attitude.
Slowing down crafty shot-maker C.J. McCollum and the lengthy Brandon Ingram will be important tasks, likely falling onto Mikal Bridges’s shoulders. But all the while, a clean ball-handler and distributor like Chris Paul feels like the only thing able to negate New Orleans’s stingy and aggressive play style.
With an otherworldly 4.6 assist to turnover ratio this year, subbing Paul into the game will be like throwing cold water over an aggressive flame in the Pelicans. This past season, he also averaged more assists per game vs New Orleans than any other Western Conference team—fully illustrating his abilities to pick this squad apart.
Phoenix Suns Top Weapon vs #7 Minnesota Timberwolves: Mikal Bridges
Even though we all know the damage Karl Anthony Towns typically causes and how important Deandre Ayton’s work to slow him down might be, it became clear during Minnesota’s lone Play-In game that it’s the play of D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards that take the Timberwolves over the top.
KAT has even been a menace for years, yet the Wolves only recently evolved into a playoff caliber team because of Edwards’s fast development and Russell being his healthiest since his All-Star season. With that, the defensive responsibility falls onto Bridges, who will likely spend some time covering both those guys as Phoenix’s premiere wing defender.
The Wolves also resemble the league’s highest scoring team, so even from a general standpoint, Phoenix will need to rely on their Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Bridges. Given their place in the bracket, Minnesota seems highly unlikely to face Phoenix this postseason, but The Warden needs to stay ready regardless.
Phoenix Suns Top Weapon vs #6 Denver Nuggets: Deandre Ayton
No team has a more obvious central pillar to take out than the Denver Nuggets—which of course is MVP candidate Nikola Jokic. This task of slowing him down is simple, but not easy.
Like he did last year, Phoenix needs Ayton to step up to the plate as Jokic’s matchup down low. The easiest way for Ayton to do this will be keeping the Joker off the glass.
Jokic played Phoenix twice this year, winning the first contest as a season opener and then losing in March. Although he got his points in both affairs, dropping 27 during the first contest and then 28 during the next, his rebounding totals made for his largest discrepancy between each game.
In a losing effort, Jokic secured just six rebounds, but during his victory beforehand, he more than doubled that tally by snagging 13 boards. Being the team’s starting center, stopping Jokic from stealing more rebounds—and possibly games—promises to fall onto Ayton’s shoulders.
Phoenix Suns Top Weapon vs #5 Utah Jazz: Deandre Ayton
The Suns took care of business against the Utah Jazz this year, putting up a solid 3-1 record vs one of the league’s more talented units. In their lone loss though, offensive rebounding became the team’s fatal flaw, as they ended up surrendering a whopping 27 second chance points due to it.
With lethal scorers like Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, and Jordan Clarkson on the floor, whoever finds more shot attempts will likely win the game, and with that, Ayton needs to outplay Rudy Gobert on the glass.
While this feels very similar to the Jokic game plan on paper, it should prove a bit easier for Ayton to accomplish. Comparing Gobert’s offensive bag to Jokic’s is like comparing a molehill to a mountain. Although rebounding remains the most crucial element to take care of in both matchups, Ayton will have less to worry about when facing Gobert, making it a far more cut and dry assignment to complete.
Phoenix Suns Top Weapon vs #4 Dallas Mavericks: Devin Booker
The Dallas Mavericks enter the postseason with top-five numbers in almost every stat category on defense. They lock down both the paint and perimeter, contest without fouling, and play stingy basketball by forcing turnovers.
With so much going on to stop the Suns from putting the ball in the bucket, they will need to rely on the guy who can still do that with his back to the basket, four defenders draped over him, with an arm tied behind his back—you name it, in Devin Booker.
An argument can be made for Chris Paul as well given his general imprint on Phoenix’s offense, but at the end of the day, it’s Booker that burns teams with his scoring. He’ll need to do so against this team especially if Luka Doncic remains out, leaving the Mavs without the firepower necessary to keep up.
Phoenix Suns Top Weapon #3 Golden State Warriors: Mikal Bridges/Deandre Ayton
Perhaps this is cheating, but Phoenix’s early victory over the Golden State Warriors despite losing Booker midway through the game holds too much weight to ignore. Even with Steph Curry playing at an MVP level during that game, Phoenix put him in handcuffs thanks to Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton’s defensive versatility.
More often than not, even after Curry drew a screen, the Suns managed to stick with him off the switch, with either Ayton or Bridges taking on the matchup. Thanks to Ayton’s quick feet and athleticism, he stuck with Curry along the perimeter, while Bridges just kept doing his thing—putting on the clamps at all areas around the floor. That night, Curry scored just 12 points and shot 3-14 from deep.
Even with Klay Thompson able to score in a flash, Draymond Green locking down defensively, and Golden State’s role players still making plays, this Warriors team lives and dies by Curry’s production.
This holds true even aside from that aforementioned game. During his next contest vs the Suns, Curry scored 23 points and went 6-11 from three. After that, he dropped 33 points, going 5-16 from three. Golden State won both those games, and only lost to Phoenix again this year in a game Curry sat out. Phoenix clearly needs to blanket him as best they can, and Bridges/Ayton have a history of doing that.
Phoenix Suns Top Weapon #2 the Memphis Grizzlies: Jae Crowder
Although this is a new era Memphis Grizzlies team, they remain well immersed in the franchise’s Grit and Grind mentality, being the game’s top rebounding team this season. They also lead the league in second-chance points as a result.
However, rebounding against the Grizzlies is far different than rebounding against the Jazz or Nuggets. Those two teams rely almost entirely on their centers to secure boards, with Jokic and Gobert being the league’s top two rebounders this year. As his direct matchups down low, they put the glass-eating responsibility on Ayton.
But although Steven Adams remains a key rebounder for them, the Grizzlies instead rely more on gang-rebounding, with four other players averaging at least five boards per game. So to fight back against this collective effort, a hustle guy Jae Crowder will be most effective.
Crowder averages the third most rebounds per game on the team behind Ayton and McGee, but not all boards are created equal. Crowder often darts around the floor most effectively for long or contested rebounds during clutch moments. He even tallied the second most clutch boards this year on the Suns, just one behind Deandre Ayton—not bad for an already undersized power forward.
With these traits and the ability to sense the urgent moments in a game, Crowder makes for the perfect combatant to Memphis’s no-quit, collective rebounding. Look for him to help out Ayton and keep the Suns well-positioned for victory.