3 things the Phoenix Suns need to do to beat the Denver Nuggets next year.
3. Become the better team defensively
The hiring of head coach Frank Vogel may have given us our first indication that this is the plan already, but if the Suns can become a truly stifling defensive group, they’re in with a chance here. Offensively the team can call upon Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, meaning the Suns will be able to put up points with the best of them.
But the Nuggets are set up in such a way around Jokic that trying to take them on in this area seems foolish. Denver know who they are, and are going to continue adding players like Bruce Brown who fit perfectly into their system. In the postseason, the Nuggets easily led all teams with a superb offensive rating of 118.2 (the Suns did finish third, at 116.1).
Defensively however, the Nuggets can be gotten at. They finished the playoffs with the second best defensive rating in the West (110.2), and lagged behind grittier Eastern Conference foes like the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks. If Durant, Booker and whatever Landry Shamet type player they have get going in a series, they can score on the Nuggets in different ways.
What would then set the Suns apart would be tightening up their defensive effort to levels we have yet to see from them. This would require a level of engagement from Ayton, if he is still on the team, that he has only really shown during the team’s run to the finals in 2021. During the regular season, the Suns ranked seventh in defensive rating, at 112.3.
Former player Mikal Bridges was a big reason for that, but a defensive structure built around Ayton and the often underrated abilities of Durant on that end can be successful. The Nuggets could only manage a league average rating of 113.5 during the regular season, and although they took their foot off the gas in the final month, it is still worth mentioning.
The plan then is to be the scoring team we know the Suns can be as currently constructed, while also taking their defensive abilities to a level that the Nuggets have shown they currently can’t get to. Sounds simple doesn’t it? This is going to be anything but that, but if the Suns can manage it, they’ll give themselves a chance in a series against the Nuggets.