We are reaching the point in the postseason where every little comment that a player, former player or analyst makes is held onto and dissected to within an inch of its life. The Phoenix Suns have certainly come under the microscope this summer, as a result of completely remaking their roster.
While it is fair to point out that a team featuring Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and Deandre Ayton is top heavy, the organization did a masterful job in adding real depth around these players. Throw in a new head coach in Frank Vogel and one of the best coaching staffs in the entire league, and the objective is simple for the Suns. Win a first NBA championship.
Except former Sun and beloved analyst Charles Barkley doesn’t seem to think the franchise can be considered true contenders even now. He is wrong.
No matter what way you look at this, it is ridiculous to say the Suns aren’t one of the few teams in the league that have a realistic shot to win it all next season. What is fair to say is that there are no guarantees with this group, and that they will need to ride their luck with injuries and hope Booker in particular has another level that he can get to.
But claiming the Suns aren’t one of what Barkley believes are contenders right now is madness, especially when you consider who he thinks actually are. There’s no argument with the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics, and you’re not going to get much pushback on the Los Angeles Lakers either. They too have had a stellar summer. But the Philadelphia 76ers? Come on now…
The Suns are going to have one of the five best offensive ratings in the league next season, without doubt. Durant alone can almost assure that, but both Booker and especially Beal are going to introduce new wrinkles together. Combined all three averaged an insane 80.1 points per game last season, and while there is only one ball, the fit of the three next to each other works as well.
Coach Vogel is sure to get the best out of Ayton, and while he may not exactly be rejuvenated on the defensive end immediately, a return to the form of 2021, when he helped the franchise to the NBA Finals, is not out of the question. Ayton will just need some love to get there.
The Suns ranked a lowly 13th in the postseason in defensive rating (118.3), but during the regular season were a much healthier seventh (112.3). Some of that is down to Mikal Bridges still being on the roster, and the level of play on that end during the playoffs was unacceptable.
But owner Mat Ishbia went out this summer to remedy the situation, adding Keita-Bates Diop, Eric Gordon, Drew Eubanks and Chimezie Metu. Josh Okogie was brought back, and their second round pick Toumani Camara was drafted with the defensive end in mind. Already he has shown flashes of his potential.
The back end of this roster is not filled with ring-chasers who are passed their best. In fact, a whopping eight players were signed to minimum deals, and most still have something to prove in the league. They will be looking to get paid in future, whether that is with the Suns or, more likely, elsewhere.
Even with the stars taking care of the scoring, and a group of diligent workers filling in around them, the Suns went one better in adding Yuta Watanabe and Bol Bol. The addition of Bol is a swing on his potential, and there is every chance he won’t work out. Then again, some already believe he can be as good as Victor Wembanyama if given the chance.
Anything the Suns can get from Bol will be a bonus, but the real win here is Watanabe. The ideal player to have in this setting, he made 44.4 percent of his shots from deep last season and was a teammate of Durant’s with the Brooklyn Nets as well.
The amount of time and space he is going to get will be frightening, and he won’t be a disaster on the defensive end either. Forget about Watanabe being the kind of player that the Suns were lucky to get because of their salary cap situation. He is somebody any team would have loved to have had.
So with three superstars and a top 10 center in Ayton, a coaching staff led by Vogel and the most expensive assistant in the league in Kevin Young, and an above average supporting cast, how can Barkley claim the Suns aren’t contenders? They’re clearly in a better position than the 76ers, and you can make the case they’re ahead of the Lakers and even Celtics in the queue as well.
They even have an owner who is doing everything he can be win. The Suns will have a top five offensive rating next season, and will be at the very least league average defensively. Durant will miss games through injury, Beal too. But the odds of all three stars being out simultaneously is slim, and there exists some hungry depth to step in during the regular season anyway.
You can not believe in the Suns because they’ve never won a title. You can even discredit the two championships Durant lifted with the Golden State Warriors. It is acceptable to wonder if this roster is still too top heavy at its core, and that injuries could detail them. But not true contenders? A ridiculous statement from a former franchise great in Barkley, and we just proved why.