The Phoenix Suns ended the 2021-22 NBA season as one of the major disappointments in the league. Coming off an historic season where they set a new win record for the franchise, a second trip to the Finals was what most fans were dying to see.
However, we all know how that ended. After getting a much-needed win in Game 5 of the playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns never got a chance to get back on top. Suffering back-to-back heartbreaking losses in Games 6 and 7, Luka Doncic and the Mavs got the best of them.
After the defeat that was heard around the world, the Suns looked a bit lost at first. But during this off-season, it’s clear that the front office is willing to run it back with the same group. The Suns will still have its core group and have added new faces to help contend for the title. Damion Lee, Josh Okogie, and Jock Landale were all brought in by the front office to add more depth.
The Phoenix Suns’ championship window seems to be getting smaller as time passes. The Western Conference is getting more competitive as well. So, here are the five players that have something to prove in the upcoming 2022-23 season.
Dario Saric must regain form for the Phoenix Suns
Dario Saric didn’t play the entire 2021-22 season because he was rehabbing his right knee after tearing his ACL back in Game 1 of the 2021 Finals. Before his injury, Saric was the center for the Suns’ second unit.
As a stretch big, he was able to spread the opponent’s defenses when he was on the floor. During his last full season, he was able to knock down 34% of his shots from the three-point area. Although he’s a bit inconsistent, he has proven that he’s a reliable threat from outside.
Part of the area where the 6-foot-10 big man has to prove is his reliability to produce off the bench. With JaVale McGee’s departure, it will be a toss-up between Saric and Bismack Biyombo as to who will be the consistent backup center for next season. In addition, he’s the fifth highest-paid player on the roster. So, Saric has to prove that he’s still worth his price.
A more consistent Cameron Johnson
Last season, we saw an increase in production for Cameron Johnson. He finished with averages of 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.5 assists while shooting 46% from the field and 42% from the perimeter. Johnson ranked second in the team in three-point percentage and was their go-to guy when they needed a quick basket.
The former 11th pick from the University of North Carolina has shown consistent growth and maturity on the floor. He even finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting, right behind Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love.
Although he has been big during the regular season, many have pointed out his inconsistency during the playoffs. Just this past playoffs, there were games where it looked like he was trying to shoot his way out of his slump.
Oftentimes, Johnson would have games where he’d shoot less than 35% from the field. Additionally, his three-point percentage dropped from 42% during the regular season to 37% in the playoffs. Cam Johnson needs to prove to the people that he can step up big time during much-needed situations.
Devin Booker must show Phoenix Suns he can perform in the playoffs
The All-Star guard finished his best statistical season yet. He averaged 26.8 points, 4.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 46% from the field and 38% from the three-point mark. Devin Booker’s numbers helped the Phoenix Suns big-time to secure the first seed in the Western Conference.
Booker finished fourth in the MVP voting and carried the momentum from the regular season to the playoffs. Although his numbers did drop a bit during the playoffs, it was enough to get past the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round. In the second round against the Mavs, however, it was different. The Suns were favored to win the series, and advance to the NBA Finals for a chance at vengeance.
Nevertheless, Luka Doncic and the Mavericks proved to be a tougher matchup than expected. The defense that the Mavericks installed surprised the Suns in Game 7. During the half, the three-time All-Star only scored two points on 0-7 shooting. Booker finished the game with 11 points and had the worst box plus/minus for the Suns with -41.
Next season, Booker has a ton to prove. That includes being able to back up his taunting against Doncic, which fueled the Mavs’ star to lead his team to victory.
Chris Paul’s age and regression is concerning
Similar to Booker, the 12-time All-Star had an amazing season. Together with his backcourt mate, Chris Paul led the Phoenix Suns to a franchise-best record. Paul led the league in assists with 10.8, and it was enough for the Suns to be a threat offensively.
Due to his outstanding play, Paul was even included in the MVP race. He finished ninth in the MVP voting, but the recognition was enough for the 2006 Rookie of the Year. Paul finished his 17th season with averages of 14.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 10.8 assists while shooting 49% from the field and an underwhelming 31% from the perimeter.
However, all that came crumbling on one iconic moment during their Game 7 matchup against the Mavericks. At halftime, he only scored one point and even went 1-2 at the free throw line. Paul finished the game with 10 points, four assists, and one steal while logging a -39 box plus/minus.
Paul isn’t getting any younger, and his ability to lead a team during crucial moments seems to be slowly fading away. Suns fans would want that security of still being able to compete after years of post-season failures. Fans are waiting for Paul to prove that he can still lead a team.
Deandre Ayton has a lot to prove after record contract
At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, his teammate, Mikal Bridges, was given a rookie contract extension worth $90 million for four years. Everyone thought, “Wow! This is great! They’re keeping the core together. Now, let’s wait for Ayton’s turn.”
Well, that didn’t happen. He didn’t get offered an extension by the Suns during the regular season. I thought this was the start of a soured relationship between the former first pick and the front office. The season carried off to a great start even with that unspoken issue, and Ayton managed to bump up his numbers.
Like his teammates Booker and Paul, Ayton wasn’t able to save the Suns’ season against the Mavs. He only played 17 minutes in an elimination game, scoring five points, four rebounds, and one steal. Ayton even had a controversial verbal exchange with head coach Monty Williams.
But that’s all in the past now. As of this writing, Deandre Ayton has signed a four-year $133 million extension. With the core still intact, Ayton has to prove to the Suns that he’s worth the big deal they offered him.