30 Teams in 30 Days

2021-22 Phoenix Suns season preview: Roster changes, depth chart, key storylines and games to watch

The 2021-22 NBA season is set to tip off on Oct. 19. In preparation for the upcoming season, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.

Next up, the reigning Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.

2020-21 season record

51-21, 2nd in Western Conference

Notable additions

JaVale McGee, free agency

Elfrid Payton, free agency

Landry Shamet, trade

Notable departures

Jevon Carter, trade

Torrey Craig, free agency

Depth chart

Phoenix Suns 2021-22 Depth Chart
Starters Second Third Fourth
PG Chris Paul Cameron Payne Elfrid Payton
SG Devin Booker Landry Shamet
SF Mikal Bridges Cameron Johnson Abdel Nader
PF Jae Crowder Jalen Smith Chandler Hutchison Dario Saric*
C Deandre Ayton Frank Kaminsky JaVale McGee

*Saric suffered a torn ACL during Game 1 of the NBA Finals and is out indefinitely.

3 key storylines

Living up to expectations

Following an impressive run to the 2021 NBA Finals that ended just two wins shy of a championship, the Suns are going to have to manage expectations going into the 2021-22 season. Phoenix went 10 seasons without making the playoffs, but it has now set a precedent for itself after returning almost every key piece from a championship-calibre roster a season ago.

According to BetOnline, the Suns' over/under win total is set for 51.5 games in 2021-22 after winning 51 of only 72 games last season. They aren't favoured to win the West again, however, as the reloaded Los Angeles Lakers have a higher over/under win total projection. Ensuingly, the Lakers also have the highest odds to win the NBA title out of any Western Conference team, taking a little bit of pressure off of Phoenix.

However, it's extremely challenging to replicate a run to the NBA Finals as the Suns will have a target on their back every night, so it will be interesting to see if they can live up to last season's performance and make another push.

Chris Paul vs. Father Time

It was only two seasons ago that Paul was labelled as damaged goods, traded from the Houston Rockets to the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2019 offseason. Since then, he has been named an All-Star in back-to-back seasons, carrying the Thunder to the playoffs before being traded to the Suns, viewed as a key piece to help complete an up-and-coming team that had championship aspirations in the future.

Surely enough, at 35 years old, Paul came into Phoenix and averaged 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game, turning back the clocks to help the franchise snap a 10-year playoff drought on his way to the first NBA Finals appearance of his career.

Paul played in 70 of 72 possible games last regular season, shaking off the nagging injury bug that had bitten him over and over again throughout his career. He had a few minor ailments during his 2021 NBA Playoffs run, including a bout with COVID-19, but the veteran guard remained relatively healthy.

Can he repeat that clean bill of health as a 36-year-old entering the 17th season of his NBA career? The answer to that question could single-handedly determine the fate of the reigning Western Conference champions.

Can the young trio of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges make another leap?

All throughout the 2020-21 season, we saw the Suns' young core trio of Booker, Ayton and Bridges play above and beyond expectations, which led to the successful season that Phoenix had.

In the playoffs, all three of those players raised their play to another level again, playing a major role in the Suns' first finals appearance since 1993.

Booker averaged 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game in the postseason, delivering a handful of signature performances like a 47-point double-double to close out the defending champion Lakers in the first round, a 40-point triple-double in his first-ever Conference Finals game and back-to-back 40-point games in the NBA Finals.

Ayton played even better in the playoffs than he did in the regular season, averaging 15.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 65.8 percent from the field. He had four straight double-doubles against the Lakers to start the postseason, his defence on MVP Nikola Jokic propelled his team out of the Conference Semifinals with ease and he had arguably the best stretch of his career from the start of the Western Conference Finals through Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Bridges proved to be one of the most promising young two-way wings in the NBA today, displaying defensive prowess and timely shotmaking all throughout the playoffs. His breakout performance with 27 points in Game 2 of the NBA Finals showed his readiness for the moment, but he had been stepping up for the Suns on key plays on both ends of the floor all season.

Booker is only 24, Ayton is only 23 and Bridges is only 25. This trio should take another step forward this upcoming season, which would surely mean Phoenix returns to a top spot in the Western Conference. How much the threesome improves could be the difference in winning an NBA title in 2022.

5 games to watch

Wednesday, Oct. 20 vs. Denver Nuggets

A rematch of last season's Western Conference Semifinals, the Nuggets will be out for revenge after the Suns took care of business in an easy sweep. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic was ejected from Denver's final game of the series, taking the wind out of any hopes of a comeback, and Booker and Paul closed things out with a flurry of mid-range jumpers. This season-opener will be a statement game for both teams.

Friday, Oct. 22 at Los Angeles Lakers

The Suns eliminated the Lakers in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, handing LeBron James the first-ever first-round exit of his career. Despite knocking off the defending champions, there were hesitations as to how the series may have gone if Los Angeles was at full strength, with superstar Anthony Davis playing through injury in Game 4 before missing all of Game 5 and exiting Game 6 just five minutes into the contest. Phoenix will be back to prove the result wasn't a fluke.

Saturday, Nov. 27 at Brooklyn Nets

As the 2021 NBA Playoffs went on, many started to believe a Suns-Nets NBA Finals was on the horizon. With Brooklyn's star backcourt of Kyrie Irving and James Harden suffering injuries, they came up just short of eliminating the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks despite a 48-point effort from Kevin Durant in Game 7. The Suns went on to The Finals, but they never got their shot at the Nets. This has the potential to be a 2022 NBA Finals preview.

Saturday, Dec. 25 vs. Golden State Warriors

Yes, this being a Christmas Day game automatically elevates its prominence on the Suns' 2021-22 schedule, but it goes beyond the date the matchup falls on. This has the potential to be five-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion Klay Thompson's first game in two years, as Christmas is his reported tentative date to return to action. That means we could see a backcourt matchup of Paul and Booker versus Thompson and Stephen Curry, a head-to-head you won't want to miss.

Thursday, Feb. 10 vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The first rematch of what was a thrilling 2021 NBA Finals. The Suns held a 2-0 series lead before the Bucks came roaring back to win four consecutive games and take the 2021 NBA title. It's safe to assume both teams already have this date circled on their calendar.

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