The Phoenix Suns are headed back to the NBA Playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
With a win over the LA Clippers, Phoenix has officially clinched a playoff berth with 10 games remaining in the 2020-21 campaign.
After 11 long years, let's take a closer look…
The drought is over
It's been a long time since there has been postseason basketball in the Valley of the Sun.
Wednesday night, the Suns put an end to what was the second-longest playoff drought in the NBA. What makes the drought even more notable is that Phoenix's last postseason appearance was a deep run, as the trio of Steve Nash, Jason Richardson and Amar'e Stoudemire led the third-seeded Suns to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in six.
A lot has changed in the 11 years since.
In missing the postseason for a decade, Phoenix has had plenty of opportunities to build through the draft, selecting centre Deandre Ayton with the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 and All-Star guard Devin Booker with the No. 14 overall pick.
Ayton and Booker represent two-thirds of the modern-day trio that is led by 16-year veteran Chris Paul, who is set to make the 13th playoff appearance of his storied career.
In addition to Ayton and Booker, the Suns have relied heavily on two other draft-night acquisitions in Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, who are the team's fourth and fifth leading scorers, respectively.
While Phoenix's 2009-10 team relied heavily on more established veterans, this Suns team has a unique blend of experience and youth, with a number of players set to take the playoff stage for the first time…
At just 24 years old, Booker is on a fast track to superstardom in the NBA.
Since his second season in the league, Booker has averaged over 22 points per game, establishing himself as one of the best scoring guards in the league at a young age. In the four seasons since, Booker has added to his offensive arsenal by improving as a scorer and playmaker each year, earning two All-Star selections in the past two seasons.
The arrival of the consummate floor general in Paul has allowed Booker to take a step back as a playmaker but he is still averaging 4.5 assists to go along with a team-high 25.5 points per game and he is on the cusp of gaining the "superstar" label.
While Booker has checked a number of boxes in his career, team success is next on the list.
As an All-Star in his sixth NBA season, Booker's playoff debut might be the most anticipated among all players that are taking the postseason stage for the first time in 2021. We've seen him score 70 points before and he's crossed the 40-point threshold twice already this season.
What's next for Phoenix's star guard? He could very well be the next prolific player to put up big numbers in the playoffs.
A legitimate title contender
If they aren't already, it's time for the Suns to be revered as such.
Wednesday's achievement is much more than Phoenix ending a lengthy postseason drought; the Suns join the Utah Jazz as the second team in a top-heavy Western Conference to clinch a playoff berth. With respect to Utah, Phoenix owns the tiebreaker after taking the first two meetings between the teams this season and there's one to go.
Another win over Utah could propel Phoenix into the West's No. 1 seed and into owning the NBA's best record, something the franchise has only done twice before, in the 2004-05 season and the 1992-93 season.
28 years ago, league MVP Charles Barkley led the Suns to the 1993 NBA Finals while 16 years ago, league MVP Steve Nash led the Suns to the Western Conference Finals in 2005.
While Paul might not earn MVP honours, he has certainly made quite the MVP case, and history could repeat itself with yet another deep postseason run from a franchise that has been starved for playoff success. With Coach of the Year candidate Monty Williams, Paul, Booker and Ayton leading the way, the Suns could be making up for lost time sooner rather than later.
Just don't be surprised if they do.
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