The Phoenix Suns wasted no time getting the NBA offseason kicked off, making an immediate big splash by trading for Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal over the weekend. Not only did Phoenix land another explosive scorer in Beal, but they didn’t give up all that much to get him. Washington received Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, and multiple second-round picks and pick swaps.
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On paper, the swap immediately comes across as a steal for the Suns. They add another flamethrower on offense without giving up a first-round pick. Losing Paul hurts, but his unreliability from an injury standpoint at this stage of his career has slowed them for a few years. Shamet was a liability overall come playoff time despite his knockdown shots. So where does this deal leave Phoenix in the hierarchy of a very uncertain Western Conference? Arguably most importantly, they will be nearly impossible to guard. Adding Beal to the dynamic duo of Devin Booker and Kevin Durant gives Phoenix three guys who can get a bucket whenever they need to, and all three will put pressure on defenses no matter who has the ball, creating a puzzle that will be difficult for anyone to solve.
Beal and Durant are sufficient playmakers, and with the leap that Booker has taken in that department over the last few years, the offense should run smoothly enough during the regular season to be a top-five unit in the association and put them near the top of the Western Conference heading into the postseason. However, the playoffs are when the same problems might arise in the valley.
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At this point, Beal is a better overall player than Paul, but Paul’s ability to calm everything down offensively and consistently get them good shots. The team will miss that, and Beal doesn’t do that. There are ways around this for the Suns, but a “your turn, my turn” offense is certainly a possibility here, and that doesn’t win games deep into the playoffs (see: Boston over the last two seasons).
The loss of Paul, combined with the firing of Monty Williams, leaves a question mark around the Sun’s offensive philosophy. How are they going to generate shots, and in what ways will they involve all three of their stars? Booker, Durant, and Beal could be so good that it doesn’t matter, but that’s something to consider when the Suns get into a series against a team that can match their firepower.
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Another issue comes defensively. Beal isn’t a defensive stopper, and Phoenix’s point-of-attack defense remains problematic. The Suns’ defense won’t be awful, as Booker improved on that end, and Durant is still an excellent help-side rim protector, but nobody is mistaking this Suns group for the 2004 Pistons. The best teams in the west have guards who will take advantage of this weakness, combined with the fact that DeAndre Ayton is not a natural rim protector and will put a ton of pressure on the rim against Phoenix. Guys like Jamal Murray, Steph Curry, and Luka Doncic/Kyrie Irving (if Dallas can figure out the rest of their roster) could all give Phoenix trouble in a series.
They could run into problems guarding others, but others will have issues defending them, and that’s a trade-off that the Suns were okay with. The final piece to the puzzle is Ayton, whose reputation has soured after entering the league as the No. 1 overall pick back in 2018. Ayton has flashed immense talent in his time in Phoenix, but inconsistencies in his effort and production, some of them tied to his role, have made him a frustrating evaluation.
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The bad news for Ayton is that if he wasn’t happy with his workload before, it’s certainly not getting any better after this trade. Paul was Ayton’s source of offense, feeding him the ball off of pick-and-rolls for easy, efficient looks in the restricted area. Now, there’s nobody left to spoon-feed Ayton the rock. His effort on the boards and defense has to stay at a high level. The Suns will need that to contend.
Maybe new head coach Frank Vogel can bring a different mentality out of Ayton, or maybe Phoenix decided to flip him this summer for a Clint Capela-type big that fits this roster better on paper. Regardless, the margin for error for the Suns’ front office is small, as their three stars will take up most of the payroll. Regardless of the holes around them, the Suns’ trio of Durant, Booker, and Beal will be capable of outscoring any team. They’re not a runaway favorite by any means. But if the health and the defense fall into place, they will have a chance to compete for their first championship in franchise history.