On the NBA Beat Ep. 150: Espo: Suns Registered a “Cinderella Story” Season

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The 2020-21 NBA regular season has officially come to a close, and one of the most pleasant surprises was the year the Phoenix Suns recorded. Suns fans already had reason for optimism after an 8-0 performance in last year's Orlando bubble, but rarely does a team make the jump so quickly from outside of the playoffs all the way to the No. 2 seed, especially in the crowded Western Conference. We're joined this episode by Greg "Espo" Esposito of The Solar Panel, who attributes this growth to the veteran leadership of new addition Chris Paul, the coaching of Monty Williams, and a cadre of supporting players who all have effectively filled their roles when their names have been called. Espo also takes us through a few potential playoff scenarios, including a possible first-round matchup with the defending champion Lakers.

Note: This episode was recorded on Sunday, before the Suns were locked into the No. 2 seed and the full seeding in the play-in games was still yet to be determined.

4:54-5:23: “I had them going like 41-31. I thought a 5 or 6 seed was probably where they’d top out. I did not see this coming. And a big part of it was they’ve been healthier than most teams, but I just did not see them being a top two team in the West, finishing with 51 wins and an over .700 winning percentage. It was not in my wildest dreams.”

9:19-10:38: “His [Chris Paul’s] talent is undeniable, but what he brought to this young group was a mindset, an approach to the game. And they did not take any night for granted this year. … And every night, they came out and they played hard. Rarely did they lose back-to-back games. … That’s Chris Paul’s doing. It was like having a head coach on the floor that went completely along with Monty Williams’ philosophy as the coach off of it. And that’s what Chris Paul did for this team. He helped them grow up."

17:39-18:07: “I was with the team Devin Booker’s rookie year, and I have never met a guy that is built for stardom like I have with Devin Booker. The maturity, the mindset, the way he approached the game, everything he wanted to accomplish from Day 1, he has it. And I hope that the entire NBA gets to see and witness that evolution in the playoffs."

19:30-20:53: If he [DeAndre Ayton] is inconsistent, it’s going to be problematic. If he gets in foul trouble, it’s gonna be problematic. Because the one thing that James Jones didn’t do…the one place he didn’t build depth was at that backup center spot. … If he takes some large step in these playoffs, watch out. That could be the difference between a second-round or a Western Conference finals exit, and a championship. That’s how big you could see a swing if DeAndre Ayton does something special.”

31:07-32:03: “They have a very good chance and maybe even likelihood of beating the Lakers, just because they’re coming off of injuries, the Suns have played very well. Their style of play has been geared toward the way you play in the playoffs, plus the Suns are a deeper team. … But whenever you have two of the top five guys in the game on the court for your team, like the Lakers do, that’s scary. It should be scary for anybody in the first round.”

37:40-38:23: “That is one scrappy group. Steph [Curry] still can put up 50 in a game. I mean it would not shock me if he has a game in the playoffs where he drops 60, and we all just go, ‘Yeah, he is one of the best scorers we’ve ever seen.’ So that factor is always a bit unnerving, but if I had to pick between Portland, the Lakers and Golden State, give me Golden State out of that group. You can just wear them down. Sure, maybe they get two against you, maybe they get lucky and Steph has three unbelievable games, but I think the path to four wins against the Warriors is a lot easier.”

*Here's Jared Dubin's 538 article on the Suns' X-factors referenced during the show.

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