The last three months or so have been disappointing times for the Phoenix Suns.
After finishing with the NBA’s best record at 64-18, they were expected to waltz their way to the NBA Finals and have a great chance at winning their first-ever world championship.
In the second round of the playoffs, they faced the Dallas Mavericks, a seemingly inferior team that had Luka Doncic but not much else of note.
Phoenix took a 2-0 series lead and looked to be on its way to a sweep, but it lost the next two games, and after taking Game 5, it got blown out in the following two contests to lose the series.
That seventh game in Arizona was one of the most stunning ever, as the Suns were never in it and ended up losing 123-90.
MAVS MAKE A STATEMENT | #CHASINGHISTORY | EPISODE 23
The Dallas Mavericks made a bold statement in Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns, as Luka Doncic and his teammates seized control and never looked back, clinching a spot in the Conference Finals. pic.twitter.com/X7RnrVxOG1
— NBA (@NBA) May 17, 2022
More recently, starting center Deandre Ayton looked all but certain to leave the team as a free agent, but they dodged a bullet when they matched the Indiana Pacers’ offer to keep him in the fold.
On the other hand, the Suns haven’t made any real additions or improvements to their roster.
Are they still championship contenders, or should we have a different set of expectations for them?
Maybe Chris Paul Isn’t As Clutch As Many Thought
For years, Chris Paul had a reputation as the type of star who would elevate his game under pressure, especially in the playoffs, not to mention hit clutch shots.
Most 4th quarter playoff points in the
last 5 seasons:
424 – Chris Paul
398 – Steph Curry
391 – Giannis Antetokounmpo
388 – Jayson Tatum
353 – Jaylen Brown pic.twitter.com/z4loDJxqso
— Suns Nation (@SunsNationCP) August 8, 2022
But after blowing a 2-0 lead in the 2021 NBA Finals and the Suns’ stunning loss to the Mavs this spring, that reputation has taken a sizable hit.
In the last five games of the Mavs series, Paul failed to score more than 13 points in a single contest, and he averaged just 5.8 assists a game after leading the NBA in that category during the regular season.
In that fateful Game 7, the “Point God” mustered just eight shot attempts, 10 points and four assists in 31 minutes.
That’s not exactly the type of leadership we expect in a big game from a player with Paul’s lofty reputation.
Oddly enough, all this game once he celebrated his 37th birthday on May 6, which begs the question: Is he finally starting to decline?
During the regular season, Paul experienced career-lows in points per game (14.7) and shot attempts per game (11.3) while shooting just 31.7 percent from 3-point range, by far his lowest such percentage since his rookie season.
His postseason numbers in 2022 looked good (17.5 points on 56.1 percent overall shooting and 38.8 percent from downtown plus 8.3 assists), but they’re shaded because of his decline in production versus Dallas.
Can we expect Paul to bounce back, or do we have to accept that he is now a diminished version of who he used to be?
The Suns May Not Be The Kingpins Anymore
The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets are expected to be contenders, as they’re getting key players back from injury, and both could easily be better than Phoenix.
They may have plateaued, and if that’s true, the Mavs may have given the rest of the league the blueprint on how to stop them.