The Phoenix Suns are the best story in the NBA this year, tied for the league’s best record entering play on Monday.
With that, they have several deserving cases for awards season: MVP, All-NBA, All-Defense, Sixth Man of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc.
Because of the performances and stories across the roster, there are almost too many nominees. So, Empire of the Suns’ Kevin Zimmerman and Kellan Olson picked three cases apiece to champion on their podcast that you can listen to above.
With that, there was some rollover, so here are those four total pitches from them.
Chris Paul for First Team All-NBA
Kellan Olson: Chris Paul’s MVP case has a little too much “Lifetime Achievement Award” feel for my liking. Instead, let’s declare he was one of the two best guards for the 2020-21 season.
We are getting a typical Point God season: Elite game management and playmaking with strong efficiency and defense. Across a career that includes nine All-NBA selections, Paul’s 49.4 FG% is his second-best, 38.4 3P% is fifth and a 93.3 FT% is the top number of his career. He’s having a massive impact offensively with that efficiency despite making only 56 shots around the rim this year, less than one a game!
I do not need to waste our time expounding on Paul’s value and why his lower statistical averages than other nominees should not put a heavy dent in his case. His value has come through winning and making a young team better, where his 46-18 squad has been far superior to his competition for this spot: Stephen Curry (32-32), Damian Lillard (36-28) and Luka Doncic (36-28) — injuries have taken Kyrie Irving (48 GP) and James Harden (34 GP) out of the running.
There’s no contest when it comes to defense, either. Paul is levels above all three of those guys. He is 10th in steals, 15th in deflections and leads the league in loose balls recovered on a top-5 NBA defense he plays a vital role in.
With apologies to Devin Booker, who has a strong argument for getting an All-NBA spot this year too, Paul is my pick for being slightly more deserving of the recognition, to the point where he’s been the second-best guard in the NBA.
Monty Williams for Coach of the Year
Kevin Zimmerman: Monty Williams already had the reputation as a respected leader when he took the Suns’ job before 2019-20. And while the roster addition of Paul and the rise of Booker with the young core also deserve credit for turning around the franchise, all of the culture-changing can be traced back to the head coach.
The competition includes several deserving candidates, but Williams just has a little more oomph. Jazz coach Quin Snyder indeed amplified Utah’s offense to be three-point heavy, and the team remains great defensively. But big things were already expected from the Jazz after past seasons of success.
Tom Thibodeau has made the New York Knicks relevant again, and Suns fans know better than to scoff at a 36-28 record at this point. But Williams’ team right now has the league’s best record.
Steve Nash deserves credit for managing personalities on the Brooklyn Nets and keeping the wins churning out even when their three stars are out or injured, but also he has Kevin Durant, Irving and Harden on his team!
Williams winning the NBA Coach of the Year award seems like a good bet and a deserving outcome.
James Jones for Executive of the Year
Zimmerman: Look, I 100% expect former Suns center Sean Marks to take home the NBA’s Executive of the Year honor. Reminder: He has that Big 3.
Durant and Irving were already in tow before this year, but making an unconventional hire of Nash and then making the no-duh decision to pull the trigger and acquire a disgruntled Harden from Houston have worked out well.
Marks’ low-key best move was a complex deal that added shooter Landry Shamet and defensive rover Bruce Brown to the roster.
All that said, Jones used the Suns’ bubble momentum to convince Paul that Phoenix was the place for him. Jae Crowder, Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore followed, and then Jones got Torrey Craig on the cheap.
Jones’ long-term vision of helping out Booker is what appealed to Paul. Marks’ vision of piling up stars I guess appealed to Harden in that deal, but it just feels a little cheaper — not that adding three superstars is the wrong thing to do at all.
Mikal Bridges for All-Defense
Olson: I’m worried about Bridges getting his due. For some of the individual defensive statistics you can come across, Bridges’ do not jump off the screen. With the dozens of nominees media members will go through, some might see those and cross him off. But hear me out.
Bridges is picking up the most difficult defensive assignment for the Suns almost every night. While he is undeniably a great defender, Bridges’ effectiveness is mixed, from doing outstanding jobs on Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic to guys like Doncic and Donovan Mitchell at times getting the better of him.
But Bridges holding that role has been immeasurably important to the Suns being one of the NBA’s best defenses.
Paul is about to turn 36 and even though he’s still got some juice left as a great defensive player, he should not be asked to cover ball-handlers who are going to get into the teeth of the defense frequently. Booker doesn’t get much credit for improving on that end, but he’s also not at the point where he is marking the opposition’s number one option.
To a greater point, you don’t want either of those two guys to take on that responsibility and exert themselves to that extent defensively. More simply, it could be a weakness of this team not having a high-level primary on-ball defender. Remember when the Portland Trail Blazers had Gary Trent Jr. guarding LeBron James in the first round of the playoffs last year?
And to keep extending this bit further, Bridges in that spot has allowed for Paul and Crowder to thrive as help defenders and the co-defensive coordinators talking on the backlines.
I guess this has become more of a Most Valuable Defender pitch for Bridges over his actual play, which has still been rather excellent, but that should matter.
The total list of 10 names for first and second team always gets funky. There are over a half-dozen centers who deserve praise and you can count on Ben Simmons, Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo holding a spot.
For one of those last few, though, gimme Bridges.