Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton have gotten off to a hot start under the CP3 era in Phoenix

Getty Images

For quite some time now the Western Conference in the NBA has been one of the most competitive in all of sports.

Get ready to add another team onto the list of competitors in the NBA's wild west. The Phoenix Suns are currently in first place in the west and are tied with the Philadelphia 76'ers for best record in the league after starting out 5-1. The addition of Chris Paul in the offseason has been paying dividends early, and appears to have expedited the development of a few of their young stars.

If you follow basketball then you know who Devin Booker is, and you probably know the name Deandre Ayton by now as well. But to start the season the Suns are getting strong contributions from third year player, Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Johnson who is now in his sophomore season. Both lottery picks, not selected by Phoenix initially, are finding themselves under the tutelage of the future hall-of-famer Paul.

Paul himself is having a down year if anything so far. He is below his career averages in points, steals, assists, rebounds, and field goal percentage in the Suns first six games, but what he's excelled at so far is showing these young talents how to win in the NBA. CP3 did the same thing in Oklahoma City last season as he led an unsuspecting Thunder team to a 44-28 finish which was good enough to earn the fifth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

After Paul was traded to Oklahoma City for the Thunder's all time favorite son, Russell Westbrook, expectations were low as people questioned Paul as someone who could lead a team to wins at his advanced age. What happened was quite different, and instead Paul quickly assimilated and formed a new culture with his new team. Thunder saw Shai Gilgeous-Alexander flourish into a budding superstar as he was able to both benefit from sharing the court with CP3 and learning from him. This season Gilgeous-Alexander has increased his assists per game average to 6.8 over his career average of 3.3 which one could argue is a direct result of working with Paul over the course of last season working on court vision and anticipation.

However Paul has an effect on young players, it works. Just look at the production we've seen from Bridges and Johnson this year compared to their BCP (Before Chris Paul) seasons.

Bridges is averaging 6.2 more points per game (15.3 ppg this season) and has increased his three point shooting percentage by nearly 14 points up to 50% average! Cam Johnson is scoring just over four more points per game this year along with increasing both his field goal and three point percentages (51.9% fg, 42.9% 3pt).

The consensus belief around the NBA has been that Devin Booker is exciting and Deandre Ayton is a versatile big man that can help a team win someday, but if the Suns can continue to get production like this from Bridges and Cam Johnson throughout the season, the Suns could actually be that team Ayton helps win now.

There's no need to talk about how good Ayton and Booker are, we know, we saw it in the bubble at the end of the 2019-2020 regular season. Booker looked like the best player in the league for a six game stretch as he fought to earn the final playoff spot for his Suns while falling just short. The biggest roadblock for Ayton's ascent towards being an elite NBA center is his health, so his future is in the hands of lady luck.

Phoenix isn't just a top heavy team however, the veteran play they're getting from Cameron Payne and Jae Crowder have brought a calming stability to their bench and allowed the Suns to feel more comfortable letting Booker get some much needed rest from time to time.

Phoenix has a long way to go to be considered a legit contender in a Western Conference that only got better since the end of last year, but they have good wins over playoff teams already such as the Mavericks, the Jazz, and the Nuggets. Chris Paul will not back down to anyone, and he tries to instill that bulldog mentality in his teammates. This young group needed that, they needed someone established like CP3 to take them under their wing and let them know that they're his guys and he's going to ride with them to the end. That makes Phoenix a dangerous team. Maybe not good enough to win this year, but good enough to make some people nervous.

Start paying attention to the Phoenix Suns, and at the very least do yourself a favor and follow their Twitter account, it's really one of the best in sports.

From Your Site Articles

Paul George grabbing a rebound in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals

Barry Gossage/Getty Images

In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.

After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.

The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.

Keep reading... Show less

Ben Simmons disappointed in the playoffs this season

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.

Offense being the key word here.

Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.

Keep reading... Show less

The Lakers looked lost in the Valley

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.

After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.

LeBron James LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.

The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.

Keep reading... Show less