The 2020-21 NBA season saw several playoff fixtures relegated to the top half of the draft, all while some teams that were buried down in the proverbial dumps ended up rising to the occasion. The Toronto Raptors ended up in the lottery for the first time in years, while the Phoenix Suns earned a spot in the Western Conference Finals.
Phoenix had a solid infrastructure to lean on near the end of the 2019-20 season, as emerging superstar Devin Booker and No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton make for one heck of an inside-outside combination. Monty Williams proved what a sharp basketball mind he was in the bubble. The Chris Paul deal, however, was the catalyst for the Suns’ tremendous 2020-21 campaign.
Despite playing in one of the toughest divisions in the game, Phoenix was able to earn the No. 2 seed in the conference after winning the Pacific, and they punctuated this season with a sweep of league MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.
As long as the climb back to the postseason may seem for a Raptors franchise that is not used to getting kicked in the teeth, they could make it back quicker than expected if they follow the same blueprint that Phoenix did.
The Toronto Raptors should learn from the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns landed a stud at No. 1 with Ayton, but they deviated from what they were expected to do in the draft by taking UNC’s Cameron Johnson and Maryland’s Jalen Smith. Both of these players were a bit raw, but they have tons of upside, and that could influence Toronto’s draft strategy. Drafting for upside might have some value if they want to rebuild quickly.
Booker’s turn from volume scorer on some bad teams to elite postseason performer has also helped Phoenix turn around. While players like Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam might not be at that lofty level right now, but continuing to work with them might be better than assuming they don’t have what it takes to be a No. 1 option.
Ultimately, it was the Paul trade that really helped this team take it to the next level. You don’t need to extoll the virtues of being aggressive to this Raptors front office, but they might need to go pull off another franchise-altering move to have a Paul-like effect on this team.
Phoenix might’ve come out of nowhere, or at the very least improved to a degree absolutely no one thought possible, but that shouldn’t dissuade teams from trying to copy that. Toronto has better infrastructure than most non-playoff teams, and that could enable a quick return to playoff ball if they follow James Jones’ playbook.