First, let me preface this article by saying that the Phoenix Suns are a very good NBA team.
They have one of the most gifted point guards in the league who is a fantastic shooter and passer.
A dominant and athletic power forward in Amare Stoudemire. Quick as a cat, Leandro Barbosa. Solid defense in Raja Bell, coupled with Grant Hill's experience.
When you add all these parts up it makes for a very formidable opponent.
But in the wildly competitive Western Conference, very good will get you neither the top spot, nor even a good position in the playoffs.
In fact, very good for the Suns might not even qualify them for the playoffs.
Do the Math
When you look at the standings, you’ll notice the Phoenix Suns are in 2nd place and only one game out of first.
But the Suns also sit only four games out of being the ninth seed, a non-playoff location.
Even an avid Suns fan can't like the position they are in. But when you do the math, it becomes more precarious.
If 2 + 2 = 4, then the Suns are in a lot of trouble.
1. Suns have 29 games left and 21 are against playoff contenders, easily the toughest schedule of any team in the West.
2. 16 of those are against Western contenders. And what has been the Suns record against those teams? Six wins against 11 losses.
3. They have only six games left against the weak East, but four of those are against Boston and Detroit.
Playing the percentages, the Suns go 14-15 and end the regular season at 51-31. Very good, but not good enough.
The eighth and last seed is currently at 32-20, playing .615 ball. Which translates to, you guessed it, 51-31.
Not good for the Suns, because they hold few tiebreakers.
Why I’m Not Optimistic
No Shawn Marion.
Shawn is one of the most versatile defenders and scorers in the league. Losing Shawn has left a big gaping hole in the Suns offensive and defensive schemes. Just ask Steve Nash.
As good as Nash is on the offensive side of the ball, he’s just as much of a liability on the defensive end.
Quality point guards have been having their way with Steve all year.
Marion’s help defense has been key in the past helping to slow down the likes of Tony Parker, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Baron Davis. Now, Nash is on an island and exposed.
Since Marion has left, quality guards have averaged 37 ppg against Phoenix, resulting in the Suns losing two of their three games post-Marion.
It only gets harder the rest of the way.
“All hail Shaq!” - From the movie Men in Black, the bus locker civilization.
Shaq was brought in to help Amare rebound, solidify the interior defense, and jettison the ball quickly for the fast break. It is hoped he can still demand a double team on the low post to open up the Suns fine shooters.
If healthy, Shaq will help the Suns in these areas.
But, health is a major concern.
Shaq has yet to play for the Suns and has already missed four games. Even when healthy, questions abound and they need to be answered regarding whether Shaq has the mobility and quickness necessary to guard the better players in the West.
- How will Shaq defend high pick and rolls? He has very limited mobility. He reaches now, rather than moving his feet like he used to. Thus, he picks up fouls as a result.
- In close games, will Shaq see limited time on the court because of poor free throwing shooting like in Miami? Close games in the West are inevitable.
- Will Shaq be left behind by certain opponents transition games like Dallas, Los Angeles, or Golden State?
- All teams need a transition time to adjust to their new player. In this case, Marion is a key player leaving and Shaq is being inserted. How much time will it take for the Suns to gel?
And this is all assuming Shaq can stay healthy and play on a regular basis.
Of course, all of this happening while playing in the very tough Western Conference.
That is why I have reached the conclusion that the Suns might not make the playoffs. Nothing is absolute either way, they may just squeak in and receive a low seed.
Yet, even if you disagree with my analysis, you have to admit, it will not be easy for the Phoenix Suns in their quest to make the playoffs.
There is no room to breathe in the West and some very good teams will be left out of the NBA’s second season.
That’s the problem, you need to be a little better than very good.
Author’s comment: Even my favorite team, the Lakers, is hanging by a pinkie—only a Kobe surgery away from being on the outside looking in. The West is that tough.