Despite the loss last night to the Lakers, the Suns are still my pick for this year’s NBA title. Props to Kobe. He scored his 41 points, Pau helped a bit, and the Lakers won.
However, Pau understands his role on the Lakers and has more experience with his new team, whereas Shaq was making his debut. Once the Suns communicate on defense, those backdoor Gasol dunks and Kobe drives won’t be coming easy anymore.
Fortunately for Phoenix, this isn’t the NCAA where a loss takes you out of the running: a team needs to win 16 games to hold the title.
No team can beat the Suns in a seven game series, and last night was just the beginning of things to come. Teams that face these new Suns should be very afraid for two reasons: Bad things that were supposed to happen because of Shaq haven't, and good things that were supposed to happen have.
The main bad thing that hasn't happened is that the Suns offense hasn’t changed that much. The Suns have not lost their run and gun style. Shaq did get up and down the floor. One of the good things that Shaq brings to Phoenix is his ability to create mismatches, especially after a high pick and roll with point guard Steve Nash.
This strategy leaves the defense two options: Switch and have the point guard defend Shaq (I wonder who will win when Shaq makes his way to the basket?), or stay on the same guy and give Nash five seconds of breathing room. Would you really want to give the former MVP that opportunity?This makes it very difficult for anyone to create an effective defensive strategy against Phoenix. Switching or rotating defenders favors the Suns, as teams normally only have one guy who can defend both Shaq and Amare. The mismatch will lead to an easy offensive rebound for the Suns and another chance to score.
In this first game, the Suns grabbed 16 offensive rebounds compared to the Lakers’ seven, which equates to nine more possessions for the Suns.
Shaq brings one more thing that can never be overlooked, and that is veteran leadership. It’s likely that a team has one member who has been through it all, but rare for a team to have two. These veterans not only train the young talent, but take over games when necessary.
Shaq will be a good mentor for Diaw and Stoudamire, and, as evidenced last night, Grant Hill will take that second leadership role. The Suns desperately needed a run when their first few options were not working. Hill put himself into high gear and put together that 10-0 run.
The pick your poison method gives the Suns a good chance of winning it all.