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Lesson Unlearned: Phoenix Suns Projected To Underwhelm

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Lesson Unlearned: Phoenix Suns Projected To Underwhelm
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Last October I was ridiculed for predicting a conference finals berth for the Phoenix Suns.

'Nuff said.

Amar'e Stoudemire subsequently left for greener, if less successful, pastures. The Suns filled in the gaps with Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress (with Leandro Barbosa being jettisoned to snag Turkoglu).

The Suns are now ten-deep. They're a roster with nary a player the other team can say, "We can cheat off him." Steve Nash refuses to age.

And ESPN is picking them ninth out west for next season?

Here's the (recurring) thing Suns' critics forget: Phoenix's sum is better than its parts. It's the Nash Effect. It's the reason a team with guys like Channing Frye, Lou Amundson, Jared Dudley and Robin Lopez as rotation players made the conference finals.

Only Amundson was remotely respected going into last season. Frye had been buried on the Portland bench. Dudley was a "throw-in" in the Boris Diaw-for-Jason Richardson trade. Lopez was viewed as a white stiff of a wasted draft pick.

It's important to remember those same castoffs and rejects are now lauded and praised. That transition from doubted-to-dangerous wasn't a fluke. Just look at Boris Diaw's Atlanta-to-Phoenix transformation.

Does this mean Hedo Turkoglu will morph into a double-digit rebounder? Highly doubtful.

If you paid attention during the playoffs, however, you noticed the Suns' holding heir own in the rebounding department despite even worse-than-usual board work by Stoudemire.

Instead, Phoenix employed a rebound-by-committee approach. Instead of Stoudemire dominating the boards, the bigs did what they could while the perimeter guys did the little things. They boxed out. They used their quickness to chase down long caroms.

Phoenix did better on the glass than onlookers predicted. Not because one player stepped up remarkably, but because the entire team upped the ante, with Nash and Grant Hill leading the way.

And that's what the collective vibe was about Phoenix last year, as well as this year. They don't look that great. Their flaws should destroy them, yet somehow they find a way to overachieve.

The same will happen this year. Turkoglu will enhance the pass-oriented, all-around play of the team while returning to his devastating Orlando form. Lopez will eagerly meet the challenge of their otherwise lacking frontcourt. Warrick (or Earl Clark or Gani Lawal—interesting battle there) and Childress will add athleticism and enthusiasm to an already strong bench.

Head coach Alvin Gentry will continue to help the younger players improve, leading to less weighty, more effective roles for Nash, Hill and Turkoglu. The bench will wear down opposing teams with their athletic depth.

Finally, Nash and Hill will keep the chemistry in balance, the main reason last year's teams exceeded nearly everyone's expectations.

In short: don't judge the Suns on paper. If you do, you're selling them short.

Just like you did last year.

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