My NBA Pacific Division preview continues with the Phoenix Suns:
2007-08 Standings 55 – 27, 6th Western Conference
2008-09 Predicted Record 48 – 34, 2nd Pacific Division, 7th Western Conference
Projected Starting Five: Shaquille O’Neal, Amare Stoudemire, Grant Hill, Raja Bell, Steve Nash
Sixth Man: Leandro Barbosa
Last season the Phoenix Suns made arguably the biggest gamble of the season when they traded Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the Miami Heat for future Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. It totally changed the dynamic of the team. No longer were they perfectly suited to run Mike D’Antoni’s 7 second or less style of basketball, instead they became this odd hybrid. Yet Shaq is an awesome force, the owner of four championship rings and there was hope that he could put the Suns over the top.
It didn’t work, they were beaten in five games by the San Antonio Spurs and ultimately D’Antoni lost his job. The task of designing a game plan to put the Suns back on top rests with Terry Porter however it remains to be seen how effective he will be.
The Suns will benefit from a full season with Shaq however will it be the dynamic Shaq of old or will it be the increasingly aged Shaq, hampered by injuries and the sheer weight of his body? Whatever the case Shaq still remains a powerful force in the league, his sheer presence forces other teams to react to him and this should free up room for the Suns shooters.
The Suns still have two of the best players in the NBA, former two time MVP Steve Nash and the ultra explosive Amare Stoudemire. Their talents are perfectly suited to each other. Nash is the crafty point guard, able to weave and create through the smallest of spaces while Stoudemire is super powerful with range on his jump shot. While its doubtful that Nash can continue to play at an All NBA level for much longer he still remains one of the league’s best point guards.
Phoenix also possesses a game changing bench. Brazilian Leandro Barbosa is the ideal spark plug, capable of changing a game with his speed and shooting. Boris Diaw needs to recapture the form that he displayed when he first arrived in Phoenix when Stoudemire was injured. When he is firing the Suns can be unstoppable. If he doesn’t the Suns signed Matt Barnes who is capable of playing a game changing quarter or two. Robin Lopez is set to back up Shaq and he should be able to run with the Suns quicks.
While the Suns will once again make the playoffs there is a sense that their best days have passed. They have too many senior citizens on the roster and if Grant Hill and Raja Bell slip backwards along with Nash and O’Neal then the Suns will be in trouble.
Terry Porter was a capable NBA player but he has shown nothing in his NBA coaching career so far, compiling a 43% winning record with the Milwaukee Bucks. While the Suns are undoubtedly more accomplished and loaded than the Bucks it remains to be seen what effect Porter will have on them.
Leandro Barbosa is one of the best sixth men in the League and should once again be up for the Sixth Man award. Diaw, Barnes and Lopez are all capable of providing an impetus from the bench. Probably the biggest concern is the lack of a back up for Steve Nash. Barbosa is incapable of running an offence and the burden will mostly fall on rookie Goran Dragic.
For a long time Shaquille O’Neal was the most dominant force in the NBA. Steve Nash is a two time MVP and a perennial All Star. But the true star of the Suns is Amare Stoudemire. Seemingly fully recovered from his knee surgeries Stoudemire is almost unstoppable.
How much does Shaq still have left? Can he summon it for one final campaign? If he can the Suns will go far, if he can’t then the big gamble was a failure.
The Suns are good enough to make the playoffs in the loaded West but they don’t have enough to challenge for the Championship.
You can find an index of past Previews here.