I was in a recent conversation with a friend the other day when the conversation of the Phoenix Suns – and more importantly – their legitimacy as championship contenders – arose. When I found myself defending the Suns’ chances, I decided to write this column explaining exactly why I think the Suns are as legitimte as any team in the entire league.
Having said that, let me explain my reasoning.
First of all, the Suns still have the best point guard on the planet in two-time MVP Steve Nash. Simply put, Nash makes the game easier for every other player on the Suns roster and has shown no signs of slowing down this season. As a matter of fact, Nash has been better than ever and is currently the odds-on-favorite to win his third consecutive MVP title.
“I do feel I’ve improved,” said Nash, in a recent interview. “I feel like I’m a little bit better in all areas. I’ve taken a lot of pride in being the best teammate I can be. The main goal for me is to be consistent for my teammates every day.”Bottom line … with Nash, nothing is impossible.
Phoenix also has an excellent starting shooting guard in the multi-talented Raja Bell. Not only does Bell give the Suns excellent defense on the perimeter, but he also gives them a huge shot of mental toughness, not to mention, quality perimeter shooting as well.
Phoenix also has a very talented third guard in combination guard, Leandron Barbosa, who may be the quickest point guard in the entire league. Barbosa, who would start for almost every other team in the league, can spell both Nash and Bell, without the Suns missing a beat and could be the Suns ace in the hole come playoff time.
Having pointed out how spectacular the Suns guards are, I will take the time now to emphatically say that Phoenix will win or lose in the postseason because of their frontcourt play. Unlike last season however, when the Suns only had one player that even remotely resembled a low post player (Boris Diaw), Phoenix is in much better shape this season with their frontcourt players.
Starting at small forward – or should I say – point forward – Phoenix has Mr.Do-it-all, Boris Diaw. To be blunt about ti, there isn’t a more versatile frontcourt player in the entire league. Diaw can score either in the low post or consistently facing the basket out to 18 feet. He rebounds, plays defense and passes like a point guard. With last season’s performance, Diaw is also as confident as ever.
At the other forward, the Suns have another incredibly versatile player in Shawn “The Matrix” Marion. Marion can score in a multitude of ways on offense but is also an outstanding defender and rebounder, especially at his size.
Now, all of the aforementioned players wrere together for the majority of last season throughout the playoffs, but what the Suns lacked, because of injury, was the presence of power fordw/centers, Amare Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas.
Before I begin to list the ways I think both of these big men will help Phoenix this postseason, let me say (once again) that I have never witnessed a team go as far as the Suns did with no interior presences whatsoever. For the Suns to even reach the Western Conference Finals last season, was a feat that I found absoultely remarkable.
Having said that, I fully believe that the Suns, with a healthy Amare Stoudemire and Thomas, have as good a chance of winning the championship as any team in the league.
Thomas is an experienced veteran who knows his role is primarily to rebound and defend the painted area.Thomas however, is also a competent offensive who can score consistently around the beasket.
If Stoudemire comes anywhere close to playing at the level he displayed two years ago, then the Suns are going to be a handful no matter who they play. Simply put, Stoudemire was playing like the best power forward in the league. Looking at Stoudemire right now, it’s easy to see that he definitely isn’t the player he was two years ago.
Stoudemire however, has steadily improved since the beginning of the season and appears to be on something of a mission to let the world – and the rest of the league – that he is back and his team is for real.
If the Suns do have an achilles heel, it would probab;y be their lack of depth on the bench, although they are the only tem in the league with six players averaging double figures in scoring.
After the aforementioned seven players, the Suns play struggling point guard, Marcus Banks, aging veteran, Jalen Rose, whose contributions are almost non-existent these days and journeymen, James Jones and Jumaine Jones, not a group I have a whole lot of confidence in personally.
One thing I like about the Suns is that their leader knows that nothing short of winning a championship matters in the long run.
“At the end of the year, no matter how many records we break, if we don’t win a championship, we’ll feel we came up short, Nash said when asked about the team’s recent 15-game winning streak.
“It’s all about trying to improve so that when the playoffs come around we’re in the best position we can be to be the best team we can be. We’re definitely mentally tougher than we were at the start of the year. Our defense has picked up as a result of that and our chemistry has gotten better. We’re a better team than we were at the start of the year and obviously we want to continue to get better.”
Count the Suns out if you will, but in the long run, Phoenix is going to give every team in the western conference a run for their money, including the Mavericks and Spurs.
Just ask Nash, you can bank on it.