The Phoenix Suns are currently ranked second in the Western Conference with 4-weeks remaining. But the scheduling gods are not looking kindly on the Sun’s road to the playoffs. How good the Suns are will be determined over the next ten games where they play nine playoff teams.
The real test starts next Monday with a trip to the East. They will face the best teams in the East only to return to play the Clippers and the Jazz.
WHY THE SUNS WILL COLLAPSE
The final 19-games for the Suns rank as one of the most difficult schedules in all of the NBA. This is according to many sources including Tankathon. However, the Clippers, Jazz, and Dallas have the easiest schedule of all the playoff teams.
Not good news for the Suns as the only thing that separates the Suns from 4th place is 3 losses.
But moving to 4th place isn’t a collapse. The collapse will come in the playoffs. Their schedule before the playoffs will expose their weaknesses.
RECENT NBA TRADE DEADLINE
Two weeks ago at the trade deadline, the Suns made a pedestrian trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Suns gave the Bucks $111k in exchange for Torrey Craig. Don’t get me wrong it was a very solid trade, one which made the Phoenix Suns bench even better. However, it was strange trade in that it addressed the one position that is a strength for this team. So why did Jone’s ignore the weakest positions of center and power forward?
While the Suns relaxed at the trade deadline, every team chasing the Suns did not. Not only did those teams make themselves better, most made themselves as good or better than the second-ranked Suns.
GM James Jones could have done more.
SUNS COMPETITORS WERE ALL IN
— The Portland Trailblazers added a 17 point starter in Norman Powell which the Blazers sorely needed. At the same time, CJ McCollum and their All-Star quality center Jusuf Nurkic returned from injuries at full strength. Nurkic had missed 32-games prior to coming back on March 26th, he is a double-double machine and the teams best defender.
Fortunately for Phoenix, Portland’s schedule is just as difficult as the Suns so Phoenix should survive a Portland run in the standings.
— Dallas Mavericks did what they had to do and picked up their missing link in J.J. Reddick. Reddick a 3-point specialist fills the giant void left by elite 3-point shooter Seth Curry when the Mavericks gave away Curry before the draft. The Mavericks now have the height, defense, and shooting to compete with the best teams in the league.
— Denver Nuggets were the winners at the trade deadline in the Western Conference. Filling two giant holes in their rotation, they traded for defensive backup center JaVale McGee for his experience and rim protection. They followed that trade up with another for starting power forward Aaron Gordon. The trade for Gordon fills a huge hole left by the departure of Jerami Grant to Detroit.
Update: Nuggets have probably lost guard Jamal Murray for the rest of the year. That leaves point guard FacundoCampazzo who is a competent backup but is not Jamal Murray. With Murray, the Nuggets are a championship contender, without they are a pretender.
BEST TEAMS IN THE WEST
— Los Angeles Clippers added Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins to a very strong team. The Suns found out first-hand as Rondo dismantled them last week in a Suns loss. This means the Clippers have finally found a leader they haven’t had since Chris Paul.
The Clippers have solidified themselves as one of the top three teams in the west.
— Los Angeles Lakers added to their wealth by picking up former All-Star Center Andre Drummond and 3-point sniper Ben McLemore. Anthony Davis and Lebron James are scheduled to return with 10-games left in the season.
The Lakers will once again be the team to beat if healthy.
—Utah Jazz did nothing during the trade deadline and will run with what they have, will they start to fade? I think so.
SUNS WON’T BE IN THE NBA FINALS
Who is the tallest Phoenix Suns starter not named Deandre Ayton? The answer(s) are 6’6″ players Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges. Very good players in their own right, neither is a power forward nor can they out-rebound height very successfully.
The Lakers beat the Heat in last year’s Finals because the Heat was a short team. Hoops Hype writer Bryan Kalbrosky said the Lakers outrebounded the Heat at a historic rate during the 2020 NBA Finals.
The Phoenix Suns are this year’s Miami Heat right down to Jae Crowder starting at power forward. Most of the West teams are bigger than the Suns, this is the team’s Achilles heel.
Six of the Lakers top eight rotation players are 6’9″ or taller, four of them are former All-Stars. Throw in the 6’7″, 240-pound beast named Montrezl Harrell, and the Suns are in trouble.
The Mavericks, Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets are all taller than the Phoenix Suns frontcourt. It’s no coincidence that Lakers beat the shorter Trail Blazers, Rockets, and Heat four games to one each.
WHAT JAMES JONES DIDN’T DO
The Suns desperately needed a backup, defensive center (JaVale McGee?), or at least a quality 3rd string center like $111k player DeMarcus Cousins. James Jones didn’t cover the Suns in case of an injury Ayton or Saric, a huge mistake. Cousins or McGee doesn’t make Phoenix a champion, but they give them a shot and some much-needed height.
The Suns biggest hole since the start of the season which the team never addressed is power forward. There was a deal to be had for John Collins from the Atlanta Hawks at the trade deadline. The Hawks were looking for a lottery pick for Collins, the Suns didn’t own a lottery pick, but they did have Cam Johnson. Collins is a free agent next year, which would make any deal a roll of the dice. But the Suns would retain his Birds right and could have signed him knowing CP3’s contract ends after next season. I would have traded Cam Johnson, a second-round pick, and more for Collins. It’s what good teams do.
At 6’9″, 235 pounds Collins is a double/double machine that shoots 38% from deep. The Suns third All-Star quality player and Ayton makes them as good as any team in the League.
WHEN EVERYTHING IS SAID AND DONE
I believe that to win an NBA Championship you must have at least three All-Star quality players. At least one of those players has to be a next-level All-Star. The Suns clearly have two All-Stars, a good center, and a bunch of little people.
GM Jones pulled off a great deal for Chris Paul, but it means nothing if they can’t land a third All-Star quality player taller than 6’6″ this off-season. If they don’t get that player the Chris Paul window closes very fast.
Suns fans will just have to happy making the playoffs for the next few years, like this year.
My predictions for the 2021 final standings in the Western Conference are as follows,
1. Utah Jazz
2. Los Angeles Clippers
3. *Denver Nuggets (50/50 they will pass the Suns)
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Los Angeles Lakers
6. Dallas Mavericks (better team than the Suns, just won’t catch them)
7. Portland Trail Blazers
8. Memphis Grizzlies
Based on schedules I predict the Suns will play the Lakers or the Mavericks. I also predict if that’s the case, the Suns will clearly be one and done.