Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Suns: Great story. But how far can this team go?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: C’mon, it’s early. The Suns have done a number of impressive things so far. While no one should be surprised that a Jeff Hornacek-coached squad can shoot (46.5 FG%, sixth best) and score (sixth in offensive rating, 105.8), it is worth noting Phoenix’s 13-5 record when not playing the second of back-to-back games. And its 11-7 mark within the West (2-1 vs. Portland). Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe drive that team, and contributions have come from unheralded sources. Still, there’s miles to go – now sixth in the West, they’re only 4 ½ games from 13th. They’re a feel-good story that Phoenix fans haven’t embraced (last in the league in attendance) but they still don’t seem like a playoff team in that conference.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Suns are a nice story. Coach Jeff Hornacek has them getting the most out of the abilities and driving hard against all of the preseason expectations about being last in the Western Conference. But they still lack size, inside presence and formidable defense. At this point it’s not out of the question that they could sneak into the playoffs, but that’s counting on the Timberwolves, Lakers and Grizzlies to all remain lost.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: They’re 25 games in so this is not a mirage. They quickly built a nice foundation on defense and head-down hustle that keeps them in most games. The backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic has been terrific. Channing Frye has heated up after a slow start to his feel-good return. Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green are co-candidates for Surprise Player of the Year. The Morris Brothers and P.J. Tucker never stop working. How far can they go? They’re not going to win the title, but for a team predicted to fall short of 25 wins, yeah, they can stay in the playoff hunt.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The playoffs are realistic. I wouldn’t say it’s a clear path to the postseason, but the Suns have blown every other expectation to bits, so why not that one as well? They’re pretty good on defense and efficient on offense, especially considering it’s a lot of new players adjusting to a new system while dealing with some injuries and comebacks. I won’t say they win a playoff series, so getting to the final eight in the West will be the (huge) accomplishment. But, again, it’s been proven Phoenix doesn’t care much about predictions
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I thought they were the worst team in the league after the Gortat trade, and I’m willing to admit to my mistakes. But I’m not yet willing to say that they’re a playoff team in the Western Conference. Right now, they rank sixth offensively and 17th defensively. The offense doesn’t seem sustainable, because 14 of their 23 opponents have been bottom-10 defensive teams and both Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic are both shooting well above their career marks. The defense, meanwhile, has regressed quite a bit; It ranks 27th over the last month, having allowed 106.7 points per 100 possessions. So, while I love watching them play and think Jeff Hornacek deserves a ton of credit, I’m leery of their success and I think these next five games – against the Parker-less Spurs, the Nuggets, the Mavs, the Lakers and the Warriors – could go a long way in determining where they stand.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Unlike that fellow surprise story in Portland, I’m not convinced the Suns are built for a deep playoff run or anything like that. They are indeed a great early season surprise. And they are plenty fun to watch, with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic playing lights out in the backcourt and Jeff Hornacek making his case for Coach of the Year honors. But I’m still a bit hesitant to crown these guys without seeing them finish five games above .500 in their 23-game stretch of the season. That said, I absolutely love the scrappy nature of this bunch and the way they go after teams. The fearlessness they’ve shown night after night helps dispel the notion that teams and players that are pegged for the lottery don’t care about winning. The Suns are making a mockery of all those folks who mocked them heading into this season. And that’s a feel-good story I’ll enjoy for as long as it lasts.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Isn’t the real question: How far do they want to go? I’m being generous here, but there are many teams in the NBA this season who seem to have winning buried deep somewhere on their list of primary goals for this season. I know that many people thought the Suns would fall into this category, but as it turns out, if you play hard for 48 minutes, you can win some games! To be clear: Even at full strength, they are not going to challenge for a title, but they could mess around and contend for the eighth spot in the playoffs or at least mess up what some other quality teams are trying to do. I think the real sign of their intentions this season will come when Emeka Okafor gets healthy and cleared to play. Will they use him and continue winning games, maybe more than they want to win? Or will they trade him for future considerations and basically say that the future outweighs the present?
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: The West is way too strong to have a surprise team making it to the playoffs. So, despite how much I really like what the Suns are doing right now and their awesome Bledsoe-Dragic duo, I think it’s going to be really hard for them to reach the postseason. Teams like the Warriors, the Timberwolves and even the new Kings (not to mention the Lakers) could eventually overcome them. Unless they are willing to give up one of their 2014 first round picks to get instant help …
Akshay Manwani, NBA India: We’re still only in December and therefore should not get too ahead of the calendar. But even if Phoenix does manage to maintain its solid start, I wouldn’t have them going any further than the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The postseason is about All-Stars and Phoenix is lacking on that count. Remember, the Nuggets were the third best in the West last season and yet they lost to the more talented Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.