Pro/Con: Are the Suns for real?

If you would have told any Suns fan at the beginning of the season that Phoenix would be 14-5 after starting the season with 13 of their first 19 games on the road, they would be ecstatic.

Yet not many people on Planet Orange are feeling so ecstatic after the Suns were blown out on consecutive nights by the putrid Knicks and the mighty Cavs, the first time Phoenix has lost consecutive games since March and the first two times the Suns have not reached the century mark all season.

With a brutal December slate ahead of them, we may be about to find out whether this scorching hot 14-3 start was a mirage and the Suns will continue to regress to the mean of preseason expectations throughout the course of this month or whether the past two games were the aberration.

As we wait for the Suns to answer these questions on the court, Mike Schmitz and Tyler Lockman answer whether the Suns are for real in this pro/con.

Pro: They aren’t perfect, but they’re for real

There is no hiding the fact that the Suns’ back-to-back losses in New York and Cleveland were flat-out embarrassing. But as NBA enthusiasts slowly exit the Suns’ bandwagon, it is time to realize that this team is much more than a one-month wonder.

Are the 2009-2010 Phoenix Suns a team that will walk to the Western Conference Finals unscathed? Absolutely not.

But it seems that the NBA world is simply waiting and waiting, and basically expecting, this Suns team to go into decline. If this squad was ever going to hit a wall, it probably would have been during their brutal early-November road trip.

But the Suns shocked the NBA, as they went 5-2 over a 10-day stretch in which they played seven games in seven different cities. And that wasn’t against Minnesota or Sacramento, but rather teams like Boston, Orlando and Miami.

They have been tested by some of the NBA’s best, and have passed with flying colors. As far as the regular season goes, this team is for real.

They are built for an 82-game season, where getting that big stop or coming up with that clutch big rebound isn’t as magnified as it is in the postseason. This offense is a well-oiled machine, and in the regular season they have shown they can get the necessary stops to win games.

It is hard to go wrong with the best pick-and-roll combination in the NBA, combined with the luxury of having shooters like Jason Richardson, Leandro Barbosa and Channing Frye to spread the floor.

Combine that with the emergence of Jared Dudley and the continual improvement of Goran Dragic and this team will only improve. Earl Clark is still gaining confidence, and Robin Lopez is on his way back to full health.

The Suns have proven they have the front-line talent to challenge some of the NBA’s best, and now they have the bench to help the starters last a full season as well.

Despite the recent struggles, this Suns team is for real.

– Mike Schmitz

Con: The Suns are good but not quite elite

After some intense preseason hating, I have come around to the idea that the Suns are a good team. No one expected the Suns to be 14-3 at the start of this week any more than we all expected Allen Iverson to stay retired. So the real question at this point isn’t, “Are the Suns for real?” The question is, “How real are they?”

We can reasonably say this, though: the Suns’ players are for real. Steve Nash is constantly making things happen for this team. He gets the ball in his teammates’ hands in scoring positions on his way to leading the league with 11.5 assists per game. He makes big shots. He is the catalyst of this team.

Amare Stoudemire, Jason Richardson and Grant Hill are all having good years as well, and Channing Frye is putting up career bests. And with as much as the bench players are getting praised, you would think they negotiated peace in the Middle East.

The Suns are a good team, but I won’t call them “elite.” I still don’t think they are higher than a five or six seed when everything plays out, especially since Phoenix has only beaten three winning teams during its hot start.

That’s mostly because the Suns haven’t played many good teams yet. And when they have (with Boston, Houston and Miami being the exceptions here), they’ve blown it. The Magic. The Lakers. The Cavaliers. Any game on TNT.

We haven’t seen enough of this team yet to say just how real they are, but we will know by the end of the month. Starting with the Lakers on Sunday and the Mavericks on Tuesday, the Suns have quite the storm to weather in December. Only three of the Suns’ remaining opponents this month are under .500. If this team wants a decent spot in the playoffs, it can’t afford losses to teams like the Hornets and Knicks.

What next? The Nets?

– Tyler Lockman

  • PZ

    I don’t see why their status can’t be a bit both. For example I’d agree with Lockman that the Suns aren’t “elite”, but I’d follow that up by saying that can still target the 2 seed. Last year there were 4 teams that were truly elite and only one played in the west. When it comes to pure talent, things are similar this year.
    Last year the Nuggets went 21-20 on the road and never fulfilled the criteria of being an elite team. Unlike the Suns however, they used a system that actually played to their players’ strengths and took care of business by dominating weaker teams and snuck into the 2 seed which allowed them to avoid playing a great team until the WCF. The Suns are in the same boat as the other good but not quite elite teams of western conference.

  • Kyle Fleeger

    Today I was listening to a debate on radio about whether these Suns are really any different than what I am calling the “Nash Suns”. This is the team of the last 5 years. Although there has been some talk of the differences in offensive styles for the Suns, and it’s obvious the Zone Defense is more regular. Even if these Suns don’t “fast-break” as much as the .07 seconds or less teams from 04-09, they are still a fast paced team. This has lead to the criticism that these Suns aren’t really any different.

    Here are some of the things that I found to be relevantly different about the current Suns roster.

    The amount of minutes being distributed to the Suns starters is fewer than in EVERY year past. This year, the max number of minutes anyone is playing in a game is Amar’e with 33.8 minutes per game. The 04-05 Suns that everyone talks about had 5 players with more minutes per game and a max of 39.5 MPG. Even last year the Suns had a Max of 37 MPG (they were deliberately limiting minutes).

    What is the effect of these limited minutes… hopefully we will get the opportunity to see a Suns team that can play as fast during the playoffs as they did during the season.

    A guaranteed effect will be getting defensive and young players more time early in the season. In 2004-2005, the Suns eighth man was CASEY JACOBSON. Leandro averaged 7.0 points, because D’antoni 6 men only, and Jim Jackson was ahead of him, JIM JACKSON! The following years Suns had a Max minutes high of 40.3 per game. 4 Suns had more minutes than the highest minute per game total this year.

    As a running team, we have to stay fresh, and our bench players have to get in condition to play. One of the reasons this is relevant is because in the playoffs when teams come right at Amar’e with their bigs or get us into foul trouble with physical play, we used to have NOBODY to come in and serve as a legitimate replacement. Then, we get dominated by other players benches. OR our players get tired by the end of games and we used give up HUGE leads in the fourth quarter. As recently as last year, we only won 4 games all season where we were trailing going into the fourth quarter, this year we have 5 already.

    This is the MAJOR difference between 04-09 and this year. The Suns are strategically different, in fact, they are better. I will be adding more to this as I finish some statistical comparisons between the 5 years, but this is obvious and a good move by Gentry.

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  • The Z. Man

    Way to go Kyle!!!!

    That is a VERY good analysis.

    Mike, care to pass the baton to Kyle? We like you Mike but lately you are so down. Kyle can give us all a lift. Suns will be much improved when they get LB back. Now he is a dude who can play 40 minutes per game easy.

    MUST start and ALSO finish with LB. Let's go SUNS!!!!