Taking a look at where the Phoenix Suns might fall in the Western Conference standings
The Phoenix Suns will take on a truly balanced schedule this season. NBA teams will play all of the teams in the opposite conference two times and teams in their own conference three times for a grand total of 72 games.
According to Jeff Sherman at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, the new-look Suns have a 25-1 shot at winning the NBA Finals, making them one of the 10 most favored teams going into this season.
It was just last year that the Suns were given a 100-to-1 chance of winning it all, which means Vegas is now seeing Phoenix as a legitimate contender and validating that James Jones was the right man for the job.
As for the total wins by the Suns, some in Vegas and others like CBS Sports have the Suns winning just 38 games which seems to miss the mark.
The Suns of last year won 34 games, yet the “new and improved” Phoenix team is only worth 4 more wins? Let’s trade Chris Paul now! Or… you can simply bet the over on the Suns now.
Of course, it is much too soon to project where the Suns will finish this upcoming season however, it’s what we do. In fact, NBC Sports has jumped in to give Phoenix the 7th-best spot in the Western Conference this season which is probably a good starting point for those that are more conservative.
Let’s take a look at where the Suns might land in the ultra-competitive Western Conference this year.
NBA Western Conference Standings: No. 8, Golden State Warriors
Yes, the Warriors will trot out Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green, and Marquese Chriss at the center, but without Klay Thompson to push down Oubre or Wiggins to the second unit the Warriors will have nobody worthy of starting in case of injury or COVID-19. In other words, there is not a Shaun Livingston, David West or Andre Iguodala to be found.
NBA Western Conference Standings: No. 7, Utah Jazz
With Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, and Rudy Gobert the Jazz are a very interesting team on paper, but in reality, they have not proven that they are able to beat plus .500 win teams consistently. Since the 2019 All-Star break and counting the Orlando Bubble, the Jazz are 8-10 in those games, 1-7 against plus .500 teams. I can see them even dropping to No. 8 or to a play-in position.
NBA Western Conference Standings: No. 6, Phoenix Suns
How will Phoenix get to sixth? For starters, the Suns will return with the best bubble players from a few months ago which includes the important re-signing of Darios Saric as well as their top free-agent pickups of Chris Paul, Jae Crowder, and Langston Galloway.
The Suns will be 3 players deep as most of their top 8 players can play multiple positions which will allow Phoenix to handle this expedited season’s setbacks that could include injury and the uncertainty of COVID-19.
Last season Phoenix was in the top 10 for points, assists, field goals, and free throw percentage, however, they were an average team when it came to 3-point shooting and steals. Where the Suns failed was being ranked 20th in the league or worse when it came to rebounding, blocks, and every defensive shooting category.
In other words, their offense was good, their defense was what the lottery teams played.
In fact, the Suns were only able to field two players (Ricky Rubio and Mikal Bridges) as quality defenders that played over 18 minutes a game. Sorry, Kelly Oubre Jr. fans, Oubre is an over-rated defender. As an example in the ESPN plus-minus rankings, Oubre was the 94th ranked player at his position.
James Jones’ moves this offseason were predictable. The Suns will now play CP3, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and Langston Galloway for more than 18 minutes a game as quality on-ball and rotation defenders. When you throw in Damian Jones, Jalen Smith, and Jevon Carter the Suns can put forth a solid aggressive defensive unit capable of playing next-level playoff basketball.
On the offensive side of the ball a year ago Phoenix only had one player that shot over 40 percent from 3-point land, it is possible that this Suns team can field up to 5 players that can average 40 percent or better from deep in 2020-21.
Lastly, and most importantly, NBA teams need more than one All-Star to compete for a championship. They also need clutch players to win the big games. Now the Suns have two of the best in Devin Booker and Chris Paul who was the NBA’s top clutch performer in the last 5 minutes a year ago.
There are only four teams in the NBA Western Conference that have two such players on their rosters, the Suns will now join them.
NBA Western Conference Standings: No. 5, Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks were kicked to the curb pretty easily in the first round of last season’s playoffs by the Clippers 4-1, so admittedly I may have the Mavericks rated a little too high on this list. The concern starts with the Mavericks having done nothing to improve their team in the offseason and maybe even taking a step back when they traded one of their most important players in Seth Curry for Josh Richardson.
But when you arguably have the best player in the league going forward in Luka Doncic, you have to assume as he improves each year. Doncic will drag the team with him.
NBA Western Conference Standings: No. 4, Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets could easily move up to the 3rd position or drop down to fifth because they created a big hole in their team by not keeping power forward Jerami Grant who could literally guard four positions, rebound, and hit the three; JaMychal Green doesn’t fill that need. But they are still the team that made it to the conference finals this past season.
NBA Western Conference Standings: No. 3, Portland Trailblazers
This is probably a surprise pick but the Blazers, like the Suns, have had a very good offseason as they stole power forward Robert Covington from the Houston Rockets.
Covington is a defensive stalwart at power forward. They finished rebuilding their frontcourt by adding Enes Kanter and Harry Giles. But the biggest prize for the Blazers will be getting starting center Jusuf Nurkic back into the lineup giving them a solid core in Dame Lillard, CJ McCollum, Derrick Jones Jr., Covington, and Nurkic who only played in 13-rusty Bubble games.
NBA Western Conference Standings: No. 2, Los Angeles Clippers
An embarrassing early exit for the Clippers last season forced them to retool this offseason and come up with an even stronger team than last year as they will start a lineup that features Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Jr., and big free agent get Serge Ibaka at center which could get them to the conference finals, though I am afraid their lack of quality depth won’t get them by the Lakers.
NBA Western Conference Standings: No. 1, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers lost key defensive players from the championship team which includes Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard, but they simply reloaded with the Thunder’s solid combo guard Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, and a huge upgrade with Marc Gasol at center.
On a side note, there is a very good chance that another Gasol (Pau) will join the Lakers to take one of their two remaining roster spots.
Even though the Phoenix Suns have a lot of new parts, they will start out with four of the five starters from the Bubble which will now include future Hall of Farmer Chris Paul, the new de facto leader of the Suns as reported by Royce Young of ESPN in Paul’s words at his introduction by the team;
"“Everyone always talks about what I can teach [Devin Booker] or teach some of these other guys, but they’re teaching me at the same time too,” Paul said. “I’m not James Naismith by no means. First things first, I’m not just coming in here trying to teach everybody. I’m his teammate. We’re here to hoop, we’re here to compete and that’s how I approach this.”"
The one thing that you can count on from this Phoenix team is that they will be extremely competitive and entertaining to watch while winning games along the way to a record I will project to be a 43-29 season.