Gerald Green carried the Suns offense with a trio of thunderous dunks, and Markieff Morris made the go-ahead put-back. But Phoenix needed everything to go its way after blowing a 14-point first-half...

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Time: 7 p.m. MST TV: FSA So, is it a blessing or a curse that the Phoenix Suns begin their post All-Star break schedule in the high altitude of Denver, Colorado? Probably depends on how you look at...

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Has it really been over a week since the Phoenix Suns played an actual NBA game? How did we survive such a barren stretch of basketball action? Oh my god, let's do this!

The Suns kick off the unofficial second half of the season on the road against the Denver Nuggets. On paper, this looks to be a good match-up for Phoenix. The Suns have won all 3 games versus Denver so far this season, 2 of them by double digits. A win tonight and Phoenix adds yet another season sweep of an opponent to their list of accomplishments this season. But this is no gimme. Denver has played the Suns closely for most of those three games and Phoenix needed a 21 point comeback to beat them in December.

The Opponent - Denver Nuggets

Denver is in a tough spot. At 24-27, they are in the dreaded NBA no man's land between a good lottery pick and the playoffs. They are 6 games out of the 8 seed in a very competitive Western Conference and would need one or more of the teams ahead of them to fall off precipitously to sneak in. Either that, or play completely above the level they've been playing at for the last 51 games. A rash of injuries has not helped that cause. Neither seems likely, nor does playing so poorly as to secure a decent draft pick. Thanks, Leastern Conference!

Ty Lawson tends to give the Suns fits and went off for 29 points in their first meeting and 17 points and 14 assists in their last. However, he is doubtful for the Nuggets with a fractured rib, so Randy Foye will have his hands full trying to contain Goran Dragic. Denver's style matches up well with Phoenix as they are 4th in the NBA in pace, while the Suns are 6th. If the altitude doesn't slow Phoenix down, this should be a fast-paced high-scoring affair.

The Suns

The Suns for their part are in a virtual dead heat with Golden State for the 7th and 8th seeds in the playoffs with Memphis only a game and a half back in the 9 spot. There's a good chance it will take 50 wins to make the playoffs in the west. The Suns need every win they can get. After going into the break as the losers of 3 of 4, a win versus Denver would be an auspicious beginning for their playoff push.

Phoenix's power forwards have been the heroes every time against Denver this season. First it was Western Conference Player of the Week Markieff Morris unloading 28 points and 10 boards on the unsuspecting Nuggets in November. He followed that up in December with 25 points and 6 boards. Finally, in January, Channing Frye went an unbelievable 12-16 from the field to hang 30 on Denver. Does that mean it's Channing's turn or will The Barometer Rise again?

The Stats

Suns-nuggets_stats_medium

Ty Lawson carries a lot of water for Denver, so his absence will be sorely missed. Otherwise, the Nuggets are a mediocre team on both ends of the floor. Advantage: Suns!

The Lineups

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Phoenix will be without Emeka Okafor (neck) and Eric Bledsoe (knee). The Nuggets have caught a nasty case of the injury bug and are missing Ty Lawson (doubtful - rib), Danilo Gallinari (knee), JaVale McGee (tibia), and Nate Robinson (knee). The opportunity is ripe for the Suns to take care of the short-handed (and legged) Nuggets.

The Key Matchup

The Phoenix Suns vs. A Long Layoff - I don't mean to sell Denver short, but the Suns are their own worst enemy tonight. Phoenix is 5-9 with 2 or more days off this season. If they come out sluggish, this will be a game they will regret not winning. If you're looking for an on-the-court matchup, look no further than the Goran Dragi? vs. Randy Foye. The Dragon carries this team and if he can take advantage of the serviceable but unremarkable Foye, the Suns should beast. Also keep an eye on bench play. Denver has the 3rd highest scoring bench squad in the league, so Ish Smith, Leandro Barbosa, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris will have to represent.

The Prediction

Jeff Hornacek will have his team fired up to take the second half of the season by storm. The Suns will look to score early and often against an under-manned Denver team. The Suns should win convincingly. 120-99, Phoenix.

The Phoenix Suns have a pure heart and loyal following but are feeling the pressure to sell their souls in order to join the league's elite.

Much like the fantastical series 'Game of Thrones', the Phoenix Suns find themselves in a tough position that could make or break House Suns in the coming the days.

General consensus amongst fans, front office folks and talent evaluators is that the Phoenix Suns will have to marry into some kind of royalty before they can hope to win the Iron Throne.

Recent rumors of making a play for Rajon Rondo (from House Baratheon Celtic, winner of 2008 NBA Championship) or Pau Gasol (House Lannister Laker, winner of 2009-10 NBA Championships) show that the rumor mill begins and ends with fascination over the future of the league's elite first and foremost.

Already, the upstart Brooklyn Nets have married into royalty by acquiring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (House Celtic) on the downside of their careers. And about 29 teams are salivating over the prospect of any or all of the Big Three fire-breathing dragons in House Targaryen HEAT (2012-13 NBA Championships) becoming available for the right sacrifice this summer.

But those moves do not guarantee success. Those moves are often born of desperation, while eschewing the method of simply fighting for your own bloodline to succeed like House Stark Thunder are doing at the moment. While they have considered pairings to speed their rise to the top, the Thunder are using a pure blood drafting method to hit the pinnacle.

The NBA trade deadling is Thursday. Currently, the wildlings Phoenix Suns sit in the 7th position in the West but swimming with many other proud franchises in an attempt to make the playoffs and win the right to fight for a championship.

If the Suns stay in their current form, the ride will be difficult. If they swap out players, the ride will still be difficult. The last deadline acquisition that resulted in a championship was Rasheed Wallace in 2004 (Pistons). More recently, Pau Gasol was a "gift from heaven" for the Lakers who helped them reach the 2008 NBA Finals in year 1 and then win 2 championships in successive years (2009-10).

That's it.

The Phoenix Suns could sell out to the pressure to improve their individual talent this season, but that is no guarantee of winning anything but the "trade grades" that mean next to nothing.

Will the Suns stay the wildlings? Or will they marry into the Lannister, Baratheon or Targaryen clans before the week is out?

The Bright Side staff took a stab today at suggesting the best trades for the Suns to execute this week in an attempt to join the league's elite and solidify a playoff position.

Jim Coughenour

Phoenix gets Kevin Love and J.J. Barea

Minnesota gets Emeka Okafor, Markieff Morris, Alex Len, 2014 1st round pick from Phoenix, 2014 1st round pick from Indiana

  • Jim's take: The only problem is that this could hurt our chances at bringing in LeBron this summer.
  • Dave King's take: Of course, I would do this trade. But most anyone outside Phoenix is skeptical that the Wolves will move Love any sooner than the summer. They would rather be buyers at the deadline, having already spent the past decade being the 'rebuilders' since trading Garnett.

Mike Lisboa

The Phoenix Suns send Emeka Okafor and Miles Plumlee to Philadelphia for Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes and the Wizards pick.

  • Mike's take: Philly gets mad cap space to chase a marquee free agent or two, a potential center of the future and a middle first round pick. In return the Suns get a young and versatile power forward who can plays well off the ball and will have a field day with point guards like Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe feeding him AND a starting quality big man with the range to slip out to the three-point line. This does nothing to help the Suns' defense, but this is the land of 120 point track meets, not 90 point slugfests.
  • Dave's take: Not a fan of trading Miles Plumlee for Spencer Hawes, though I'm okay with swapping Thad Young into Morrii minutes. Hawes is just a replica of Frye, meaning that the Suns will spend 48 minutes a game trying to outscore opponents while completely opening a layup line. And that's not to mention that Hawes is either gone in two months or at least 6 times more expensive than Plumlee next season and beyond.

Bryan Gibberman

Emeka Okafor, Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris for the Celtics' Kris Humphries & Brandon Bass

  • Bryan's take: I'm going outside the box.
  • Dave's take: Clearly, Bryan is trying to give the Suns more rebounding for the second half, swapping the mercurial Morrii for some beef. But he's forgetting that the Morrii, dollar for dollar, are more productive. And swapping two of eight rotation positions is more work than it's worth if you're not getting any kind of All-Star or player for the future.

Sean Sullivan

Suns get Pau Gasol in exchange for Emeka Okafor (likely in a three-way deal)

  • Sean's take: I hate to go the safe route, but I really do think the Gasol to Suns trade has some legs, and makes sense for both sides. My guess is that the Suns will work some kind of three-way deal to make it work, since LA doesn't seem content to trade Pau for the Okafor contract alone.
  • Dave's take: I agree that this trade has legs, but only if the Suns can get Gasol for nothing more than Okafor's contract. The only way the Suns include a pick is in a bigger trade that gets them more talent than just Gasol.

Dave King

Suns get Kris Humphries, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng or Pau Gasol for Emeka Okafor

  • Dave's take: The point here is that (a) only one player gets added and (b) the Suns add some rebounding if they're not going to get an All-Star caliber player. Gasol, Deng and Humphries are expiring, which cleans the slate this summer. Noah is not expiring, but he's really really good and would be a great playoff addition for the coming seasons, worthy of a pick to be added to Okafor.

If you bring in more than 1 new player, you're sacrificing the last soft spot in your schedule (lots of home games in next two weeks before 14 of 21 on the road) to incorporate new players, making a playoff push even harder.

Frankly, I'm only in the mindset to stand pat unless there's an All Star to acquire. Let's not forget the Suns will get a near All-Star back in Eric Bledsoe in the next 2-3 weeks. He's already progressed to light basketball activities.

Rumors update

Apparently, the Phoenix Suns are in talks to acquire nearly every player in the NBA that other teams want to dump. To give any credence to one rumor over another is an injustice to the other rumor-mongers out there.

Nothing has been given credence, and with the way the Suns front office works there won't be any smoke before the fire breaks out.

Now that the NBA All-Star break is behind us, it's time to take a very early look forward at some of the more intriguing prospects who could be available in the very late lottery, to mid-first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, when the Suns could have a chance to draft one or two of them. Here's a look at four wing players I have been watching who are all realistic possibilities.

Let me start this by saying it is still very early in the process of scouting potential prospects to know who will be available, and where they are likely to be picked.  However, players in the NCAA  have been making an impression on scouts and analysts all season long, and are now beginning to establish their reputations and potentially raising or lowering their draft stock accordingly.

In addition, it is still too early to know where teams will fall in the draft order...and there are at least two teams who the Suns will be watching very closely as we get closer to the end of the season. Those are the picks I'm going to be focusing on today...The top-13 protected pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the top-12 protected pick of the Washington Wizards.

As it stands, and as Kris Habbas mentioned in his Center of the Sun post earlier today, the Timberwolves are currently sitting on the 13th spot...so their pick would not go to the Suns at the moment.  However, they only need to improve by one spot for the Suns to get their pick, which is more than possible in the tightly contested West. However, the Washington Wizards are currently at the 18th spot, and their pick is top 12 protected, which means that right now, the Suns would get it.

This draft is loaded, no doubt, but it is really strong on wings.  So, for the first installment of this insanely early draft preview, that is the group we will focus on.  All of the players listed below could be possibilities somewhere between 14-20, where the Suns could have one or two picks in the coming draft.

Four Wings To Watch

In alphabetical order:


Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse

Height: 6'9"   Weight: 215   Age: 19

Grant is one of the most unique prospects in this coming draft, in my opinion.  With a 7'2" wingspan and great athleticism, he has already shown the ability to be a very good defender.  Although his offense is still a work in progress, he has done a tremendous job in improving his jump shot since last season.  Still, most of his work is done around the rim offensively, where he is able to get offensive rebounds and does a good job of finishing at the rim.

He will need to continue working on his offensive game, but if he can continue improving...watch out.  The Suns' new system is all about speed, hustle, and athleticism...and Grant has all of that and then some.  The only thing he lacks right now is shooting, specifically his lack of range from the three.  However, his length, defense, and athleticism would make him a very intriguing prospect for the Suns to invest in for the future.



Rodney Hood, SF, Duke

Height: 6'8"   Weight: 201   Age: 21

Rodney Hood is one of the higher targets on this list, who has been mocked as high as the top 10 by some analysts.  What Jerami Grant lacks in shooting, Rodney Hood gives you, and then some.  While Jabari Parker is the face of the Blue Devils this season, Rodney Hood is the engine that drives them.

Hood is a Sophomore transfer who played his freshman season at Mississippi St. before sitting out last season, and transferring to Duke this year.  He has always been a deadly catch-and-shoot jump-shooter, but this year has shown the ability to be a threat offensively in every way.  He has developed a silky-smooth game to go along with his lights-out shooting, and is an underrated athlete as well with his quickness, speed, and agility. He has also become one of the leaders of the Blue Devils as well.

The only knock on Hood is that he is already 21 years old, but he would be an incredible value if he were still available when the Suns make their first selection.


Zach LaVine, PG/SG, UCLA

Height: 6'5"   Weight: 180   Age: 18

LaVine is a fast, super athletic wing who is still developing his game.  He reminds me of a shorter version of Gerald Green, with a better handle.  LaVine has all of the makings of a blue chip combo guard, who is still working on his game and improving regularly. Because of this, his stock has been rising dramatically.  Once considered a possible 2nd round pick, LaVine's mock draft position is all over the place now, from a lottery pick to a late first round.  I think he has the best chance of all the prospects on this list to rise the most by the time the draft comes around...think Oladipo last season.

As such, I think the Suns will be lucky if LaVine is still on the board when they make their first pick, but stranger things have happened.  Although the Suns drafted a similar type of player last year in Archie Goodwin, LaVine certainly fits the bill of what the Suns are looking for in their players, and would be tough to pass on if he were available.

By the way, I went with actual game footage rather than his pre-college dunk highlights because they are more representative of what he can do on the court.  But those dunks are pretty impressive, and show his ability as an athlete...you can watch that footage here.


James Young, SG/SF, Kentucky

Height: 6'7"   Weight: 202   Age: 18

James Young is a promising prospect with a lot of talent.  Although fellow Wildcat Julius Randle is receiving the bulk of the attention in Kentucky, and for good reason, Young is also making a name for himself as another freshman to keep a close eye on.

In my opinion, Young is one of the more underrated prospects this year, maybe because he isn't as flashy as many of the other names, he just gets it done. Young is a player who does a little bit of everything from the small forward position.  He's a good rebounder and passer...but really stands out for his defense and scoring ability.

Young is still improving his range and is not a consistent three-point shooter yet, but his shot from inside the arc seem pretty good, so that may be on the horizon.  He is the second leading scorer this season for Kentucky, just under Randle, and is doing it in a multitude of ways.  As good as he is, Young is still figuring it all out as a young (no pun intended) freshman, and could be one of the best values if he makes it to the middle of the first round this year.


But wait, there's more!

This list doesn't even begin to cover all of the wings, let alone the many players from the other position groups, that Phoenix will be choosing from with as many as four first-round draft picks this year.  So if your favorite player for the Suns to draft with their first pick hasn't been covered yet, don't worry, he will be.

This is just the start of what will be a semi-regular feature here on BSOTS with plenty of time remaining between now and the draft.  We'll look at many other players and positions in the near future.

Stay tuned...

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Which of these prospects interests you the most?

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