The Suns are finally back at home and will be at US Airways Center for eight of the next 10. Can Phoenix win its fifth straight?
Will the Suns be able to slow down the red hot Al Jefferson?
The Suns return to the comfy confines of the U.S. Airways Center in an even better position than they expected. Four games in five nights on the road ended up being four wins in five nights on the road.
Phoenix begins a stretch of four of the next fives games at home tonight against the Charlotte Bobcats.
After going 2-5 in the first seven games without Eric Bledsoe the Suns have hit their stride and are back in the mix for the Pacific Division. Phoenix is essentially tied for second place with the Golden State Warriors, three and a half games behind the Clippers for first.
Charlotte will continue to be without Kemba Walker (ankle), who has missed the past six games. They've gone 4-2 starting Ramon Sessions, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Josh McRoberts and Al Jefferson.
When the Suns beat the Bobcats 98-91 on November 22nd it was Al Jefferson's first action after missing four games. He only played 25 minutes and scored nine points on six shots.
It's a different story tonight - Jefferson is coming off a 40 point, 18 rebound and four assist effort in Charlotte's win over the Lakers on Friday.
Jefferson has been one of the hottest players in the NBA averaging 23.9 points and 11.3 rebounds in January, in his last three games he's putting up 35.7 points and 14 boards.
Miles Plumlee will get the first crack at him, but Plumlee has struggled at times this season dealing with bigger players with back to the basket post games. When Phoenix opens the game I would expect them to attack Jefferson on the other end of the court forcing him to defend the Dragic/Plumlee pick and roll.
This could be a good opportunity to give Alex Len a chance to defend one of the better scoring big men in the NBA. He's played 14, 22 and 14 minutes in the last three games and his length and strength provides a bigger deterrent to Big Al on the defensive end.
The NBA discussion following the revelation of the All-Star rosters inevitably turns to who got snubbed. Every year, some deserving player gets left out of the game and fans go crazy. This year, the NBA is loaded with All-Star caliber talent and with only 24 spots available, some really good players were bound to get left out.
Let's take a closer look at the two rosters, the snubs and the participants in the Rising Stars game.
Overall, the team isn't too far off, as five of the seven reserves also ended up on my roster. Bosh, Noah, Hibbert and Paul Millsap is a really nice frontcourt, an all of those guys are deserving. John Wall is an easy pick too, and he probably deserved to start more than Irving did. However, the final two picks...
DeMar DeRozan is having a nice season. In fact. he's having a career year for a resurgent Toronto squad. I picked Aaron Afflalo over DeRozan because the production is pretty much the same yet Afflalo is doing it much more efficiently. Orlando is terrible, but that doesn't change the fact that Afflalo is having an outstanding season individually with a 20-4-4 stat line on 47 percent shooting and 42 percent from deep. However, it's splitting hairs between these two as they are both putting up big numbers and team success does play a big part with the way players are chosen.
However, DeRozan isn't even the best player on his team. That distinction belongs to Kyle Lowry. Yet, inexplicably, Lowry isn't on the team and Joe Johnson is. The same Joe Johnson that led the newest "super team," the Brooklyn Nets, to an absolutely dreadful start an is having his least productive season since his breakout year with Phoenix (although last season wasn't spectacular by any stretch of the imagination either). The numbers aren't even close.
Lowry is considered by many people I respect as probably the biggest snub this year, and with how well he has played for Toronto since they got rid of Rudy Gay and where the Raptors sit in the East (third), I can't disagree. Johnson has been the best of the disappointing Nets crew, but that doesn't mean he's an All-Star. At this point of his career, he just isn't one. Especially with Lowry, who has the fifth most win shares in the entire NBA, sitting at home.
An if you don't feel Toronto isn't good enough to get two All-Stars (which is a bogus reason to keep a deserving player out), then Lance Stephenson deserved it more than Johnson did. Stephenson is putting up 14-7-5 on a 54.3 eFG% and is leading the NBA with four triple-doubles. He's not the headline snub like ESPN and others have billed him as, but he's a very versatile player who is bringing more to the court than Joe Johnson is right now (but not as much as Kyle Lowry).
The East was pretty straightforward, but the West is much more difficult. All of the guys above deserve to be there. It's just that the West is so stacked that there are a handful of guys even more deserving.
First and foremost, Anthony Davis has been a complete monster this season, and has picked it up even more recently with some ridiculous stat-lines. 20-10-3 and 52 percent shooting. The best shot-blocker in the league by percentage. Sixth in win shares per 48. And he's just a sophomore. Davis' individual play is on par with all of the big men that made the team, and arguably even better. When you toss in the fact that the game is in New Orleans, I'd be surprised if Davis wasn't chosen by the commissioner to replace the injured Kobe Bryant.
Suns fans, you can probably guess where I'm going next. Just because the coaches didn't pick him doesn't mean it isn't true: Goran Dragic is an All-Star. Mark Stein of ESPN and Fran Blinebury of NBA.com agree with me, as both of them had him as the biggest snub in the West narrowly ahead of Davis. You all know it, but I'll restate his case here just because I love writing about how amazing he has been.
Dragic is: 18th in points per game (8th among guards); 16th in assists per game; 13th in PER (third among guards behind only Chris Paul and Stephen Curry); 18th in true shooting percentage and 19th in effective field goal percentage (second among point guards behind Jose Calderon); 11th in offensive rating (sixth among guards); sixth in offensive win shares (third in guards behind Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul); ninth in win shares per 48. He's in the top 20 in the entire league in a whole lot of categories.
He's the driving force behind one of the most surprisingly successful teams in the league. He's one of the best finishers among guards in the entire league, shooting 53.8 percent inside the arc, and he's even brought his 3-point percentage up to almost 39 percent. He's averaging 6.1 assists, but he's also shown that when he's allowed to sit back an run the point that he can hit double digits in the assists category without a problem. He creates his looks nearly every way possible, playing both on an off the ball. He's played a great deal of the season without fellow guard Eric Bledsoe, meaning he's had a tremendous amount of responsibility to create the majority of the Suns' looks. I don't even know who the Suns' second best player is right now, and whoever it is certainly isn't on the level of guys like LaMarcus Aldridge or Zach Randolph or Tim Duncan.
If Chris Paul is unable to play in the game, Goran Dragic should be his replacement.
This rookie class has been really, really bad. Of the players chosen in the lottery, only Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke have had any sort of meaningful impact so far. Anthony Bennett is having a historically awful rookie season. Otto Porter missed a lot of time with injuries and hasn't been good since he's been back. Nerlens Noel has yet to play. Ben McLemore has struggled to make shots from everywhere on the floor. Cody Zeller is shooting 37 percent from the field. Our own Alex Len was brought along cautiously while dealing with ankle problems. That's one player (Victor Oladipo) among the tip five that has been both good and healthy enough to make the roster. Not good.
As for the sophomores, they have a few true studs in Davis, Drummond and Lillard, the best three players on the rosters. Bradley Beal is great as well. There is a good young crop of big men as well in Valanciunas, Jones and Sullinger. However, Harrison Barnes doesn't deserve to be anywhere near this roster. John Henson is one player that deserved consideration but didn't make the team.
John Henson would probably be my biggest snub and my top pick to take Barnes' spot. Miles Plumlee has made a strong case for himself, but not a strong enough case as his numbers don't warrant him being a clear choice ahead of the others. He's on par with them and could have made the team, but I actually don't have a huge problem with him being left off.
Dion Waiters was chosen for his production (14.4 points per game) but he's really hasn't been all that good. In fact, Terrence Ross and Jeremy Lamb, the two shooting guards chosen in the lottery after him, have been better.
All three guards were linked to the Suns leading up to the draft, but all three were gone by the time the Suns were on the clock. I'd take Jeremy Lamb as the best of the three right now and the most deserving guard for the Rising Stars game.
There you have it. Let me know what you think, folks.