Updated: Oct. 27, 2005, 7:30 AM ET

SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
How far can Suns run?

Suns

Team Page | Schedule | Roster | Hollinger Stats

Where will the Phoenix Suns finish in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference? Get 12 different takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

ANALYST DIV CONF COMMENT

Chris Broussard ESPN Mag

3
9
Nash will make Suns surprisingly good without Amare – but not good enough.
Ric Bucher ESPN Mag
1
2
If coach Mike D'Antoni gets this team anywhere near last year's record and playoff run, he'll deserve Coach of the Year, again. They were an all-out running team last year, punishing teams with deadly efficiency.
John Carroll Scouts Inc.
2
5
With MVP Steve Nash and the freewheeling offensive style coach Mike D'Antoni has installed, the Suns will win a lot of games before Amare gets back. And if he comes back earlier than expected and is healthy, the Suns might be able to win it all.
Chad Ford ESPN Insider
3
8
With Amare, the Suns were right back in the hunt for the Western Conference finals. Without him, they will be a struggle to hang onto the eighth seed.

John Hollinger ESPN Insider
3
9
Well, it was fun while it lasted. Losing Amare Stoudemire obviously hurts, but they would still be a playoff team if they had kept Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson on the wings.
Scoop Jackson ESPN
Page 2

3
7

Nice run, but without "The Shawn Kemp Remix" (and no one to replace Joe Johnson), elitism evaporated.

Tim Legler ESPN Insider
2
6

See Item 7 for Legler's analysis of the Phoenix Suns.



Eric Neel ESPN
Page 2


2
6
Stoudemire's absence is big, and the slow-footed Thomas is an odd fit. They'll miss Joe Johnson big-time.
Jim O'Brien ESPN Insider
2
8
Overcoming the loss of Amare Stoudemire for at least four months is a lot to ask. A favorable home schedule during this time will keep them in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Will Perdue ESPN Insider
2
6
How long will Amare really be out? How big is getting Kurt Thomas? Can Steve Nash play at an MVP-caliber again . . . for the full 48 minutes? Plenty of questions for coach Mike D'Antoni.
Chris Sheridan ESPN Insider
2
6
Amare's injury, the departures of Q and JJ and the additions of Kurt Thomas, Brian Grant, Raja Bell and James Jones all add up to a serious downgrade. Nash will have them running and gunning, but Amare was who made this team devastating.
Marc Stein ESPN.com
1
3
As long as Steve Nash doesn't get hurt, and as long as Amare Stoudemire is looking somewhat Amare-like in April, Phoenix is still my choice to meet San Antonio in the West finals. These Suns are much deeper than they used to be.


The Marion Kind
Marion
Jeff Reinking/NBAE via Getty Images
The key to understanding the power of The Matrix? His averages: 11 boards, two steals and 1.5 blocks.


Lineup Breakdown
ESPN The Magazine sizes up the Suns roster:

PLAYER ANALYSIS RATING
Starters: Hooters has more quality wings than the Suns have.
PF
Shawn
Marion
53 double-doubles last season. Only KG had more.
8
SF
James
Jones
He'll make sure they don't miss Q. But does that mean much?
7
C
Kurt
Thomas
Move from PF in East to C in West could be humbling. Will be.
7
SG
Raja
Bell
Good player ... when he was coming off the bench.
6
PG
Steve
Nash
11.5 apg was nearly four above career avg. (6.7). That's Amare.
9
Bench: Jim Jackson is the only reason D'Antoni will look to his reserves, who include Brian Grant, Boris Diaw and Eddie House. Understand now?
7

TOTAL SCORE

44

ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands Oct. 26.



Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Leandro Barbosa
Player Efficiency Rating
12.69
vs. NBA Avg: -2.31

Steve Nash should give Leandro Barbosa a share of his MVP trophy. Barbosa is lightning quick and has very long arms, but his inability to run the point when Nash was out of the game helped contribute to the Suns' poor record during Nash's absence. That, in turn, was a key factor in generating Nash's MVP buzz.

Barbosa's assist and turnover ratios both were among the worst at his position, continuing the trend he established in his rookie year. He plays out of control and when he drives he almost always looks to score rather than to pass. He can score, though. Barbosa has unusual form on his shot but is a good outside shooter, hitting 37 percent of his 3-pointers. In the paint, he uses a variety of scoop shots to boost his field-goal percentage.

Barbosa's long arms and quickness would seem to make him a good defender, but he has yet to harness those skills and was average at best last season. However, he did manage to increase his rebound rate to among the best at his position.

Overall, Barbosa is quite young and his skills suggest he could become quite good. However, he needs to change positions. While 6-foot-3 is a bit small for a shooting guard, his long arms could allow him to make the switch, and it might stop the torrent of turnovers that are threatening to wash away his career.

-- Suns player profiles from John Hollinger's "Pro Basketball Forecast: 2005-06," available at Amazon.com and Potomac Books.


Do You Know This Sun Starter?
Jones
Jeff Reinking/NBAE via Getty Images
There's a new JJ in town, and his name is James Jones.


SportsNation Speaks
We asked SportsNation if Amare Stoudemire's injury would cripple the Suns:

Will the Suns still run and gun?
51.4% Sure, but with fewer finishers
29.6% Yes, because Nash dictates the pace
19.0% They can try, but no dice

Vote: Suns in 2005-06 | Results



Tim's Time
Legs on Suns: What a difference a few months make. In early June, the Phoenix Suns were locked in a battle with the San Antonio Spurs for the right to play in the NBA Finals. Despite losing that series, it was apparent that the Suns were going to be the team to beat in the near future. Well, let's look at what has happened since.

First, Joe Johnson bolted for Atlanta after the Suns decided that $60-70 million was too steep for a guy who would be their fourth most important player.

Next, Quentin Richardson, after tying for the league lead in 3-pointers made, was dealt to the Knicks for Kurt Thomas in an effort to bolster the Suns' frontline.

Then, sole frontline bench contributor Steven Hunter ended up a 76er as a free agent. That's a lot.

But it doesn't compare to the news they received once training camp started. Amare Stoudamire (who would have had my preseason vote for MVP) underwent microfracture surgery to repair his knee and will be lost until at least the All-Star break.

Where does all this leave the Suns? Mike D'Antoni still has 2004-05 MVP Steve Nash. He still has All-Star Shawn Marion, and Jim Jackson will fill in nicely for Joe Johnson. They have added Thomas and James Jones from Indiana, but the season hinges on Stoudamire's return.

If they keep afloat until he gets back, and he is the same player we marveled at last season, the Suns will be a nightmare first-round matchup for someone as a No. 6 seed.

Tim Legler, ESPN Insider



Coach's Corner
Mike D'Antoni
Experience: 3 years
Reg. season record: 97-96
Playoff record: 9-6
Coach's profile

A 33-game turnaround from the previous year landed Mike D'Antoni Coach of the Year honors. The 62-win Suns were the highest scoring team in the NBA.

The loss of Stoudemire for four months, on top of the departure of Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson, forces D'Antoni to find a way to make up for more than half of last year's scoring production.

Jim O'Brien, ESPN Insider



Hollinger's Q & A
Have they improved the defense enough?

After the Spurs exposed the Suns' defensive shortcomings in the conference finals last season, Phoenix decided to get bigger and tougher.

Richardson was sent to New York for veteran big man Kurt Thomas, and the Suns added defensive-minded free agents like Bell, Brian Grant and James Jones. This year, Phoenix will go with a bigger lineup, with Marion moving back to small forward and Stoudemire to power forward, which should make them more resistant in the paint.

On the other hand, the Suns lost their best perimeter defender in Johnson, and that was where they struggled the most in their loss to San Antonio. Additionally, some of the veterans they added to the mix have clearly lost a step. Thomas slipped defensively in his final two seasons in New York, while Grant is a shadow of his former self.

Unless Bell can step up as a stopper and Thomas has an extra gear that he wasn't using a year ago, the Suns might find their defensive shortcomings again becoming a roadblock to the championship.

More Hollinger Suns analysis Insider



Fantasy Fix
Jones
Jones

Sleeper: James Jones likes to shoot the 3, and now he joins a team that will let him fire away. Jones is off to a tremendous start this preseason in the Quentin Richardson role, spotting up behind the arc. Although he shouldn't offer much in rebounds or assists, Jones will love the running game, and Steve Nash will feed him often.

Bust: Brian Grant used to be a reliable rebounder and shooter from the field. But at age 33 and working on bad knees, Grant will just be asked to take up space and guard opposing big men for the Suns. Don't be loyal to a guy who used to be helpful in fantasy. He can't help you anymore.

Eric Karabell | Fantasy Basketball Index

 

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