Updated: Oct. 27, 2006, 12:42 PM ET

SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
Finals exam for Amare, Suns

Suns

Team Page | Schedule | Roster | Hollinger Stats

Where will the Phoenix Suns finish in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference? Get 10 takes from ESPN's NBA experts.



ANALYST COMMENT
Marc
Stein
ESPN.com
The Suns don't need a lot from Amare Stoudemire to be champs after almost getting there without him. The issue is whether Amare can accept that and embrace role-player status for a season until his knees get stronger.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 3
Chris
Sheridan

ESPN.com
Amare Stoudemire is slowly starting to realize that the road back from microfracture surgery is a bumpy one, and it'll take him at least this entire season to get his knee strength back.
DIVISION RANK: 2 | CONFERENCE RANK: 5
Jim
O'Brien

ESPN.com
The Suns are virtually impossible to guard. If they get a full season out of Amare Stoudemire, he will give them the dimension they need against the teams that stand in their way of competing for a crown.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 3
Tim
Legler

ESPN.com
Steve Nash leads the NBA's most potent offense. Stoudemire's health will determine if the Suns can win a championship. The guy is 23 years old and, before his injury, was the best frontcourt athlete in the league.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 1
Scoop
Jackson

ESPN.com
Call AAA: All About Amare. If he finds his original flow, Nash will make sure he gets the MVP this year. With that and Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw and the comeback of Kurt Thomas, 70 wins and ball in June are the future.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 2
John
Hollinger

ESPN.com
The Suns' title hopes primarily depend on how well Amare Stoudemire comes back, both individually and in the flow of everything else the Suns are doing. The Suns should win the division regardless, but that's no longer the goal.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 3
Chad
Ford

ESPN.com
If Amare Stoudemire is healthy, the Suns are my favorites to win it all. If he's not, Steve Nash and company will still find a way to compete for an NBA title.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 1
Ric
Bucher

ESPN Mag
Amare is not the key, since Phoenix would have won it all last season had Raja Bell stayed healthy. The key is Nash, who turns 33 this season, and this might be his last chance. The now-or-never pressure will put Phoenix over the top, just as it did Miami last year.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 3
Chris
Broussard

ESPN Mag
If Amare is close to pre-injury status, the Suns could win it all. If not, they'll once again be regular-season eye candy before bowing out in the WC playoffs.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 3
Greg
Anthony

ESPN.com
The potential is there for them to be the best team in the West. It comes down to Amare -- if he returns to form by January, watch out. A key is the further development of Diaw and the impact of Marcus Banks. And is there anybody who plays as big as Shawn Marion, who is talked about so little?
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 2
 
Average ranks

DIVISION: 1.1 | Standings
CONFERENCE: 2.5 | Standings


Amare's Stretch Drive
Stoudemire
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Amare Stoudemire declared his health near "100 percent" upon his return from training with the Suns in Italy. But his surgically repaired knees will be examined all season by Phoenix partisans.


Lineup Breakdown

STARTERS ANALYSIS
Steve Nash
Point Guard
6-3 | 195
Back woes preempted summer trip to Africa. That can't be good.
Raja Bell
Shooting Guard
6-5 | 210
Kobe knows who this "kid" is now.
Shawn Marion
Small Forward
6-7 | 228
As he would say, "Amare who?" Do-it-all forward is unsung hero.
Boris Diaw
Power Forward
6-8 | 215
A repeat of last season will justify new dough.
Kurt Thomas
Center
6-9 | 235
Someone has to bang when the Suns can't run opposing bigs off the floor.
Bench: New PG Marcus Banks will spell Nash, while human jet Leandro Barbosa pumps up the O. Amare? He should have changed his number to 6, not 1.

ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hits newsstands October 25.



Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Leandro Barbosa
Player efficiency rating
projection: 15.33
vs. NBA Avg.: +.33
Suns profiles

Scouting report: Barbosa is as fast with the ball as any player in the league, especially going to his left. He loves to bring the ball up the left side of the court and then blaze to the hoop for a layup. He badly needs to learn how to make a left-handed layup, though, as he almost always finishes at the basket with his right hand despite normally coming in from the left side. This makes him a less effective finisher than he might be, but his speed is so devastating that he still gets plenty of easy baskets.

His 3-point performance was more surprising. Barbosa has unusual delivery on his shot, holding his arms well in front of his body and having a low release point. However, he rarely shoots his jumper off the dribble or with a man in his face -- nearly all his 3-pointers were on spot-ups off Steve Nash's penetration. When he didn't shoot a 3, he went right to the rim.

Defensively, Barbosa has great anticipation for steals, but his on-ball and help defense leave a lot to be desired. The Suns were 6.7 points worse per 100 possessions when Barbosa was on the court, a glaringly large differential. Barbosa gets destroyed in size matchups because of his lack of strength, which on some nights makes it hard to find minutes for him at the off-guard spot. The best thing for him would be to be paired with an oversized point guard like Jason Kidd or Baron Davis who could cover for him against bigger guards, but that's not going to happen on this team.

2006-07 outlook: Phoenix signed Barbosa to a five-year, $33 million extension before the season started, ending speculation that the Suns might be forced to let him go due to luxury tax constraints. Based on his explosive performances in the postseason, Barbosa should again be the Suns' top bench performer and has stamped himself as an early contender for the league's Sixth Man award.

Statistically, we shouldn't expect Barbosa to shoot 44 percent from downtown again, but his other numbers should gently increase as he learns how to take advantage of his scintillating speed. Best of all, Barbosa won't turn 24 until November, so he still has plenty of room to expand his game. That five-year extension could end up being a bargain.


The Nash-ural
Nash
Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images
Steve Nash has two straight MVP awards in hand. And his FG percentage improved for a fourth straight year, reaching a career-best 51.2 percent for the Suns.


SportsNation Speaks
When Amare came back last year, SportsNation was juiced. But he wasn't ready. SN sends its best for good health in the Valley of the Sun.

What do you expect from Stoudemire?
68.6% He struggles, then returns to form
22.5% He's back, good as ever
6.4% He has problems and disrupts the team
2.5% He sits most of the year

Vote: Suns in 2006-07



Ask A Blogger
Suns

What would it take for you to get a tattoo of the Suns' logo on your chest?

Well I would have to compete with "Demon Bird Moth Balls" (Shawn Marion) and "Black Jesus" (Amare Stoudemire) so a Suns tat on my chest would seem pretty insignificant.

But, if the Suns bring the first title to the valley I would embark on a voyage high into the Himalayan mountains of Nepal to get the Suns logo tattooed on my chest by a local sherpa followed by four months meditation on the championship.

Steve Nash has already begun the monk movement by shaving his head, hopefully an enlightened decision, and I would gladly follow him to the promised land.

Brian Lucas | Rising Suns



Coach's Corner

MIKE D'ANTONI COACHING FILE
Experience: 4 years
Record: 151-124
Playoffs: 19-16
NBA titles: 0
Coach's profile

With the return of Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni will have to work hard to ensure that his stable of scorers can all find enough minutes and shots to remain happy.

He may allow the transition to be controlled by the players themselves, as he has total trust in Steve Nash, or he may dictate a little in the early going.

Either way, expect the Suns to start like the Pistons did last year, which brings another challenge to D'Antoni: how to keep his team playing with an "edge" all season and into the postseason, which the Pistons could not manage.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com NBA analyst



Hollinger's Team Strength
Team speed. Good heavens this team is fast. Nash obviously is a dynamo in transition, but what makes him even more deadly is the ability of Marion and Stoudemire to run on the wings.

With those two routinely beating opposing big men up the court, it requires a guard to momentarily drop into the lane and pick one of the two up -- which is how Nash is able to advance the ball to an open 3-point shooter for a quick shot so easily.

Those three are far from the only threats, however. Barbosa is as fast as anyone in the league, streaking up the left sideline for drives and quick shots, while newcomer Banks is another speed demon who will help keep the pedal down when Nash takes his rest.

Diaw also moves well and is a mismatch in transition against opposing big men, while the Suns' secondary offensive players -- Bell and the two Joneses -- get up the floor reasonably well. As a result, the Suns play at a blistering pace; they have led the league in pace factor for two consecutive seasons.

Phoenix's offensive and defensive tendencies exaggerate the impact of the speed. One thing you'll notice in watching a Suns game is that the action almost never stops, and the reason is that Suns games hardly have any fouls.

The Suns had the lowest rate of free-throw attempts in the league, but they also strived to avoid fouling on defense -- despite their lack of interior strength. Phoenix had the second-lowest rate of opponents' free-throw tries in basketball. As a result, the Suns frequently had multiminute stretches without a whistle during which they could run opponents ragged.

More Hollinger Suns analysis Insider



Fantasy Fix
Barbosa
Barbosa

Sleeper: Leandro Barbosa was outstanding off the bench last season, nearly doubling his scoring average. He will likely be used the same way this season, but be given more opportunities to spell Steve Nash and Raja Bell. Because he doesn't start, it's easy to overlook him. But he could be a nice late-round selection in deeper leagues because of how well he shoots the ball.

Bust: Buyer beware on Amare Stoudemire, who is coming off microfracture surgery. It's a procedure that has proven difficult to return from to previous levels this quickly, so don't expect Stoudemire to be the monster he was in '04-05 -- at least not on a nightly basis. He may have remarkable stretches in which he looks like the old Amare, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. His knees may force him to sit out a game here or there in an effort to remain effective.

Keith Lipscomb | Fantasy Hoops Index

 

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