Phoenix Suns Betting
by Trevor Whenham - 01/04/2007
The Phoenix Suns are the most exciting element of the NBA. Bold statement, I know. As bold as if I were to say that the Yankees have a big payroll, or that Notre Dame isn't very good in bowl games. Not only are they a thrilling, high speed scoring show, but they are also a very profitable team to bet on. Despite being such a high profile public darling, the Suns are 18-12-1 against the spread, and they are 16-7-1 ATS since the middle of November. There's nothing wrong with that. The fixation of the public provides another good opportunity as well. The offense at home gets too much credit, meaning the total gets inflated, providing an attractive home under which has hit 10 times in 15 tries.
So far, the Suns have been very good friends to both bettors and basketball fans. The question, as it always is in these situations, is whether it can last, or whether this is a hot team that will fade away as the season progresses.
There's only one place that you can reasonably start a discussion of this team - Steve Nash. He and I are both Canadians, so you can consider this statement biased if you want, but the two-time defending MVP is the best player in the league. He's certainly not the most freakishly talented - LeBron, Kobe, Dwight Howard and a dozen others exceed him there - but he has the best sense of the court, the most heart and the strongest determination to win. If you were starting a team right now you would either make Nash your first pick or you would make a mistake. This team will not falter dramatically because, simply, Nash won't let them. He was a slightly surprising pick for his first MVP, a clear winner his second time around, and he is playing better in almost all aspects of his game now than he ever has. He's leading the team in points, the league in assists and he's shooting better than 50 percent from 3-point range. Clearly, I like the guy, but what is there not to like? Besides the hair, I mean.
The most concerning thing about a lot of teams in the NBA is the lack of consistency. You can be confident that you are backing the better squad with a clear advantage, only to see them decide that they aren't in the mood to play. They get blown out and your blood pressure shoots up. (Why does that make me think of the Rose Bowl?) That doesn't happen to Phoenix. The team is 23-8 straight up, and their biggest margin of loss is just eight points. Six of those losses came in the first eight games of the season. Since then, they lost a shootout in overtime to Washington and the lost by two in Dallas. They may not win or cover every night, but you know they are going to give a good effort.
Last year in the playoffs the Suns took Dallas to six games in the conference finals. They made it as far as they did without any inside presence. Kurt Thomas was out until game four of the Dallas series with a fractured foot, and Amare Stoudemire was out with his knee injury. The team's game lost a serious dimension, but they still did fairly well. This year, Stoudemire is back and improving every game, while Thomas is contributing in a more limited role. Assuming the rest of the team keeps chugging along, their chances are much improved merely because of the presence of effective big men.
Beyond the point guard and the big men, the Suns have a very solid roster of contributors. They obviously don't have the offensive mega-stars right now, since Nash is the leading scorer, but they have role players who are exceptional at their roles. Raja Bell is a solid shooting guard who can get ridiculously hot, as he did in the playoffs last year. Leandro Barbosa is a solid, improving guard who fills in very well for both Nash and Bell. Shawn Marion is an offensive force that is as good on defense as any solid scorer. Boris Diaw is an incredibly versatile frontcourt player who can put in effective minutes in every position up front.
Sure, it's easy to love this team, but there are some reasons to moderate that feeling of joy. The first is depth. As good as the core of players that put in serious minutes are, the cast behind them are more than a little bit iffy. Jalen Rose is way beyond his best days, Marcus Banks has not shown himself to be a viable option at the point and guys like James Jones, Eric Piatkowski, Pat Burke and Jumaine Jones don't inspire a lot of confidence. A lot of their roster is essentially glued to the bench. Obviously, this team would be done if Nash were to get injured, but they would also face familiar and significant problems if Stoudemire, Marion or Barbosa were to miss significant time as well. The injury bug has an abnormally scary bite in the Arizona desert.
To go deep in the playoffs this year, Phoenix is going to have to get past some combination of the best teams in the conference - Utah, Dallas and San Antonio. It's more than a little concerning, then, that five of the team's eight losses have come against those three, and that they haven't beat any of them yet. Three of the losses came while they were struggling early, two were in overtime, and all five games were close, but the fact remains that they haven't beat any of them yet, and they have to be able to do that consistently before they deserve serious respect.
We'll have to wait and see if this is finally the Phoenix team that is built to go deep. In the meantime, just sit back and enjoy watching the show and cashing your winning tickets.