Fantasy Notes: Aging Suns Look to Rise Once Again
Can Christmas Morning and the prospect of a grudge match against their fiercest rivals revitalize the geriatric Phoenix Suns, the NBA’s oldest team? Phoenix, with an average age of 27.3 years, will try to shake off the cobwebs earlier than normal for an afternoon Christmas Day matchup against the San Antonio Spurs, a team it’s had its share of run-ins with in recent seasons.
The Suns looked very, very ordinary a couple of weeks ago, dropping four straight games to slip to a rather pedestrian 11-9. Since then, however, the team again looks like a contender, going 5-2, and even those two losses – to the powerful Lakers and Blazers – were each by just five points. So, while there’s no doubt that the Suns have been in decline for the past two seasons, there’s no reason to completely write them off just yet. This team has one more kick in the can left in it.
The acquisition of Jason Richardson seems to have revitalized Phoenix, as it’s taken three of four since the deal. It’s a bit too early to determine whether his fantasy value will rise or not, but the early indications suggest it will. He’s getting a bit more PT with the Suns, and although his touches and scoring has dipped slightly (he still has scored at least 15 points in every game as a Sun), he’s jacking up 1.8 more three-pointers per game, sinking 1.4 more. Free of Larry Brown, J-Rich again resembles the man who shared the NBA lead with 3.0 treys sunk per game last season. As a Richardson owner, I’m pleased with the early signs. By the way, given that Richardson has always been on mediocre or worse teams, this is his first time on the Christmas Day stage, so don’t be surprised if he comes to play today.
Shaquille O’Neal, for comparison’s sake, will be playing in his 11th X-Mas game. His career averages on Christmas? Try 23.6 PPG and 13.5 RPG. Pretty sweet. His teams have gone a middling 5-5 on Yuletide, however. Shaq, by the way, is having a very nice renaissance season at the age of 36. While his rebounding is down, his scoring is up this season – especially lately, with over 19 PPG in December. Of course, the fact that he’s sinking almost two-thirds of his FTs this month – rarified air for Diesel – sure helps. Don’t expect that to continue.
Phoenix has fared well against San Antonio during the regular season, winning three straight. But in the playoffs, the Spurs have been the Suns’ scourge, knocking Phoenix out three times in the last four years. Revenge in front of a national television audience is nice, but until Phoenix can defeat the Spurs in the postseason, it will continue to carry those ghosts around.
Steve Nash, another one of Phoenix’s elderly set, has started to look like himself recently. His scoring and assists have been in decline for a couple of seasons, but the drop in dimes has particularly been worrisome. However, he’s picked things up after a shaky November, and Captain Canada has really been on fire in the past two weeks, recording four double-doubles in his last seven games, including back-to-back games heading into action this afternoon. In the last four games, he’s averaging 18.3 PPG – looking more like the back-to-back MVP winner version of himself rather than the aging PG of the past couple of seasons. Maybe for the team’s sake, however, he should defer to his teammates for scoring. In one of the weirder stats you’ll see, over the last four seasons and change, when Nash scores more than 15 points against the Spurs, Phoenix is just 5-15; when he’s under that total, the Suns have won six of 10. Bizarro.
After a rough start at home (they won just four of their first nine games), the Suns are again looking like a very tough team to beat in its own building, having rhymed off five straight wins at the US Airways Center. Phoenix’s last loss at home came back on November 30. However, what Phoenix really needs to do to keep this home streak alive against San Antonio, is to play some D. The Suns have given up at least 100 points in 12 straight games. Weren’t the Suns supposed to be a more defensive-oriented club under Terry Porter? It sure started out the way, as the offense dropped significantly, but the defense was much better. Lately, however, the Suns appear to be reverting to their old ways. Since December 6, the Suns have beaten Utah 106-04, downed Milwaukee 125-110, lost to the Lakers 115-110, beat the Magic 113-112, beat the Knicks 111-103 and lost to Portland 124-119. Do those scores look like something you’d see from a defense-first team?
How hot is Amare Stoudemire? After a middling start, he’s again looking the man who deserved to be taken early in the first round this fall. Stat has put up at least 20 points in 10 straight games. But get this – this is the third time he’s had a streak like this in the last 52 games. Woah. By the way, have you noticed that he’s playing 4.5 more minutes per game this season? With a career high 38.4 MPG, obviously any lingering concerns over his micro-fracture surgery of a couple of years ago is very much a thing of the past.