ESPN’s Bobby Marks picks Suns to come out of West playoffs

May 17, 2021, 7:10 PM

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, shoots over Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) du...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, shoots over Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

ESPN’s Bobby Marks sees similarities between a New Jersey Nets squad he was employed by in the early 2000s and the 2020-21 version of the Phoenix Suns.

It’s the lack of playoff experience between this year’s Suns team and the 2002 Nets teams that draws comparisons, and it’s not a negative one.

Those New Jersey team, after all, went to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers. A year later, they returned to fall to the San Antonio Spurs.

“I’ve talked about it internally with people at ESPN … ‘What team do I like to come out out West?’ and it’s been Phoenix,” Marks told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Monday. “I’m not scared if they lose Game 1 or 2 at home, (if) there’s a little bit of jitters there and you’ve got to go on the road and steal a Game 3 or Game 4 — maybe pre-COVID, but I don’t think home court is as big on the road of a factor.

“Maybe when you come into Phoenix, potentially here (it is)? This Phoenix team reminds me a lot of that team in New Jersey in 2002, with Jason Kidd and a lot of these younger players. That team grew up pretty quick.”

Yes, that Nets squad also had just added a veteran point guard in Kidd, who was traded to New Jersey in June 2001 in a package that sent point guard Stephon Marbury to Phoenix.

Sounds similar to the Suns acquiring Chris Paul before this year to leap into the No. 2 seed heading toward the postseason, doesn’t it?

The Nets, in Kidd’s first season there, resembled the Suns in that they leaned on youngsters around their All-NBA floor general to go deep into the postseason.

Rookies Richard Jefferson (21 years old) and Jason Collins (23) were throw into the fire that first season, while second-year pro Kenyon Martin (24) also made his first playoff appearance in 2002.

There are parallels between those players and the Suns’ Devin Booker (24), Mikal Bridges (24) and Deandre Ayton (22), though they’ve played more NBA seasons than the Nets’ trio from 2002.

Marks believes that Paul and veteran Jae Crowder will help the youngsters keep their heads from game-to-game.

“You grow up mighty quickly in these playoffs,” Marks said, citing those Nets teams he saw first-hand as a junior member of the front office.

Now, the NBA analyst said the Suns are one of seven legitimate contenders.

Even if Phoenix draws a likely favored Lakers team in the first round following this week’s play-in tournament, Marks believes the Suns can reach the NBA Finals.

“I’ve been in the belief that if you’re going to face this (Lakers) team, get them now. I really do,” Marks said. “I don’t think LeBron (James) is healthy. I think he’ll be better than most players. You got (Dennis) Schroder who just came back, A.D. is still nursing his injuries here.

“If you’re going to face a team like the Lakers who are still probably the team to beat, get them in the first round and not the Western Conference Finals when they’ve gotten a few series already.”

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ESPN’s Bobby Marks picks Suns to come out of West playoffs