Zero of ESPN’s 10 anonymous scouts, executives pick Suns to win West

Aug 19, 2021, 11:07 AM
Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul hoists the trophy as he and his teammates celebrate after defeating the Lo...

Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul hoists the trophy as he and his teammates celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 6 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals Wednesday, June 30, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Get used to this.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps formed a panel of 10 anonymous NBA scouts and executives, having them comb through an offseason survey and also some picks for next season.

When the group was asked about who wins the Western Conference next season, four teams were picked. Not one of them was the 2021 Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.

There were five votes for the Los Angeles Lakers, two apiece to the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz, plus one to the Denver Nuggets.

One panelist is high on the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook addition and how the 32-year-old will adjust to a new role.

“I don’t think Westbrook is a terrible addition,” he said. “The guy is super competitive and in a situation, I’m assuming, with LeBron where he won’t be taking the most shots on the team, unless teams are forcing him to take them. He’s the third-best player now.”

Another said Golden State “has enough talent to make a run,” while the Jazz cases were there too.

“They are deep and were the best team in the league most of last year,” said an East executive. “They had a bad series versus the Clippers, but a whole lot of people say you can’t win until you win.

“They were knocking on the door last year, and I think they get there this time.”

Well, one team that can defy that saying, a team that can win now that they’ve won, is the Suns.

They are coming off a 51-21 season and appearance in the NBA Finals. Detractors will be quick to point to the injuries that played a factor in each of their three series’s to get there. But Phoenix also had Chris Paul go through four separate issues (shoulder, COVID-19, wrist, hand) and Devin Booker had a pair (nose, hamstring) as well.

The Lakers and Warriors each presumably carry enough past precedent to earn those predictions, because they have unknowns going forward.

If the Westbrook fit works to a certain extent, it’s going to take time. On top of that, Los Angeles is likely losing its identity as the best defensive team in the league last year. Out go strong defenders Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso, and in come huge question marks on that end in Westbrook, Malik Monk and Wayne Ellington, plus others.

While the Warriors’ championship core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is set to be back, the form Thompson will be in after two straight full-season injuries (ACL, Achilles) is a mystery. Beyond those three, Golden State will be reliant on names like Otto Porter Jr., James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody to help fill out its rotation.

Given the status of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Curry, it’s fair to expect those predictions to come in. But it does feel like a lack of recognition to the overall depth of teams like Phoenix, Utah and Denver, three teams that just about brought everyone back and got better too after being the three of the four best teams in the West last regular season.

The Suns filled in a hole at backup 5 with JaVale McGee, the Jazz added an extra reliable big/wing in Rudy Gay and ditto for the Nuggets with Jeff Green.

If there’s one thing to take away and know that’s coming in the future, it’s that the Suns won’t find it difficult to have a chip on their shoulder again, should they choose to seek it out.

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Zero of ESPN’s 10 anonymous scouts, executives pick Suns to win West