ESPN Insider’s Kevin Pelton asserts that the 2016 playoffs could be the first since 2007 to include more than two Western Conference playoff teams that missed the postseason a year ago.
While the Phoenix Suns’ 3-4 record doesn’t scream “playoff run,” could they be one of those teams despite the average start?
Based on ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, Pelton projects the Suns having a 38-percent shot at reaching the postseason.
That ranks third — behind Oklahoma City (>99.9 percent playoff chances) and Utah (98 percent) — of last year’s lottery squads making it to the playoffs this season. The case for the Thunder making the playoffs after a down year needs no explanation if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook remain healthy, while the Jazz’s young talent blossoming makes a good case for Quin Snyder’s team.
Pelton’s case for the Suns goes like so:
Phoenix’s minus-0.1 point differential ranks eighth in the West and is far better than that of the Pelicans (minus-8.1) and Grizzlies (minus-10.4, in large part because of blowout losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Warriors). Because BPI factors in preseason expectations to better reflect the true talent of teams, Memphis and New Orleans still rank ahead of the Suns. The difference is nonetheless close enough that Phoenix has a reasonable shot at the postseason.
Two wins against a Trail Blazers team expected to miss the postseason and another victory against a Kings squad without DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t inspire such confidence.
Yet, the four losses haven’t been bad ones — at least when throwing the season-opener against Dallas out the window.
Meanwhile, New Orleans’ injury issues have played a part in a 2-7 start.
The Sacramento Kings, another lottery team expected to Boogie into the playoff race, is dealing with internal issues and is also 2-7.
Memphis is 3-6 and has struggled with a difficult schedule thus far.
Of playoff teams from a year ago that could miss the 2015-16 postseason, Dallas and Portland suffered from disappointing free agency periods this summer. New Orleans, Houston and Memphis have also gotten off to slow starts for various reasons.
It’s early, but it seems reasonable three playoff teams from last season miss the boat this time around.
The Suns would like to take advantage.