In his insider-only team forecasts, John Hollinger makes a couple of interesting points about the Phoenix Suns beyond the obvious giant question marks surrounding the Amare Stoudemire issue. One, he points out that they slightly underperformed in terms of “expected win-loss” (a formula based on point-differential, designed to factor out luck and contingency), winning 54 games when they “should” have won 55. Dallas, meanwhile, actually won 60 but only had 58 expexted wins so the margin is smaller than it looked. The other is that the injury to Kurt Thomas had a bigger impact than most people talk about, with him “Phoenix had given up 100.2 points per game on 44 percent shooting. Following the injury, Phoenix allowed 107.6 points on 47.8 percent shooting.”
Viewed this way, the Suns could be serious contenders if either Thomas stays healthy or Amare can make valuable contributions and it’s not necessarily the case that everything hinges on Stoudemire. If both of those guys and play, I wonder who starts for Phoenix. Since there’s a bunch of multi-position guys on this squad, you could play a big Thomas-Stoudemire-Marion-Diaw-Nash lineup, but that strikes me as an un-Suns way to play. In a lot of ways, keeping Thomas on the bench and starting Raja Bell at shooting guard seems to make more sense, but not if Thomas is really so crucial to the Phoenix defense. So maybe you use Diaw as an all-purpose sixth man.