• Chris Stewart

Are the 2015-2016 Phoenix Suns a Playoff Team?

*Photo via AP

The Phoenix Suns will take a youthful and talented roster into the 2015-2016 NBA campaign. General manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek are approaching their third season in Phoenix.

Each were brilliant in their first season (2013-2014), as the Suns would win 48 games and become the league's biggest surprise. However, they seemingly missed the playoffs unjustly, due to a Western Conference powerhouse.

The following season (2014-2015) the bar inched even higher. Many would expect the Suns to make the playoffs, only to see them fall short again. Suddenly, the fun-to-watch chemistry from a season prior was gone. A roster with three starting caliber point guards led to tension, chemistry problems, and a blockbuster trade that saw the team take a step back (39 wins).

It's debatable, but an extremely talented Western Conference may or may not justify a sixth straight playoff absence for the Phoenix Suns in 2015-2016. However, the possibility of this new franchise low is a barrel that the organization must look down.

Barring injury, it’s likely that the superiorly talented San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and Memphis Grizzlies will fill out the top five seeds in the Western Conference.

The ten bottom rung teams include: the Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the mighty Phoenix Suns!

The questions then become, which teams will fill out the last three seeds of the Western Conference standings, and can any of them move up into the top five? If a lower echelon team moves into the top five -- the standings tighten up at the bottom -- so as to make it more difficult to secure a seventh or eighth seed.

For example, if the Oklahoma City Thunder – who will have a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook -- play to their capabilities, the Thunder could move into the top five. This would push another team down, and leave just two playoff spots open.

*Photo via NBA.com

The Sacramento Kings could be a sleeper if somehow - some way Demarcus Cousins and George Karl can settle their differences. The Kings added Rajon Rondo via free agency, and drafted center Willie Cauley-Stein in the lottery to play alongside Cousins.

Depending on the development of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota, as well as head coach Alvin Gentry’s new system in New Orleans, the Pelicans and Timberwolves could also contend for those final two or three playoff spots.

While the Jazz have built a nice nucleus for the future, it would appear that Utah, Portland, Denver, Dallas, and the Lakers are all on the outside looking in. The Trail Blazers and Mavericks endured major offseason personnel losses, and do not have the talent to compete for a playoff spot this season.

As Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles approach retirement, Damian Lillard cannot carry the load in Portland alone. Nevertheless, they each have a superstar on their roster; albeit two are at the end of their career, and shouldn’t be dismissed as irrelevant.

The question in Phoenix becomes, are the Suns a better team than New Orleans, Minnesota, and Sacramento. Can they win the games that they are supposed to win? In other words, can they beat the Lakers, Nuggets, Jazz, Mavericks, and Trailblazers throughout the regular season?

If so, then a seventh or eighth seed is very possible for the Phoenix Suns, and yes they can make the playoffs. However, it won’t be easy. There are requirements:

  1. Markieff Morris or a player of his caliber and position must be a good teammate and perform at a high level

  2. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight must coexist, gel, and produce

  3. Tyson Chandler and Alex Len must stay healthy (Chandlers' presence will help Len and a young Suns roster on and off the court)

  4. The team must keep its three point shooting above 35 percent

  5. Archie Goodwin and or T.J. Warren must have a breakout season (Most Improved Player considerations)

  6. Good bench play and chemistry are vital

This may be a tall order, but it’s what it will take if the Phoenix Suns are to make the playoffs. As they move forward into the 2015-2016 season -- still in a rebuilding mode – the organization will unveil a new alternate uniform, as well as a redesigned home court. Two-time MVP Steve Nash will also be inducted into the Ring of Honor in October. Nash's 2010 team was the last to make the playoffs, and Suns fans have been ready to return ever since.

Stats and info courtesy of NBA.com , Yahoo, and Basketball Reference

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