It seems like the balance of power in the NBA this season has shifted more to the East, with multiple teams close to each other in the standings, battling for a better playoff spot. But still, many would say that the cream of the crop is still in the West, with the Warriors and Suns leading the way. There is no question Phoenix has been unbelievable this year, as they are the clear-cut favorites to win it all right now. But NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal is not convinced yet.
Storming the league with team play
Nobody saw the Phoenix Suns going to the Finals last year, but the squad led by the star duo of Chris Paul and Devin Booker took advantage of the opportunity and made a huge leap forward. After falling two games short of a championship, a lot of people thought the Suns would cool down this year and regret not taking advantage of the opportunity. Coming into the season a bit slow, mixed with their owner Robert Sarver getting some serious legal accusations, the Suns didn't look like contenders. But they would quickly prove us all wrong.
As of now, they are 43-10, sitting firm at the top of the whole league. They managed to string an 18-game and 11-game win streak so far in the season, and they are doing it by committee. Devin Booker is leading them in scoring 25.5 ppg, showing all-around improvement as the #1 guy. But right there next to him, the Point God Chris Paul is averaging 15.0 ppg and 10.4 apg. His leadership skills are making everybody on the team better, and rightfully so, putting him into the MVP conversation despite not having the flashiest stats.
Then you look at the supporting cast. Deandre Ayton has missed some time, but when he is playing, he is still that stable presence inside. It helped that his reserves in JaVale McGee, Frank Kaminsky, Bismack Biyombo, and Jalen Smith have all had great roles in their minutes. Playing along CP3 does that for a big man. Mikal Bridges is one of the best two-way players in the league, Cam Johnson is the perfect 6th man, and complementary guys like Jae Crowder, Cameron Payne, and Landry Shamet are all contributing.
Shaq has his doubts
Despite their unbelievable play and dominance, there are still those doubting their ability to win it all this year. One of those is NBA legend, Shaquille O'Neal. On a recent episode of The Big Podcast, Shaq explained why they won't go deep in the postseason:
"They ain't got nobody that scares you. Listen, Phoenix is like Utah to me. Got a lot of good players, but some of those players can be punked now, Michelle, I'm just saying."
Shaquille O'Neal, The Big Podcast
Interesting take from "The Big Diesel." Last season the Utah Jazz were dominating the NBA with their team-play similar to the Suns this year. But that didn't mean anything because they flamed out versus the Clippers in the second round, despite being favorites. Their main knock was not having that killer, and Shaq sees that same problem in Phoenix now.
That makes some sense, but it's hard to say you don't have guys that opponents fear when you have Chris Paul and Devin Booker on your side. They proved they could win in the playoffs last year, and given that they are even better this year, it's hard to doubt them. A Suns-Warriors WCF is very likely to happen, and it could be one for the ages. It will be a fun series to watch no matter who you support.