Success can be Deceptive

I remember back in the day [we won’t mention what decade] I used to hang out with a buddy of mine we called Prince. Prince seemed to be quite the ladies’ man, He had tremendous confidence and quite the “rap”. Was he confident because of his success or successful because of his confidence? That was a question for the ages and one we will probably never be able to answer.

As was often the case when we went out, Prince would con talk a girl into going home with him. We couldn’t quite figure it out, as he was an average looking guy and the girls he went home with were fairly hot.

It was only until I roomed with him one year that I realized all of what we perceived as success was not entirely accurate. From the outside, he looked like a player [I refuse to say the word “playa” – oh snap, I just did – I also said snap, ugh!]. Behind the scenes it was apparent that Prince had a unique talent, but not for attracting good looking women. His talent was attracting crazy women who happen to be good looking. You would never have known until you met these women the next morning.

From the outside, we all admired Prince. Yet there was a reason behind his ability to get laid, and it wasn’t because of the reasons we thought.

Thus was the case with the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns

“How can you possibly claim this considering the Suns tore it up in the second half of the season [29-12], and came into the playoffs with the best 2nd half season record.”

While I don't disagree that the 2009-10 Suns were talented and competed at a fairly high level, I think that some circumstances helped that team much like 10 beers helps a decent looking woman at 2 a.m. look like a supermodel and the love of your life.

The Suns had a brutal first half schedule, with 10 back-to-back games [they went 3-7] with 6 of those coming against playoff teams. They played 8 games against the teams ahead of us in the standings [2-6]. They had 22 [9-13] road games, with 11 against playoff teams [2-7]. They also had 9 road games on the back end of back-to-backs [2-7], with 6 of those against playoff teams. Yet despite the brutality of it, they still had a decent record [24-17] at the halfway point [not all-star].

Yet, there were some telling signs that this team had holes: They were 7-12 against playoff teams, 17-5 against everyone else, and their margin of loss in all losses was 12.6 points, as they were blown out badly in 8 games.

Up to that point, the Suns were still trying to integrate Jason Richardson, they were making adjustments from Barbosa’s injuries, and Amare continued the trend of starting his season slowly and with a lack of enthusiasm.

At the halfway point, I believe Amare was hearing rumblings around the league about his lackluster play and media started bagging on him as a MAX player. It was about that time when he decided if he was going to attract max dollars from other teams [or even from the Suns], he better get his act in gear. That, among other things, helped the Suns finish better in the second half of the season.

In the second half, the Suns managed to eliminate the blowouts because of Amare's increased enthusiasm. And while they had a very healthy 29-12 record in the back half of the season, it was buoyed by a number of scheduling advantages.

While their two less back-to-back games [8 total] was not a huge difference, those games came against more non-playoff teams [5-0 versus non-playoff teams] than in the first half of the season [6]. They also played only 3 games [versus 8 in the first half season] against the teams ahead of us in the standings [1-2 record]. They also played less road games [2 less], with 9 against playoff teams [4-5] and 11 against non-playoff teams [9-2]. Overall in the second half, the Suns were 11-10 against playoff teams, but three of those wins were against Denver.

Overall, if you take into consideration that they had less back-to-back games against lesser competition, played less road games against lesser competition, and padded their win total with a 14-0 record against the bottom 10 teams in the league, you can see that while the Suns were competitive, they were helped a bit by scheduling and by Amare’s play for a contract.

“Well”, you say. “They made it to the Western Conference Finals! How do you explain that?”

Let’s remember that while the Suns were in fact playing better than in the first half of the season, they certainly had their path cut for them in a rather favorable way. Rather than drawing Denver [3-1] or Utah [2-2], we ended up with home court and playing a Portland team whose superstar was injured. While we may have indeed gotten by Denver, I believe had we played Utah and not had home court, we might not have moved out of the first round and our perception of this team would be dramatically different.

Indeed, we did not draw those teams. However, the team we did draw had some problems of their own. Brandon Roy missed the first four games of the series, and then tried to return but played hurt. You could clearly see that he was a detriment to his team, as he couldn’t cut or move, and allowed the Suns to focus more on LaMarcus Aldridge. Had Roy not been hurt, I contend that there was an equal to or greater possibility of losing in the first round, but the Suns caught a break.

The Suns also had the god’s smiling upon them when San Antonio inexplicably beat Dallas in the first round. Dallas [1-2] was a team we did not match up well with and struggled against in the regular season. I don’t believe we would have defeated them in the 2nd round had we played them, based on our matchup. Additionally, San Antonio [2-1] was a team in disarray, with Ginobili fighting injury and the absence of their defensive stopper in Bowen, the Spurs clearly were too slow and could not matchup anymore against the Suns. Ironic as it seems, at the time getting the Spurs was a huge advantage for us.

“I don’t agree with you. We went to the WCF, steamrolled the league in the 2nd half and were fun to watch. You are an idiot.”

You are entitled to your opinion I suppose. Again, while I thought this team still had talent and could compete at a fairly high level against the lesser teams in the league, the numbers just do not support this team as a true championship contender.

The Suns were 18-22 against playoff teams during the regular season. Even in the back half of the season, a point most would use as proof of the Suns improvement, they had a losing record against playoff teams. Against the top tier teams [Cle, Orl, Atl, LAL, DAL] they were 4-9. Their second half schedule, along with some favorable matchups in the playoffs simply inflated the perception that this team was two wins from an NBA finals appearance.

So while many of you enjoyed watching the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns, as did I, the perception that this was a championship caliber team is misguided. The idea that the team should have been able to “make another run” or continue to contend for a championship if only they had kept Stoudamire is quaint, but incorrect. That team was good enough to consistently beat the lesser teams in the league, but in no way were they among the elite teams. If they were, they would have a far better record against playoff teams during the regular season than 18-22.

The Suns overachieved and still had tremendous success. However, that success was very deceptive.

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