Center of the Sun: The Phoenix Suns have moved up a tier in the Western Conference, notes, bench play, and more

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

A review of the week that was featuring recaps, stats, quotes, notes, NBA Draft Updates, and a preview of the upcoming week in Phoenix Suns basketball...

The last four games for the Phoenix Suns (16-10) were arguably the most important of the season going head-to-head with perceived playoff teams in the Western Conference. They went 3-1 in this stretch making the playoff teams their peers and stepping into a new tier this season in the eyes of the NBA as a whole.

In the NBA this season there are five tiers in the Western Conference when sorting the teams. At this stage, where the Suns are my surprise you.

Game Recaps

vs. San Antonio Spurs - L (108-101) Full Recap

@ Denver Nuggets - W (103-99) Full Recap

vs. Dallas Mavericks - W (123-108) Full Recap

Tier Five: Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings

Tier Four: Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Los Angeles Lakers

Tier Three: Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, and the Phoenix Suns

Tier Two: Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, and Portland Trail Blazers

Tier One: San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder

In their past four games the Suns have knocked off every team in their tier pushing them to the head of the class. They are starting to make waves as a tough team that is not going to roll over simply because the name on the jersey of the other team. On the season they have gone toe-to-toe with the three best teams in the conference.

These tiers are subjective based on my takes on the teams and their ceilings. When I grade a team and rank them it is based on how close they are to winning an NBA Championship.

Right now, a little over a quarter into the season, the Suns are the sixth closest team to a Western Conference Finals and a shot at the NBA Championship. That does not mean that they are contenders. Looking at each team there are only two legitimate contenders in the conference, maybe three, but point being the Suns are further along than most would have ever dreamed and if they keep pacing themselves this way knocking on the doors of Tier Two is not out of the question.

That is what happens when you begin to knock off who are considered your peers with regularity...

Key Stat

100+ Points

The Suns have scored 100+ points in seven straight games including four out of the five games during the season high winning streak and in the only loss in the past two weeks. This is a season-high for the Suns in terms of getting over the century mark and the longest run since February/March of 2011. With the Lakers, Warriors, and 76ers on the horizon this streak could easily reach double-digits.

Quote of the Week

2013 is my year. -- Goran Dragic in an interview with USA Today

(Hopefully he meant the 2013-2014 season, 2013 has only eight more days and most would like this Dragic to stick around)

2014 NBA Draft Update

Surrogate Watch continues and the Suns have two first round picks with the current projections, none of which are in the lottery. A slight change of pace from pre-season projections. Here is the update on how the three picks look right now:

Minnesota Timberwolves (13-14) -- No. 12 Overall (Pick stays in Minnesota based on Protections) The Wolves solve their woes at shooting guard, perimeter scoring, and shooting with Kansas freshman Wayne Selden here.

Washington Wizards (12-13) -- No. 19 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) This season Wisconsin sophomore wing Sam Dekkerr has shown flashes to be a quality five tool wing or a knock down three-point shooter. Really good athlete that would fit right in to the uptempo style.

Phoenix Suns (16-10) -- No. 23 Overall (Pick stays in Phoenix based on Protections) The power forward position has been a hole that needs filling for a while. This year Michigan State senior Adreian Payne is showing that there is very little he cannot do on the basketball court.

Indiana Pacers (22-5) -- No. 30 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Much like Archie Goodwin last year this pick is the best athlete available. Indiana freshman wing Troy Williams might be a reach, but he has the physical tools to be a very productive wing at the NBA level.

Keep following along here to get updates and information on the 2014 NBA Draft Class and more.

News & Notes

Suns History Lesson

This week in Suns History: December 1992, The Phoenix Suns finish the month 14-0 for the third best month by a team in NBA History.

This week in Suns History: The Phoenix Suns are 12-6 on Christmas Day (11-5 at home and 1-1 on the road) in franchise history.

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Monday, December 23rd vs. Los Angeles Lakers (13-14)

Friday, December 27th @ Golden State Warriors (15-13)

Saturday, December 28th vs. Philadelphia 76ers (8-20)

It has always been said that it is tougher to stay at the top than it is to get there. For the Suns they are at a version of the top that seemed unattainable just a few months ago and now are in a position to prove they belong. Last week they arrived on the scene going 3-1 against quality opponents and this week they have three games against average to bad teams.

The Kobe Bryant-less Lakers will be a challenge with their roster pieced together with unfamiliar faces. No Bryant, No Steve Nash, and potentially no Pau Gasol.

The Warriors have been up-and-down this season following every winning streak with an equal or close to equal losing streak. They are fun and look great on occasion, but have been one of the more inconsistent teams in the league this year. Lastly, the 76ers come in with a healthy Michael Carter-Williams. On the season they are 7-10 with him and 1-10 without him in the line-up. Enough said.

Big Question Going Forward: Are the Suns another good team in the middle of the conference standings or can they compete with the likes of the Houston Rockets (18-10) and Los Angeles Clippers (19-9) on the next tier?

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