The Phoenix Suns have surprised the NBA this season by far exceeding any expectations set upon them outside their own locker room.
Second year player Miles Plumlee has become a quality starting center. Third year player Markieff Morris has won the NBA Player of the Week award and is a leader in the 'Sixth Man of the Year' race. Fourth year guard Eric Bledsoe played at an All-Star level. Sixth year player Goran Dragic has jumped to All-Star consideration in his own right. Wing shooters have drained threes at a high rate and highlight reel plays are now commonplace.
The 27-18 Suns are currently in 6th place in the deep, talented Western Conference (18-12 against the West, including 6-6 against West playoff seeds) despite being predicted as "hard to see them winning a game in the West this season".
But will that result in any midseason recognition at All-Star Weekend?
In the first "the Phoenix Suns aren't sexy" salvo of All-Star nominations season, the near double-machine Miles Plumlee was passed over for the Rising Stars challenge given to the "top" 18 first and second year players.
Joining [Anthony] Davis and [Damian] Lillard among sophomores selected to participate are the Golden State Warriors' Harrison Barnes, the Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal, the Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond, the Houston Rockets' Terrence Jones, the Boston Celtics' Jared Sullinger, the Toronto Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Dion Waiters.
Of the nine second-year players named to the team, some were named because of their rookie exploits (Waiters and Barnes) despite dipping in production this season, while others were named due primarily to this season's production (Jones, Valanciunas).
Plumlee has more rebounds and blocks than six of them, and is ahead of Sullinger and Waiters in Win Shares. But he comes up short on sexy scoring and he doesn't play in a huge market.
Paul Coro of azcentral.com, who travels with the team on road trips, got some good reaction from the team on the snub. Sadly, Plumlee's brother was named on the rookie side, making the offseason even more fun in their household.
"I was looking forward to it," said Plumlee, whose brother Mason was one of nine rookies chosen. "I personally thought I would have been in it. It's just one steppingstone. There are bigger things out there to accomplish."
Next up, Goran Dragic.
Later today, the NBA will announce who the coaches picked as All-Star reserves. A number of well-written articles this week (including this one on si.com) detail in convincing fashion that Goran Dragic will come up just short of being named to play in the game this year.
Mike Conley, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard are all fighting Dragic for one or two spots and their best advantage is having played at All-Star levels before this season began. Conley and Parker have done it in the playoffs.
Look at this 4-players comparison to see how close these 4 are. Crazy close.
Dragic is an even more painful case [than excluding Lillard] because he is just as deserving as either Conley or Parker. I opted for Conley because while the two are very comparable in their offensive production, he's a far better defender than Dragic. That may not matter to some in selecting entries for a game predicated on entertainment value, but All-Star selection is first and foremost a means of honoring the best players in the NBA this season. By my evaluation, Conley, who carried the Grizzlies to sustenance in an expanded offensive role, is just slightly more qualified than Dragic because of the breadth of his two-way success.
All-Star nominations usually come in arrears, meaning you get named generally the year after you first deserve it. It's a right of passage, so to speak.
Without Plumlee making the Rising Stars Challenge or Dragic (likely) the All-Star game, we are left to hope that someone from the Suns gets to rep the team at another supporting event:
- Could Gerald Green or Channing Frye be picked for the three-point shootout?
- Or is Green better suited for the Dunk contest?
- Could Goran Dragic be picked for the Skills Challenge?
Apparently, the players have their own agendas. From yesterday, Green said he won't do the dunk contest ("I'm too old") and Dragic would only do the skills challenge if already there for the All-Star game.