As the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns begin to slump deeper and deeper into the dog days of an NBA February and March, it becomes more and more vital for fans to look for a way out of this season and into the future. Ty Lawson and Eric Bledsoe are two really good, second tier NBA point guards stepping into their primes for these two teams. They are the best players on their respective teams, and should be for at least the immediate future. However, they do very little to ignite the imaginations of millions of fans who want championships. Plain and simple, Denver and Phoenix fans recognize that unless one of these two players were to take a major and unexpected leap they are not capable of being the best player on a championship team. Lawson and Bledsoe aren’t superstars, they are just really good players. Exactly the type of players you want complimenting your superstar. The fact these two guards are the best player on their teams is a problem, not a reason for hope.
Enter Jusuf Nurkic and Alex Len. The two centers, neither older than 21, have become defensive monsters this season. Per 36 minutes both of them are averaging rebounds in the double figures and just a shade fewer than 3 blocks per game. Their defensive win shares are projected to be +2 by the end of the season, and both have become positive impacts on the offensive side of the ball. These are two old school centers. They use tremendous strength (Nurkic) and freakish length (Len) to command the paint and have both taken over on traditionally awful defensive teams. In five years time these two European bigs could be accepting the torch from Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard as the best rim protectors in the NBA.
Jusuf Nurkic and Alex Len play the most important position on a team not ready to contend for an NBA championship; the future. Nuggets and Suns fans look at two stellar rim protectors and raw but athletic offensive players and can see the future of their team. Neither player is even close to being ready to carry a contender, but both are young enough for fans to dream about them taking a big step and becoming All-Stars, superstars, and franchise altering centers.
The two future superstars will fight to the death tonight in the paint! Suns @ Nuggets, tonight at 7!
What Vegas Thinks: Something’s Gotta Give (Suns -5, O/U 214)
Both of these teams are taking a beating in the silent analytic world of Las Vegas. For any team to be five point underdogs at home to a Suns team on a five game skid with a brand new roster that hasn’t even gotten close to reaching gel level is a pretty brutal sign. Meanwhile, ONLY being favored by five points to a team who also just made significant moves and whose chemistry is clearly not in a great spot after a trade deadline where every single one of them, sans Nurkic, was included in rumors is also a bad sign. Denver got spanked against Brooklyn on Monday night and hasn’t looked like they are willing to bring the energy for a team going nowhere who wants to hit the reset button ASAP. Somebody has to be favored, and the Suns have more talent.
Meanwhile, an Over/Under of 214 is a sign of Vegas not buying into the three PG lineups being the only thing driving Suns defensive woes. The Suns first three games post-Hydra had an average O/U of about 207, a sign Vegas was ready to give Phoenix the benefit of the doubt. However, the Over has hit in all three of those games and the offensively challenged Celtics nearly dropped 70 in a half against the Suns meaning Vegas is ready to go right back to the incredibly high O/U lines. Vegas Predicts: Suns 109 Nuggets 104
What the National Media Thinks: Funeral for a Dream
The national media has called it quits on the 2014-2015 playoff hopes for the Phoenix Suns. Russell Westbrook is playing like a man who sacrificed his first-born son’s soul for superpowers and is acting like a man who doesn’t regret it one bit. Even without Kevin Durant for a week or longer in OKC, the media has switched their question from "Will OKC make the playoffs?" to "Can OKC climb past Dallas, San Antonio, or Los Angeles in the West?" The Thunder have won eight of nine, the Suns have done the opposite, and thus doom is upon Phoenix in the eyes of the national media.
The bright side of this all? Even though it seems like the Suns may be driving the narrative train on this story, the national media is at least willing to write about a fresh new vibe surrounding the team since the Dragic-Plumlee-Ennis-Thomas-Knight-Thornton-Granger-Salmons-Four First Round draft picks trades happened. Could this all change if Green keeps getting DNP-CDs in the box score? Sure. But predicting locker room implosions isn’t nearly as fun as just watching them happen. Regardless, for now the Suns truly look like they are having more fun and the young guys have the look of being happy to be here. Being happy to be here doesn’t bode well for big games with playoff implications, but it bodes well for the future, so cheers.
What the Denver media thinks: Sadness
Going to Denver Nuggets SB Nation brother site, the Denver Stiffs, I didn’t expect their headline article to perfectly summarize how I expected them to feel. For a brief second, I thought I might have misread it or hallucinated the headline sentence because it was so candidly spot on to how I feel about their season, but there it was. On Tuesday night the front-page article by Jeffrey Morton was "How to Cope with a Losing Season." Clearly Nuggets fans are taking the rebuilding project well. The Nuggets fans are at that point in the season where the team becomes unwatchable. There is nothing wrong with losing games or having tough seasons, but going out and dropping games by 20+ because players think the coach (Brian Shaw) is on his way out and the franchise is rebuilding without them is just torture to sit through. Not only will Nuggets fans expect to lose from here on out, they are probably at a point where they root for it. Let the draft pick come and let the next season be better.
The preview of the Suns game, written by Colin Neilson, was less a preview of the Suns talent or the match ups this game brings and more a diatribe about where the season is at and how the Nuggets right the ship years from now. No predictions or match up breakdown by the Nuggets fans today. Simply hope.
Trust in Nurkic. Trust in Len.