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Suns' Western Conference odds remain strong despite injury to Chris Paul

Profile Picture: Rory Breasail

Rory Breasail

February 22nd, 2022

The race for the Western Conference is heating up, with the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors having separated themselves from the pack for the No. 1 overall seed. Both currently sit at identical +175 odds to win the conference, but which team is going to come out on top?

Today we’re sizing up the race to win the Western Conference. Let’s dive in!

Western Conference Winner 2021/2022

Wed, June 1 2022, 11:59 PM

Golden State Warriors

+175

Phoenix Suns

+175

Utah Jazz

+700

Memphis Grizzlies

+1000

Denver Nuggets

+1400

Dallas Mavericks

+2000

Los Angeles Lakers

+2000

Los Angeles Clippers

+5000

Minnesota Timberwolves

+5000

New Orleans Pelicans

+25000

The Suns have been even better than their record suggests

The Phoenix Suns are 48-10, and are ranked second on defense (115.5) and third on offense (106.3) with a league-leading +9.2 point differential - all marks of an absolutely elite team. In addition, they’ve actually won 3.9 more games than their point differential would suggest because Chris Paul has been the ultimate clutch player in the NBA this season.

The Warriors, meanwhile, are 42-17, with the 13th ranked offense (112.1), and the top-ranked defense (105.8). Their recent output has been a bit worse than that though, as they played at a bottom-10 level on both sides of the ball for the two weeks heading into the All-Star break.

Paul could miss the first round of the playoffs

The Warriors' inferior numbers shouldn’t be the final word though, because they’ve been missing Draymond Green since early January. Green is essential to the Warriors on both sides of the ball, and in particular, is a huge part of Steph Curry’s success. That the worst shooting slump of Steph Curry’s career coincided with Green’s absence should shock no one.

The Warriors are also still ramping up and reintegrating Klay Thompson, who has steadily shown improvement and seems likely to be at least 90% version of himself come playoff time. Green said during the TBS broadcast of the NBA All-Star Game that he expects to return to action in about 3-4 weeks, which leaves the Warriors a little less than a month to gear up for the first round.

The Suns, by contrast, had been relatively healthy until the announcement of Chris Paul's broken thumb. Paul’s injury is worrying, not only has he had several thumb injuries before, the timeline provided was 6-8 weeks until he undergoes reevaluation. For the record, the 2022 NBA Playoffs begin on April 16, just seven weeks away. If we take a pessimistic view on Paul’s timeline, that means he might miss the entire first round, or possibly more.

That might not seem that worrying for the Suns, but it leaves them vulnerable to another, less serious injury. A twisted ankle to another core player and suddenly the Suns are down 0-2 in an early series.

THE RACE FOR THE TOP SEED

Could Paul’s injury cause Phoenix to lose the No. 1 overall seed? It doesn’t seem likely.

The Suns currently own a 6.5 game lead on Golden State. The Warriors' have the seventh hardest remaining strength of schedule, while the Suns have the 25th. Assuming normal injury luck for both teams, it is highly unlikely that the Warriors surpass the Suns for the No. 1 seed by season's end.

However, there are also only 1.5 games separating Memphis from Golden State in the standings, and Memphis has the third easiest remaining schedule. The Warriors could easily finish third in the conference and have a much harder path to the Finals.

Suns and Warriors have contrasting styles

The two teams are stylistically similar enough, but they go about getting their shots in different ways. The Suns are convention breakers in that they actively pursue midrange shots that most teams shy away from - they are dead last in location adjusted eFG%, meaning an average team shooting their shots would expect to be the least efficient team in the NBA. But Devin Booker and Chris Paul are not average players, they’re the elite of the elite in the midrange area.

That spells doom for teams that have to play a drop defense - but that’s not who the Warriors are. With Green, the Warriors are more than capable of playing any defensive style, including comfortably switching every ball screen.

I would slightly favor the Warriors in a series between the two teams at full strength, as while the Suns have better depth, the Warriors still have the superior top-end talent. But the Suns' path to the Western Conference Finals feels less fraught than the Warriors, even if Paul’s injury lingers into the first round. There’s a very real chance that the Grizzlies finish with the second-best record, which means the Warriors would have to beat them too on their way to a Western Conference championship. 

The latter point is so important, that I believe the Suns have a better chance of winning the Western Conference overall.

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