With all the injuries ravaging the fringe contenders of the Western Conference, it’s difficult to tell who has a real shot at making the playoffs and who is destined to wallow in the lower end of the lottery. The New Orleans Pelicans and Phoenix Suns both suffered key injuries to star players last week, as Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, and Suns guard Eric Bledsoe are both out indefinitely. So, with each potential playoff team reeling at the moment, let’s try and figure out which team has the better chance of overcoming their injury issues, and reaching the postseason.
In terms of record, the Suns have a clear advantage. They were 21-13 when the Bledsoe injury was announced, while they’ve hit a brief losing skid since then, they still hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Unfortunately for the Suns, they may have a difficult time holding on to that final spot. With Bledsoe out, the Suns are decidedly shallow team, as Goran Dragic is the only real quality player they have. Admittedly, the return of Channing Frye has helped them immensely and he’s a solid stretch 4, but players like Frye, Miles Plumlee, and Gerald Green are primarily role players who can thrive in the right situation, but will struggle when forced to carry the bulk of the load for their team.
That’s why the Pelicans — despite losing Holiday and Ryan Anderson — still have a chance. While New Orleans is a year or two away from being a serious contender, they are already a reasonably deep team and if nothing else, they are quite a bit deeper than the overachieving Suns. Eric Gordon has been underwhelming during his time with New Orleans, but he’s still a solid offensive scoring guard while Tyreke Evans has been devalued to the point where he may have become underrated. The point is, while the Suns will be counting heavily on Dragic (unless Ish Smith pulls of a Linsanity-esque rise to prominence), while the Pelicans will still be getting balanced scoring from their back court.
Then, there’s the matter of Anthony Davis, who gives the Pelicans an enormous advantage. Obviously, the Suns don’t have a player on his level, but it’s interesting to see where he ranks amongst the big men on other fringe contenders in the West. He’s not as polished a scorer as Dirk Nowitzki, but he’s younger and far more athletic. He lacks the defensive IQ of Marc Gasol, but he’s such a great shot blocker that he often doesn’t need it. The only big in that group who could give AD fits is Kevin Love, a better scorer and a better rebounder. While the Suns have a stronger record than the Wolves, the Pelicans should be more afraid of Minnesota than Phoenix going forward, since they have the one player who could take them farther than Davis can take New Orleans.
Still, the Pelicans are far from out of it and after the injuries to Holiday and Anderson, that’s a minor miracle. They’re going to need a lot of help from role players like Jason Smith and Brian Roberts if they want to stay competitive, but thanks to the perpetually banged up Western Conference, they’re not out of the running just yet.