Best Hope for the Suns to Go Far in the Playoffs (2010)

Center Robin Lopez

In an age when few true centers are left in the game, the perennially small-ball Phoenix Suns finally have one in Robin Lopez. Based on a stellar second-half-of-his-second-year performance for the Suns, we're hoping the 7-foot Lopez puts on the cape and achieves full superhero status this season (forget about Dwight Howard). Lopez filled the gigantic shoes of Shaquille O'Neal last year, and this year, he'll have to step up for the departed-to-New York Amar'e Stoudemire. But the 255-pound bruiser out of Stanford University should be up for the job after coming along superbly after the All-Star break. He was hobbled in the first rounds of the playoffs by a bad back, but all that should be, um, behind him when the season kicks off this fall. He was a great defensive player at Stanford, and he was solid defender and top shot-blocker for the Suns last season (once assistant coach Bill Cartwright taught the intense young man how to stop fouling so much), but who knew that he had such overpowering offensive moves? Though his overall stats for the season appear mediocre, after coach Alvin Gentry began starting him, he had several double-figure rebounding and scoring games in the second half of the regular season. After returning from his injury in the Western Conference Finals, he overpowered the Los Angeles Lakers' big men in the Suns' first finals win, with 20 points in 29 minutes. And he did it with pizzazz — 15-footers, hooks with both hands, and dunks early and often. When he'd gone down earlier, NBA prognosticators wondered whether the Suns could win in the playoffs against Portland and, later, San Antonio without him. (Something we thought we'd never be hearing about scoring phenom Brook Lopez's twin brother.) The Suns did win in the first two rounds, but his 7-foot, eagle-wingspan presence was missed. Fropez (he of the big hair) wasn't 100 percent even when he returned, despite that solid performance dunking over the likes of the Lakers' Pao Gasol. If he had been, the Suns would've had a better chance of upsetting the Lakers and maybe bringing Phoenix its first NBA championship.


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