Suns getting giddy

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

Chalk it up to getting slightly carried away. "Amare Stoudemire looked like Wilt Chamberlain," said Quentin Richardson, one of Stoudemire's teammates with the Phoenix Suns, on Sunday night.

Now, let's not be ridiculous.

Chamberlain once scored 100 points in an NBA game, exactly double what Stoudemire amassed during a 117-98 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. And Richardson is not even remotely old enough to have seen Chamberlain play, save for classic sports television.

But overenthusiastic comparisons notwithstanding, Stoudemire's play this season has been staggering. At 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, he has that rare combination of athleticism and brute force -- kind of like Wilt, dare we say? -- that keeps general managers tossing and turning in their sleep.

"It wasn't all power (on Sunday), because a lot of moves were finesse," said Stoudemire, who set a career-high with his 50-point effort. "The power moves allow me to finesse it up and catch them off-guard."

Keep in mind, Stoudemire is only 22 years old. And isn't it interesting that with each passing year, a higher percentage of the players who can be considered among the NBA's elite are guys who, like Stoudemire, joined the league directly out of high school?

"I told (Stoudemire) that if he learns to make free throws, he could score 75," Richardson said, unintentionally bringing Chamberlain to mind yet again. "You don't see anyone miss seven (free throws) and score 50. The whole top-10 plays on ESPN should be him."

But if we're going to sing Stoudemire's praises, we have to come clean, in the interests of full disclosure.

Two years ago, when Stoudemire won the NBA's rookie-of-the -year award, we believed he should have finished second to Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets.

Nothing against Stoudemire's impressive rookie campaign, but we always have felt that if it's a close call, the nod should go to the player who had to deal with the most pressure. The weight on Yao's shoulders, as the No. 1 pick and the face of Chinese sports, dwarfed the pressure placed on Stoudemire, who was the No. 9 selection.

It's the same line of thinking that made us happy when LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers won top-rookie honours last season over Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets.

Be that as it may, Stoudemire's performance and progress during the past two seasons clearly has catapulted him over the 7-foot-6 Yao, whose game has stagnated as the Rockets search for an identity.

With the addition of Canadian point guard Steve Nash, the high-flying Suns have no such identity crisis. They know exactly who they are and exactly how they want to play.

The Suns have the NBA's best record -- 26-4, entering last night, only three victories shy of their total of 29 last season.

Stoudemire and Nash have clicked better than even Suns management could have hoped, and heading into play last night Stoudemire ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring (26.4 points per game) and second in field-goal percentage (59.1%), behind only Shaquille O'Neal of the Miami Heat.

SCREWED

While Stoudemire is putting together a campaign worthy of a starting assignment in the all-star game next month in Denver, unfortunately he plays in the Western Conference, which means he's screwed in that regard for the foreseeable future.

Stoudemire technically is the Suns' starting centre, but he is listed as a forward on the all-star ballot. His chances of getting more votes than Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs or Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves understandably are slim.

And even if Stoudemire were listed as a centre, he likely never will be as popular among the voting populace as Yao.

Regardless, Stoudemire surely will be added to the Western all-stars as a reserve, and team success should be his first priority, anyway.

It likely won't be smooth sailing for the Suns all season. They got smucked in a showdown game with the Spurs last week, and players such as Stoudemire, Nash and Richardson are decidedly more proficient offensively than they are defensively.

But these entertaining Suns sure can score, with Stoudemire usually at the finishing end.

While Stoudemire may not be the second coming of Chamberlain -- heck, who is? -- the Suns aren't complaining.

"It feels great to (score 50) at the young age of 22," Stoudemire said. "That's the tip of the iceberg."

Rival teams around the NBA had best pray that's not true.


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