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Center of the Sun: Opening night lineup possibilities for the Phoenix Suns

Who plays and when? Head coach Igor Kokoskov has his work cut out for him.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

On September 25th, the Suns will head north to Flagstaff for the first day of training camp and Igor Kokoskov will begin the process of attempting to mold the assembled collection of players we refer to as the Suns into a basketball team. A good and competitive team - something that fans have been yearning to see again for far too long.

On paper, this looks as though it could be the best collection of talent since Steve Nash last graced the hardwood in purple and orange and Alvin Gentry paced the sidelines. Gentry had the luxury of taking over a veteran team with an established core. Kokoskov has inherited the opposite.

There is no doubt that Devin Booker will be the key cog in the Phoenix machine. Hopefully the remaining parts will fit together in a way that will result in something that is both powerful and smooth running. We’re all at least hopeful that Deandre Ayton will fit seamlessly into that new concept and be the second piece to the puzzle but after that, things become a little less clear as to how the rest of the pieces could - or should - fit together.

Brandon Knight is the de facto starting point guard, a fact that is the source of considerable consternation among fans. It’s doubtful that even Ryan McDonough ever envisioned Knight as the starting point guard back when he engineered the trade with Milwaukee that brought him to the Suns. He was supposed to be Eric Bledsoe’s backcourt partner, play at the 2 spot and be a secondary ball handler... not run the offense.

Trevor Ariza has been penciled in as the starting power forward but he is truly a small forward. He can stretch the floor with his three point shooting and has shown his worth on defense as a small-ball PF but at 6’8” and 215 lbs he’s still undersized compared to most NBA power forwards. As the NBA has been turning more and more to that style of play, it might not be an issue. Hopefully it isn’t because none of his potential backups - Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Richaun Holmes - have proven themselves ready to play starters minutes at PF.

At small forward the Suns have a wealth of choices. Last season’s starter, T.J. Warren, is the most experienced of the bunch as he returns for his 5th season. Second year man Josh Jackson showed a great deal of progress as last season wore on and his role increased. And then there is rookie addition Mikal Bridges who may already be an NBA ready player after spending four years in college. But these are three different players with different skill sets.

Warren is a magician with the basketball when he’s near the basket. If there were no three point line in the NBA, he could be a star scorer. But there is a three point line, it has become a very important part of the NBA and TJ is just not a good three point shooter. TJ is also not a strong defender. If he could develop a three point shot, that wouldn’t matter as much but so far he hasn’t.

Josh Jackson is still a work in progress but has shown great promise as a possible do-it-all, Swiss Army knife type of wing. Last season, he started out playing out of control and looked as if he was going wide open on every play. Following a benching and some talking to by former coach Jay Triano he calmed down, played much more under control and increased his production on the court.

Mikal Bridges looks as though he could be the perfect 3-and-D wing but he has yet to prove himself on an NBA court. He should get meaningful minutes even early in the season but it’s still questionable as to whether he’s ready for prime time or not.

Which one of those three will Igor choose to join Booker, Knight, Ariza and Ayton in the starting lineup? As the reigning SF starter, Warren will obviously go into training camp with the edge but by time the regular season begins that could change.

Much could change by then but, if the season were to start tomorrow, who would be your choice to be in the Suns’ starting lineup? Under different circumstances, who would you want on the court? The Suns don’t possess a lot of players that could be equally valuable on both sides of the court, so who’s on the court if your objective is to simply score a lot of points? Who’s on the court if your objective is to try to defensively shut down the other team?

Obviously, the goal is to have the best of both worlds but the Suns don’t have a roster that’s full of great two-way players. Coach Kokoskov will have his hands full trying to put together a truly competitive team this season and part of that will depend on his situational substitutions.

My thoughts on these issues were the genesis of the Fantable questions this week.


Fantable Questions of the Week

1. If the season started tomorrow, what would be your starting lineup for the Suns?

2. What would your lineup be strictly for offensive firepower?

3. What would your lineup be if you wanted the best possible defensive unit?

GuarGuar: #1 - The Starters

If the season started tomorrow, my starting lineup for the Suns would be:

As of right now TJ has shown more than Josh, so I’m going with him as the starting SF. Small forward is really the only position with controversy over who to start. Hopefully, Josh earns the starting spot at some point.

#2 - Pure Offense

My lineup strictly for offensive firepower would be:

This lineup has the most spacing possible with four very capable 3 point shooters and Ayton who has a midrange. I prefer this lineup over starting Booker at point guard because he plays less aggressive at PG.

#3 - Pure Defense

My best possible defensive lineup would be:

Ayton may not be good defensively but he’s probably the best we got at the center position. This lineup would be pretty killer on defense but last in the league in offense for sure!

Sun-Arc: #1 - The Starters

At this point, this is who will start based on our roster. JJ isn’t ready yet to be a starter, as represented by his summer league showing. TJ is an all-around better player right now, as evidenced in every stat except defensively- but even there they aren’t super far from each other. Overall Warren had a 3.4 win-share last season, compared to -0.7 for JJ. Josh needs time to adjust to the NBA. Maybe he starts by the end of the season- but this is my line up today until he can show he’s ready.

#2 - Pure Offense

At first I had Knight here because Reed is so unproven. But then I realized how easy it is to imagine Reed being a better fit and player overall next to Booker for stretches. That would only be if Reed shows up as a fully functional NBA player this season, which I think he might. He and Bridges are in there for shooting over TJ, JJ, and Knight. This line up is my “death squad” line up as well because there are 4 guys that can really defend and all five that can score (again, depending on Reed and Bridges being ready).

#3 - Pure Defense

This is an easy one for me. These are (probably) the best defenders at every position. Though Reed might be better this season than Bridges. I think Ayton will be better at defense than people think he will be. Might not happen right out of the gate, or on every play- but I think he will be a good- or even great- defender in time. Not Davis or Gobert Great, but I think he has two-way greatness in him and the competitive spirit to get there.

Notice how Ariza and Ayton are in every line up? Shows we are going to need to have backups ready next season at both of those positions unless Chriss/Bender wow us with improvement. And, of course, we could really use an upgrade at PG at any time.

SDKyle: #1 - The Starters

As far as I know the only thing controversial about this is starting Warren over Jackson. Warren’s the vet, he’s proven himself at least adequate at the NBA level. I say make one of the kids earn his job.

#2 - Pure Offense

This is a horrible defensive lineup that can shoot.

#3 - Pure Defense

Some might argue for Bridges over Jackson... who knows at this point? I went Ayton over Chandler for the mobility.

SouthernSun: #1 - The Starters

I think this starting unit is a good mix of defense, offense, shooting, and passing. Knight’s not a great passer, but he’s a good shooter. Booker is a good playmaker for a shooting guard. Jackson has shown flashes of good playmaking from the forward position. There are at least three good/great 3 point shooters in this lineup. Ariza and Jackson can hound players on the perimeter. Ayton can hopefully be a deterrent in the paint. It also allows the Suns to bring TJ off the bench for instant offense.

#2 - Pure Offense

This is uber small ball, but I do believe this might be the best offense unit the Suns could put out there, though you could swap Bridges with Ayton maybe. Spacing galore. Three point shooters surrounding Booker and Warren. Run and gun.

#3 - Pure Defense

This lineup would be pretty great defensively probably. Though it’s heavily contingent upon the assumption that Ayton will be passable defensively.

Alex Sylvester: #1 - Starters

I want some scoring off the bench, so having TJ getting 25+ minutes off the bench is still my preference. Jackson and Ariza can help take on the challenge of guarding and switching on to the best perimeter players. Booker and Knight should be able to outscore almost every backcourt in this league any given (k)night.

#2 - Pure Offense

No major changes from the starting lineup, just an adjustment of adding Bridges for additional spacing.

#3 - Pure Defense

Pretty much every single guy in this lineup can switch onto multiple positions. The downside is the youth, but with chemistry this group could be a nightmare defensively (also, offensively unfortunately).

Summary: There’s very little disagreement regarding the starting five with who should start at small forward - T.J. Warren or Josh Jackson - as the only difference of opinion between Fantable members. There is quite a bit of variation in the offensive and defensive teams but there is one constant in all of the different lineups - Trevor Ariza. No other player is in every single one. Here’s hoping that the Suns’ new $15 million dollar man lives up to those expectations.

Many thanks again to our Fantable - GuarGuar, SDKyle, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their input!


2017-18 Season Highlights

Devin Booker Full Highlights 2018.01.16 at Blazers - 43 Pts, 8 Asts, 4th Quarter EXPLOSiON!

Josh Jackson Full Highlights 2018.3.17 Phoenix Suns vs GSW - 36 Pts!

Troy Daniels Career High 32 Points/7 Threes Full Highlights (12/13/2017)


Quote of the Week

”I think your job is to build and create from what you have in front of you.” - Igor Kokoskov


Interesting Suns Stuff


News & Notes

Will The Phoenix Suns Be Competitive? ISportsWeb

Empire of the Suns ranks the Suns’ young core among NBA’s 15 best. Arizona Sports

2018-2019 Preview: Phoenix Suns. Vaval

Phoenix Suns: 3 players most likely to be traded in 2018-19. Gerald Bourguet/Hoops Habit

Which Suns Player Are You? (QUIZ) Suns.com

Phoenix Suns: Complete 2018 offseason grades. Gerald Bourguet/Hoops Habit


Suns History in Video

Phoenix Suns Mix 2013-2014


Suns Trivia

Devin Booker has scored a total of 4,120 points in his three years with the Suns which ranks him 28th in all-time points leaders. If he scores at the same rate per game as last season (24.9 ppg) and plays in at least 76 games, he would finish the season with 6,012 points for his career and jump to 16th in the Suns’ all-time points leaders. That would place him just behind former Suns great, Ring of Honor and Basketball Hall of Fame member Connie Hawkins (6,368 points).


Previewing the Weeks (and Months) Ahead

August 31 - Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2018/19 salaries.

Aug. 31 thru Sept. 15 - 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup (China).

September 5 - Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned second-round picks; those players become free agents on September 6 if not tendered.

September 7 - Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2018 Enshrinement Ceremony.

September 24 - First allowable date for veteran players to report to their teams (no earlier than 11 a.m. local time).

September 25 - Training Camp opens in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University.

September 29 - OPEN team scrimmage at Talking Stick Resort Arena, 12 noon.

October 1 - Phoenix Suns vs Sacramento Kings, 7:00 pm AZT

October 3 - Phoenix Suns vs New Zealand Breakers, 7:00 pm AZT

October 5 - Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers, 7:00 pm AZT

October 8 - Phoenix Suns @ Golden State Warriors, 7:00 pm AZT

October 10 - Phoenix Suns @ Portland Trail Blazers, 7:00 pm AZT

  • Home games will be streamed live on Suns.com through the RISE Network.

October 17 - Phoenix Suns vs. Dallas Mavericks in the 2018-19 season opener!


Last Week’s Poll Results

The poll was “How many wins do you think the Suns will get in their first 20 games?”

16% - More that 10 wins.

30% - 9 to 10 wins.

39% - 7 to 8 wins.

15% - 6 wins or less.

There were a total of 403 votes cast.


This week’s poll is:

Poll

Which player do you think will be the Suns’ primary backup at power forward?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Marquese Chriss.
    (208 votes)
  • 35%
    Dragan Bender.
    (139 votes)
  • 12%
    Richaun Holmes.
    (49 votes)
396 votes total Vote Now