For the most part, the interview that James Jones gave to Lindsey Smith for the Suns podcast called ‘The Outlet’ was benign. Not many new pieces of information were offered by a guy who’s becoming more and more artful with his knowledge drops.
Jones does not lie. Not at all. But he’s pretty good at walking around the likely and the unlikely in equal parts without committing one side or the other.
On the pod, he mentioned that he sees Deandre Ayton spotting at minutes next to Aron Baynes at center, in a two-big lineup that coach Igor Kokoskov flatly refused to consider a year ago.
Here’s the whole exchange where you can decide context and intent:
“One of the other things is addressing the point guard and the power forward position this year,” Lindsey asked. “How do you feel about how those guys will impact this team.”
“I feel great about it,” he said. “I think, when you look at our roster last year, this year we have from Frank...Dario...Cheick... you know, we can play Deandre at power forward if we need to, with Aron Baynes as our center... I think we just have a lot of depth at that position.”
Watch the whole interview here if you need voice inflections for context:
*It’s worth the watch — Lindsey does great with serious as well as fun here
A year ago, the Suns started a host of small forwards and journeymen at the power forward position: T.J. Warren (99 percent of his floor minutes as second-tallest player in lineup, per bball-ref), Dragan Bender (57 percent), Mikal Bridges (44 percent), Trevor Ariza (38 percent), Kelly Oubre Jr. (22 percent) and Josh Jackson (4 percent), Richaun Holmes (4 percent). Per 82games.com, the Suns’ power forward production was one of the worst in the league.
Warren, Bender, Jackson, Ariza and Holmes are all gone via trade or free agency. Bridges and Oubre are the only players coming back and neither is expected to spend a lot of time as the second-biggest guy on the floor.
This year, the Suns have Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky as the primary power forwards — two players who fit the role in terms of size and play style, and have played the position on a regular basis since they entered the league 3-4 years ago. Both will stretch floor by taking a stand behind the three point line on offense for a catch-and-shoot ( >36 percent) while being able to bang inside and rebound the ball on the other end.
Also in the mix is 22 year old backup big man Cheick Diallo, who will spot time as the third big in both the power forward and center depth charts. Diallo is active — a lot like Richaun last year — and will grab rebounds and protect the rim in his short minutes.
When you consider that the rest of the league is a bit short on traditional power forwards — often playing slightly small around their one big — don’t completely rule out Oubre and Bridges spotting time in one-big lineups. The downside of these guys at PF is that they are really bad at that rebounding thing. Which is real important in this game.
But what else could happen? How about playing both Ayton and new center Aron Baynes at the same time, as Jones alludes to Lindsey? This Ayton-Baynes lineup could be used when an opponent is going with their own pair of bigs. I’m sure Monty Williams will be intrigued to see how Ayton — who played next to a lumbering center at Arizona two years ago — adapts to that possibility, as long as Ayton’s not chasing around a waterbug.
I am not a fan of this pairing, and would only want to see that lineup go against an equally big opponent where they are just trying to muscle the Suns. I wouldn’t want to see Ayton trying to play defense a lot of nights in a power-forward role, where he’s spending time trying to defend a back door cut or adjust on pick-and-roll coverage rather than protect the paint.
Could we see some Baynes-Ayton lineups?
Would that be a lightning rod that becomes a “death lineup” that kills other teams, and helps the Suns win close games?
I highly doubt it.