Just like the rest of us, all the Phoenix Suns front office and coaching staff can do these days is reminisce about the past. We are all shut in our own homes, the only outlet being our minds. What-ifs, what-thens and when-cans.
For Suns head coach Monty Williams, the those questions arise when he thinks about a couple of major story lines from last season.
When can I get back to playing Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio, Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr. in the same lineup?
We all know this was the most effective lineup for the Suns last year, but due to Ayton’s suspension and injuries, Oubre’s knee, and minor Booker and Rubio maladies, that lineup only appeared in only 21 of the Suns 65 games. They played 226 total minutes together and were a plus-92 on the scoreboard in those minutes. That’s almost a plus-20 per game!
Definitely, Monty Williams dreams of being able to play those guys more games, and even more minutes per game (they got only 11 minutes per game over 21 games).
When can I get another chance to play Devin Booker as the primary point guard?
Throughout the season, coach Williams actively avoided lineups with Booker as the primary ball-handler. Booker had only 49 possessions ALL YEAR in which he played without any of the nominal point guards on the floor (Ricky Rubio, Jevon Carter, Elie Okobo, Tyler Johnson, Ty Jerome). Sure Booker handled the ball a lot, but he wasn’t the primary ball handler very often.
This week, Monty Williams admitted he really wants to see some Point Book lineups “a bit more than I did last year”. Williams indicated 10-12 minutes “and go from there” per game, which basically means all the non-Rubio time.
Before you get bent out of shape over Rubio still getting minutes, consider that Rubio is still the team’s best overall plus-minus player among the regular rotation guys. Rubio is the main reason the Suns were more successful this season.
However, even Monty Williams realizes the potential of a Booker-led lineup for stretches of games. Imagine sharp-shooter Cameron Johnson out there with Booker, Bridges, Oubre and Ayton. Some very good shooting, scoring and potentially good defense right there.
But before you get ahead of yourself, James Jones still believes the Suns need more playmaking up and down the lineup. In that shooty lineup, your second-best play-maker would be Bridges, who might only rack up two or three assists a game. That’s bad. And might not be sustainable. Hence the value of Rubio next to Booker despite the bad off-the-bounce shooting Rubio brings.
Offseason plan: More playmaking, defense, grit
Jones did take some off-season related questions, but did not share much about the team’s plans. He did confirm the team is continuing draft preparation and would spend the off season adding to the team’s core with players who fit the system.
“We need more playmaking,” Jones said of the offseason plan, clarifying the playmaking could be a guard or a big. “We love defenders and shooting is a priority. We want to be a very good shooting team.”
He says he wants more players that fit the mold of least summer’s acquisitions, especially in the Draft where the Suns are currently slotted 10th but could jump into the top four after the (as yet unscheduled) Draft Lottery is held.
“Add guys with the level of maturity and grit to be able to perform in this competitive environment,” he says of who they are targeting. “He has to have an elite NBA skill and hard to be able to compete physically.”
An elite NBA skill (shooting, defending) with maturity and grit. Sounds a lot like Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges to me. Sure thing. I’ll take more of those please!
The 2020 NBA Draft has very little high-end talent. No championship level stars in the bunch. But there are a plethora of role players and good, solid long-term NBA players on the board, and the Suns will either grab one of them or trade out for a proven player on another team.
The Suns main offseason assets are cap space ($25 million) in which to absorb players in trade or free agency, and that top-10 draft pick.
Let’s see how it shakes out.