It only took a global pandemic, but here we are. All signs point towards the Phoenix Suns playing in meaningful games and participating in a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs.
All of the details aren’t confirmed or entirely clear at this point, but the speculation has hinted towards an 8 game regular season followed by a play-in tournament for seeding.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, “It’s expected to overwhelmingly pass.”
"There's a lot of focus right now on a 22-team model of bringing teams back to Orlando in a play-in situation. ... Thursday will be the day of the vote and it's expected to overwhelmingly pass."@wojespn on the NBA's return to play. pic.twitter.com/7JRfLaOf2Q— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) June 1, 2020
Let’s quickly dive into what Phoenix’s rotation projects to be and what each player should be expected to bring role-wise.
C- Deandre Ayton - Aron Baynes
F- Kelly Oubre Jr. - Dario Saric
F- Mikal Bridges - Cameron Johnson
G- Devin Booker - Jevon Carter
G- Ricky Rubio - Elie Okobo
Yes, there are other players on the team that I didn’t include and that’s because playoff rotations are typically 8 or 9 deep.
I would not be surprised if one or even two players on this 10-man rotation above get left out of the rotation entirely in a play-in situation where you’ll likely see starters play 40+ minutes.
Monty Williams’ playoff record: 2-8
Aron Baynes: 54 games played (18 starts)
Kelly Oubre Jr.: 18 games played (1 start)
Ricky Rubio: 11 games played (11 starts)
Dario Saric: 10 games played (10 starts)
Frank Kaminsky: 7 games played (5 starts)
Cheick Diallo: 7 games played (0 starts)
The Guy: Devin Booker
In playoff basketball the most valuable quality an NBA player can have is the ability to create in the half-court whether it’s for themselves or others.
Booker’s elite scoring acumen along with his ability to go all out “microwave” mode and take over quarters, or even games at times will make him must-see TV when the Suns enter a play-in or winner takes all scenario.
His competitiveness and killer instinct along with his elite scoring prowess tailors his game in a way that is “built” for playoff basketball.
The Cheat Code: Deandre Ayton
Part of the reason “7 footers” in today’s game are losing value is due to their inability to stay on the court in postseason basketball. You’ll often see prototypical bigs get played off the floor due to their ineptitude when it comes to guarding out on the perimeter. In this setting teams often feast on brick footed behemoths.
This will not be the case with Deandre Ayton, as he’s shown the ability to guard on the perimeter and stick with quicker wings and even guards at times without getting burned.
There aren’t too many bigs that move the way he does at his size, so that begs the question: can Deandre Ayton become a cheat code in this setting?
We’ll have to wait and see. At the very least he could create serious matchup problems for opponents that don’t deploy as many traditional bigs in their playoff rotation.
The X-Factor: Ricky Rubio
Rubio has been apart of 2 playoff runs with Utah and won MVP in Spain’s FIBA World Cup run last offseason. His leadership will be critical towards the success of this stint in Orlando, as his younger teammates will look to him and Baynes for guidance on how to approach this whole thing.
The extra time off could also be beneficial due to the extra minutes he logged at FIBA along with the birth of his first child. It’s been a draining year for the 29 year old Spaniard, so this time off should serve him well.
The Glue: Mikal Bridges
Mikal’s value skyrockets in playoff basketball with his ability to guard at a high-level and take on the challenge of guarding the opponents best guard or wing. Along with his ability to defend, he doesn’t make many mistakes and has played in big moments during his run to a National Championship with Villanova.
Every good playoff team has somebody like Mikal Bridges that does all the dirty work. His impact (as many Suns fans know) often times isn’t always accurately reflected on the box score, as his intangibles stand out time and time again.
The Question Mark: Kelly Oubre Jr.
While Oubre has had a considerable amount of time to rehab after his knee surgery, we are still unsure of what version of Kelly we will get. If he’s healthy and back to (or near) where he was pre-injury then he’ll be a huge boost in the energy, defense and athleticism departments.
Obviously you don’t want to rush him back or overwork him, so it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see him on a minutes restriction as they ease him back into things.
The Experience: Aron Baynes
Baynes has played the most playoff games of anyone on the roster by far, and his presence in the locker room is amplified at a time like this. His experience was a major factor as to why he was brought in, and we’ve already seen him positively rub off on Deandre Ayton’s development.
In their third-to-last game before the season was suspended, Baynes had his monstrous career-high 37 point, 9 three outburst. If they get that version of Baynes (or the early season version) then that would provide a massive boost to their weak bench.
The Sparkplug: Jevon Carter
I’m not sure how many minutes Carter will get, but whenever Phoenix needs a boost of energy or an injection to disrupt the game flow, Jevon will be the guy.
The Sniper: Cameron Johnson
Cam is the type of player that teams should be afraid of in a do-or-die type of game. He’s not going to command a ton of attention and probably won’t get too much time on the court, but when he’s out there his floor spacing ability alone has a chance to “swing” the direction of the game.
Be excited, Suns fans. Games that matter are critically important, no matter how unusual the circumstances are. This is the type of bonding and experience that goes a long way for any team, but especially for the development of the youngest team in the NBA.