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The Suns need less Abdel Nader and more...Jalen Smith?

The time has come to give Nader’s minutes to Stix. Or Crowder. Or anybody.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

I never thought it would happen, but I have officially changed my stance on Phoenix Suns’ forward Abdel Nader. I am no longer a believer in his usage rate and contributions to this team.

Dare I say, I have become a ‘Nader Hater’. I have joined the segment of Suns’ Twitter that sighs when he is inserted into the lineup and frantically expresses their dismay via the social media site when he misses his first wide open three-pointer or aimlessly drives to the cylinder. He’s become like former Diamonback Eric Byrnes: all show, no go.

It’s not personal, Pyramid Papi. I am a fan of your hustle and a believer in your desire to be effective. Monty Williams clearly has a fondness for your brand of basketball. Yet, as we’ve seen in the past with the likes of Elie Okobo, Williams’ loyalty can be detrimental to the team. Monty is like Matt Damon’s character Mike McDermott in the 1998 film Rounders, always giving Worm (Edward Norton) another chance. Sometimes you just gotta fold.

I have been a fan of Nader’s presence and his tenacity on the hardwood in the past. Last season, when the Phoenix Suns were busy not getting to the free throw line (29th in the league), it was Abdel Nader that I believed our players should pattern their aggressiveness after. Doolie was sixth on the team in free throw attempts per game despite only averaging 14.8 minutes, after all.

Unfortunately for Nader, his regular season was cut short in March when he had right knee soreness. Torrey Craig was acquired from Milwaukee to fill the void. Giving credit where it is due, prior to his injury Nader averaged 49.1 FG% and 41.9 3PT%. His per-36 numbers had him at 16.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 24 games played.

It was last we would see from hi—

Oh wait. He’s Monty’s ‘Worm’. He can’t let him go...

Nader would make his return in Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference Finals. It was an ugly game, one in which Phoenix would win 84-80 and take a 3-1 series lead.

Abdel’s appearance left many of us wondering, “why?”. Why would you bring a player who is coming off an injury play on the greatest stage the franchise had seen in a decade? It’s not like he had a plethora of playoff experience (63 playoff minutes played with Boston and OKC). Nader played more minutes (5:22) in that game than Torrey Craig (0:18).

Perhaps this is where my faith in Nader began to fade and the Okobo comparisons popped into my frontal lobe.

As much as I love the hustle Nader brings, his minutes could have been replaced with more effective players who were in rhythm. If you look at Nader’s playoff statistics from last season, he ended up with 5 appearances and averaged 5.8 minutes. His per-36 totals? 5.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.7 personal fouls. He shot zero free throws and had a defensive rating of 114.

Why Monty? Why?!

The season ended and James Jones began to reconstruct the roster. Nader filled a need backing up Mikal Bridges and signed a team-friendly 2-year, $4.2M contract with the Suns. The Doolie Experiment would continue into the 2021-22 season. And Monty still had his guy.

It hasn’t been the best start of the season for the Phoenix Suns and there are numerous reasons why. We can point to the shortened off-season, we can discuss their perimeter defense (or lack thereof), we can comment on the NBA scheduling. Like Ronald Regan trickle down economics, the stink of a slow start has trickled down to the second team unit.

My, how my Tweets have changed…

It’s not that Nader has been horrible. I just believe the minutes could be allocated in a different manner that is more productive for the team’s goal, both short term and long term. The Phoenix Suns have players that are either more talented or have more potential (or you spent draft stock on) that could be soaking up his 11.5 minutes played.

I wrote this piece prior to the Wednesday night loss to the Sacramento Kings, a game in which Monty almost completed what I am proposing he do. He played Nader only 5:18 and gave the rest of his minutes to Jae Crowder. Good start.

You know where I’m going with this.

Move Cam Johnson to SF

Cameron Johnson is currently the team’s backup power forward. While some think this is the right role for him — and some believe he will one day be our starting power forward (ahem, Matthew Lissy) — the fact is that Cam lacks the size to do so, both effectively and continually.

Cam is 6’8” and 210 pounds. In the modern NBA, that is acceptable. Heck, it’s pretty much become the norm.

If you look at the 10 NBA Champions, however, you’ll see that Cam is undersized as a PF. The average height for a championship starting power forward is 6’8” — thanks Draymond for bringing that number down — but the weight is 241. Cam has a ways to go to have that kind of size.

Removing Abdel Nader from the rotation would allow the Suns to insert Cameron Johnson as the backup three. Yes, the flexibility would still exist to overlap the Mikal and Johnson minutes, something the team did for 661 minutes last season and the team was +90 doing. You don’t want to remove that duo, simply adjust it.

Note that the Nader/Johnson combo, which played together 117 minutes last season, was a -6. So far this season it’s a -10.

Monty tried this on Wednesday night and Cam rewarded him with a triple-single: 1 point, 1 rebound, 1 personal foul. There will be an adjustment time here but in the long run I believe it is the correct move.

Put Stix at the backup PF

This is where I’m sure I’ll catch some fire, but allow me to present my argument.

Moving Cam to the three would open up the opportunity to play second-year forward Jalen Smith at the power forward position. I know, I’m contradicting the same argument I made to move Cameron out of the four. Smith, although 6’10”, lacks the weight. He’s 215 pounds, thus the nickname “Stix”.

But if the Suns are content right now having Cam play the backup four, why not put a guy you drafted 10th overall for a while and truly see — and let the rest of the league see — what you have?

I mean, he can’t do much worse than Abdel Nader, right? Nader is rocking a 30.8 FG% and 20.0 3PT%. Take his 3.3 FGA and give them to someone else. I’m sure Stix can sport a -5.9 net rating just like Abdel.

Jalen Smith is progressing along the path he should, knowing that it takes some extra time in the development of young big men. The 21 year-old didn’t get a normal rookie season in any sense.

He found out he was drafted in the NBA Lottery while sitting in a Buffalo Wild Wings like atmosphere. He didn’t go to Summer League. He didn’t get a training camp. He played for a team that gave him a total of 156 minutes as they marched to the NBA Finals.

He responded by putting his head down and going to work. Thus far in his second season, he has hit the appropriate mile markers that should equate in his usage rate increasing. He dominated the Summer League, earning first team All-Vegas Summer League honors as he racked up 12.5 rebounds-per-game.

He had a solid preseason as well, averaging 9.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in 21.5 minutes played over 4 games. He has displayed a rebounding skillset, ability to shoot, and is becoming more comfortable on defense (my biggest concern after watching him last season). The next logical step in his evolution is second team minutes.

But where can we find him those minutes? How does he fit into the rotation? Read above. Take them from Nader, move Cam to the backup three, and enter the Stix.

This doesn’t have to be a permanent solution. Much akin to the ‘Frank Kaminsky as a starter’ fad the Suns went through after an 8-8 start ago, it could be something Monty Williams tries to shake things up and to motivate the Nader’s of the world to be better.

It would benefit the Suns as they explore whether or not Jalen Smith will be a part of this roster moving forward. It would also put some meaningful game footage together for other teams to view. If a Dario Saric plus Jalen Smith trade is in James Jones’ future, it would behoove him to display his asset more.

Regardless of how Monty plays this moving forward, the Suns are fortunate to have these options at their disposal. Sure, Nader has reached a point with me personally where I’d prefer something — anything — other than him on the court running with the twos. He is the worst part of a second team unit that would be starting in Orlando. But I am thankful that we have other alternatives available.

Perhaps the rocky 1-3 start for the Suns creates a tentativeness that negates the chance of us seeing more Jalen Smith. I’m fine with that. I liked the idea Williams had in taking 6 of Nader’s minutes and allocating them to Crowder last night, as he is someone in dire need of jump starting his season. 8 points on 8.5 FGA in 28.8 minutes played is nasty.

Regardless of the how, Monty, let Worm go.

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