A 1-3 record is neither the start that the Phoenix Suns wanted nor expected. With that being said, four games are hardly enough to declare the reigning Western Conference Champions’ demise. As Coach Monty Williams continues to tinker with rotations, here are five observations on the Suns’ lineups thus far:
Starters (and Closers)
While the Suns’ starting five of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and Deandre Ayton have underwhelmed to begin the season, it is worth noting that this is the same group that recorded a +4.7 net rating in 2020. It is apparent that they have earned Monty’s trust, as the quintet has closed out each of the Suns’ three non-blowout contests.
The group has been a bit disjointed offensively as they try to incorporate more on-ball opportunities for Mikal. Uncharacteristic inefficiency from Book, Paul, and Jae has not helped matters. Defensively, their communication has not been sharp, but it is highly unlikely opponents will continue to shoot like Steve Nash from outside. With time for adjustments, this group will be fine.
However, if a switch in the starting lineup were to occur...
Monitoring the Crowder-Johnson Balance
It is natural to wonder if (or when) Cam will overtake Jae in the starting lineup. While the pair split the power forward minutes on opening night, Jae has received more run over each of the past three games. For the time being, Monty seems to prefer that Cam operates with the second unit (often paired with just one of the Suns’ starting guards), where he has more opportunities to feature in the offense.
Jae still possesses incredible glue-guy skills, providing stout defense, ball movement, and spacing (current numbers aside) around CP3 and Book. However, if Cam keeps showing consistent growth as a playmaker and interior defender, he may force Monty’s hand.
Splitting Up the All-Stars
Last season, Monty often staggered his superstar backcourt, playing either CP3 or Book at all times. Through four games this year, he has not been afraid to sit both players at the same time, if only for short spells.
Perhaps Monty wants to maximize Book’s off-ball scoring abilities and increase his minutes next to Paul, a player who can both create for Devin and take defensive attention away from him.
There is also the chance that Williams merely wants to get his guys maximal rest after a short off-season.
Even still, perhaps Monty wants to see lineups that feature third options as on-ball creators (hello, Mikal Bridges). The problem with this theory is that Mikal has only played 16 seconds without either Book or Paul this season.
Point Book Watch?
Until Thursday, Point Book laid dormant. While Devin still gets opportunities to flex his on-ball creativity, they will always be limited playing next to Chris Paul. Book can occasionally take a lead guard role alongside Cam Payne, but Cam’s injury (and Elfrid Payton’s lack of perimeter gravity) have limited those chances early on.
Book had not truly gotten the opportunity to run the show this year until the Kings game. With 6:55 left in the fourth quarter, Monty flanked him with Landry Shamet, Mikal, Cam Johnson, and DA. In roughly five minutes, Book hit two shots, made two visits to the charity stripe, and dished out two assists while the Suns tacked on 15 points.
If Monty staggers Chris and Devin over the next few games, look for more of this lineup.
Using A Ten-Man Rotation for Now... Is there a New Tenth Man?
With Johnson, Shamet, McGee, and Payne (once healthy) solidified behind the starters, Abdel Nader has been the wild card to start the season. Nader is an active defender and slasher, and can sink the occasional trey. Unfortunately, his play over the past week has been uninspiring. After an ineffective start for both Abdel and the team, Monty may be looking to experiment. Unless Williams plans on using an 11-man rotation, Abdel is likely the first player to have his minutes cut. Who could Coach have in mind to fill that spot?
I asked Monty Williams if Cleveland’s size could lead to some of the bigger lineups we saw from last year like starting Kaminsky. He said they’d like to get their forwards/wings running around more to take advantage. Said we could see Jalen Smith get minutes, though.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) October 29, 2021
Would Stix Minutes be a one-time deal? It is possible. Monty could always split Nader’s time between Mikal, Cam, and Jae. However, tonight may be Jalen’s best chance yet to make a case for the rotation. What do you think?
Is Jalen Smith the Right Choice for the Suns’ Final Rotation Spot?
This poll is closed
No, it should be another Sun
No, the Suns should look outside the roster