All of the right players are waking up for the Phoenix Suns.
Devin Booker, in his first game back, with yet another game-winner to add to the career highlight reel.
Chris Paul, with at least 29 points in three of the past four games.
Deandre Ayton, averaging 15 rebounds per game over the past two weeks.
Slowly, the lineup is returning to full strength. But they wouldn’t be here, 11-8 in the West and in striking distance of the 4th seed, without quite a bit of help from players who were considered by many to be afterthoughts.
That’s not just a cozy narrative. Statistically, the Suns have far more “above replacement level” players than ever before during Devin Booker’s career. Here’s a breakdown of how many Suns posted a positive BPM over the past few seasons (min. 100 MP):
Here’s the even crazier bit: none of those 9 players from this season are Devin Booker. According to some advanced stats, he’s been among the least valuable players on the roster so far.
While upgrading top-tier talent has raised Phoenix’s ceiling, the value of replacing non-NBA players with legitimate veterans on the deep bench has done quite a bit for their floor. Let’s shine the light on some of those veterans.
The Suns are now 6-2 when this guy logs at least 10 minutes. While you can’t attribute all, or even most, of that team success to Galloway, anyone with eyes can see the potential of his shooting to swing a game.
And if you haven’t seen that for yourself yet, here’s a video of every Galloway made three in under two minutes.
Here's every Langston Galloway made 3 so far this season.— Sam Cooper (@scooperhoops) January 31, 2021
As wet as it gets. pic.twitter.com/mVYUw96GUB
It’s understandable that Monty opened the season by primarily relying on his Bubble guys, giving minutes to Payne and Carter off the bench and mostly leaving new additions like Galloway and Moore in the dust.
But Galloway is proven, and capable. While he won’t hound ball handlers with the same intensity as Carter, his shooting is so much more dynamic that it’s hard to deny him at least a few solid looks per game. At his best, he can score 17 points in a matter of minutes, like he did against Detroit on January 8th.
Most importantly, if your offensive strategy is going to rely on having at least 4-out spacing in all lineups, then you should probably find as many minutes as possible for the guy shooting 49% from downtown. Keep riding the hot hand.
This roster continues to have a problem with drawing contact. We all saw it coming as soon as Kelly Oubre was swapped out for Chris Paul, and it will continue to be (in my eyes) the issue that could hold them back in the playoffs.
While Abdel Nader isn’t perfect, he is one of the only Suns who has demonstrated a consistent interest in driving the ball.
Our own John Voita already covered this aspect of Nader’s game last week, but since then he has delivered a season-high 16 against Golden State, as well as 7/7/2 against Dallas.
Nader is averaging 5.6 drives per game; that’s more than Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder combined, and in fewer minutes per game than either one.
The most refreshing thing about these drives, however, isn’t just Nader absorbing contact and trying to get to the line. It’s that, true to the system, he knows when to make the right play and dump the ball off to a teammate.
Nader has logged 39 drives this year, leading to (among other outcomes) 6 total assists. Now here’s the wild part of the stat; when Kelly Oubre drove the ball 336 times last season, it led to a grand total of...10 assists. Nader is generating an assist almost five times as frequently as the man whose role he replaced, and that has to be a very welcome sight for Monty Williams. While Nader is aggressive, he isn’t reckless. That’s an important distinction.
Look, Kaminsky has exploitable weaknesses. He was abused, for example, by Nikola Jokic in a critical OT period a couple weeks ago.
But if you can look beyond that, you see a solid, malleable depth piece for the frontcourt, and an overall fantastic value on a minimum deal.
Kaminsky is 0.5 offense personified. He plays a similar role as Saric when playing the 5, valiantly putting the ball on the floor in hopes of barreling to the basket or finding a cutter with the pass. On the rare occasion, the results are outstanding.
On most other occasions, he might frustrate fans with a missed layup or untimely turnover. But even on these nights, he plays with an admirable confidence.
Ultimately, most teams do not have the benefit of deploying 3rd-stringers with several hundred games of NBA experience.
Speaking of several hundred games of experience...
"I've been a starter for about five years in the league. I was starting. I came off the bench. This role is probably the toughest out of all of them just because at any time, you don't know. Guys got a rhythm and a flow and you're trying to find yours." #Suns guard E'Twaun Moore. pic.twitter.com/jmsR4En3Vq— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) January 30, 2021
The transition that the Suns are asking out of E’Twaun Moore is not easy. He’s gone from one of the league’s premier spot-up shooting threats, to being asked to play PG in a pinch.
The results have not been especially pretty. Moore has scored just 12 points on 6-22 shooting over 71 minutes this season.
But positive regression is coming. Even in an uncomfortable position, Moore is an intelligent veteran who plays with a certain grace. Watch him on this possession in the post, asserting himself over Trey Burke to create something out of nothing.
And in the same game, here he tiptoes along the baseline before recognizing the switch, and delivering the entry pass to Ayton.
Simple stuff, but it’s evidence of competency. And when you’re dealing with a 12th or 13th man, that’s really all you can ask for.
Getting a little bit fancier though, he did flash this touchdown pass in last night’s game too.
There will come a time this season when both Galloway and Carter are either hurt or on cold streaks, and in those moments, Moore will shine. Personally, I would love to see him get a few more minutes next to either Paul or Booker, as they’ll be able to boost his confidence with some easy threes.
Having demonstrated that this team is loaded with depth, where do you go from here? Two options:
A: Sit on that depth, and wait until the next time 3-4 players are out at once and you need to rely on it. This is the smart, conservative approach, but there is another path.
B: Look to flip a couple of “fringe” rotation players for a steadier 6th/7th/8th man at the deadline.
Even if you wanted to, option B likely couldn’t happen for a while because the Suns have so many fresh contracts. But say, for instance, OKC is going full speed ahead with their tank and making a veteran like George Hill available at the deadline? Well, using the logic that rotations tighten in the playoffs anyway, it might make sense to explore those types of deals. Just an idea.
In the meantime, Suns fans will continue to enjoy the depth. The way things are going, there will be no shortage of fan favorites on this roster.