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Williams: Starting two bigs likely to be that way “going forward”

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Says they need to match two-big lineups versus opponents to handle their size better.

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

After getting bullied badly by Zion Williamson on Wednesday night, and with bad memories of that earlier Pistons loss with power forward Blake Griffin bodying the Suns smaller front court guys, Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams made a surprising declaration.

“I think that’s gonna be the way we’re gonna do this going forward because we’re seeing all these teams who are big and they’re playing big power forwards,” he said of starting Kaminsky. “Points in the paint and production in the paint has been something that we’ve wanted to nullify as it relates to playing against teams like that. I just felt like we needed more size.”

Kaminsky has a bit more height and rebounding chops, and can also stretch the floor with open threes like Crowder has been getting. In the starting lineup next to Deandre Ayton, Kaminsky defended Blake Griffin, grabbed five rebounds and drained a trio of open threes.

Kaminsky doesn’t wave his hand on a made three anymore — as if to cool himself down — like he did last year. When asked he chuckled and said “Not yet” implying he has to actually get hot before cooling himself down.

“It’s obviously fun for me,” Kaminsky said of going from waived by the Suns and the Kings to re-signing for an end-of-bench role to all the way back into the starting lineup.

Williams said that many NBA teams are starting two big men this year, and that the Suns cannot keep getting beat in the paint so much as a result. The Suns as a team are getting drilled on paint points, and they’re losing the free throw battle every night as well. Hence the live/die by the three article the other day where I shared their success hinges on making 34%+ of their threes. Many of the comments/armchair coaches suggested changing the lineup to balance the offense, and here we are.

On Friday night (albeit against one of the league’s worst teams) the Suns outscored the “two-big” Pistons in the paint (52-42) and outrebounded them (50-45) while still making 34%+ of their threes in a 19-point win.

How have the Suns fared against starting lineups with two bigs — a center with a traditionally big power forward too — versus those with “modern” lineups with only one big we thought the league was trending toward to match the Warriors’ finals squads.

Game log:

  1. Dallas — one big (Powell) — W
  2. Sacramento — two bigs (Holmes, Bagley) — L
  3. Sacramento — two bigs (Holmes, Bagley) — W
  4. Pelicans — two bigs (Adams, Zion) — W
  5. Jazz — one big (Rudy) — W
  6. Nuggets — two bigs (Jolic, Millsap) — W
  7. Clippers — one big (Ibaka) — L
  8. Raptors — one big (Baynes) — W
  9. Pistons — two bigs (Plumlee, Griffin) — L
  10. Pacers — two bigs (Turner, Sabonis) — W
  11. Wizards — one big (Lopez) — L
  12. Grizzlies — two bigs (Tillman, Clarke) — L
  13. Rockets — one big (Wood) — W
  14. Nuggets — two bigs (Jokic, Millsap) — L
  15. Nuggets — two bigs (Jokic, Millsap) — L
  16. Thunder — one big (Horford) — L
  17. Warriors — one big (Looney or Wiseman) — W
  18. Mavericks — one big (Cauley-Stein) — W
  19. Mavericks — two bigs (Kleber, Porzingis) — W
  20. Pelicans — two bigs (Adams, Zion) — L

All tolled:

  • Against a big power forward next to a center — 5-6
  • Against a smaller power forward next to a center — 6-3

More than half the games the Suns play are against two-big starting lineups and it’s been a toss up whether the smaller Suns can make enough threes to offset their paint scoring.

Now Monty Williams seems intent on giving guys like Cameron Johnson a break. Johnson is 6’8” and barely over 200 pounds, going against guys 40-80 pounds heavier than him and usually just as athletic.

“Also felt like I put Cam in a tough spot playing against guys like Zion and Paul Millsap and all these teams that go big,” Williams said. “So we were just trying to match size for size.”

Jae Crowder is thicker than Cam, but at 6’6” and 230 lbs. he really thrives against bigger wings like LeBron-ish guys rather than big power forwards like Millsap or Griffin or Zion Williamson.

So now apparently the Suns are intent on matching size to start the game and see where it goes from there.

“It may be a deal where we change it up for the rest of the season depending on who we’re playing against at that position,” Williams continued. “Because that’s the position that changes the most throughout the league.”


My takeaways on Monty’s words:

The spoken: Cam is not big enough to defend a traditional sized power forward 30 minutes a game and it’s translated to him missing most of his threes, making him a negative. Let’s give him a breather on that.

The unspoken: Dario is out injured (now an ankle). Jae Crowder is out (foot tightness). Jalen Smith doesn’t look ready yet*. Damian Jones looks completely lost out there. All we have left is Frank, so let’s make the best of it.

Maybe Cam’s struggles are due to the oversized competition. Maybe it’s just the pressure of starting for a team with Chris Paul expecting wins every single game. Either way, he’s been bad lately and I’m sure it was a relief for everyone when he immediately played well off the bench on Friday night.

When Jae Crowder returns from injury (foot tightness) and Dario Saric as well (ankle now), maybe Monty’s feelings will change. Maybe Dario will end up the guy next to DA. Or maybe Jae will come all the way around back to starting where he... started.

In the meantime, we will all get to know how the Frank/DA pairing fares, good or bad, when the opponent starts a pair of big men.