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Who fills in most for Dario Saric at center: Torrey, Frank or... Doolie?

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The Phoenix Suns need to find someone to take Dario Saric minutes, who went down with a torn ACL

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2021 NBA Playoffs - LA Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

With Dario Saric out for the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns will have to make-do with the roster they’ve got.

The Suns were already running a bit small, but now the only players taller than 6’8” are rookie Jalen Smith (6’10”), Deandre Ayton (6’11”) and Frank Kaminsky (7’0”) to go up against a Bucks team that that likes to play two of Bobby Portis (6’10”), Giannis Antetokounmpo (6’11”) and Brook Lopez (7’0”) at a time, while the Suns always only stay with a one big at a time.

Let’s take a look at the minutes distribution between them in the playoffs, by dividing their total minutes by the team’s total games:

Full Playoffs —

  • Suns bigs: Ayton 36 + Saric 11 = 47 minutes per game
  • Bucks bigs: Giannis 38 + Lopez 30 + Portis 16 = 84 minutes per game

Finals, Game 1 —

  • Suns bigs: Ayton 39 + Saric 2 + Kaminsky 4 = 45 minutes
  • Bucks bigs: Giannis 35 + Lopez 23 + Portis 14 = 72 minutes

What does that tell us?

The Bucks and Suns play different brands of basketball, so we don’t need to worry about increasing big man minutes to match the Bucks. The Bucks win games with two bigs on the floor at once. The Suns win games with only one big on the floor at once.

We only have to worry about replacing Saric’s 11 minutes per game as the only big on the floor when Ayton rests.

Despite Saric going down after only two minutes, Suns head coach Monty Williams still kept a big man on the floor for all but three minutes of the game on Tuesday. Saric’s 11 minutes were distributed as Saric at 2, Ayton playing an 3 extra, Frank Kaminsky getting 4, and Torrey Craig (6’8”) getting the remaining 3. Rookie Jalen Smith, just 20 years old, is just not ready for quality NBA Finals minutes.

The Tuesday minutes distribution also tells us that, on that night at least, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer played big men a lot fewer minutes than usual (72 vs. 86), often going with only one big on the floor (Giannis). Lopez and Portis were just getting roasted by Chris Paul, so maybe coach Bud won’t play another big next to Giannis as much in the coming games.

Going forward in the Finals, the Suns have two concerns:

  1. How many minutes can Ayton play?
  2. Who gets the remaining center minutes, when Ayton rests?

There’s no need to match minute-for-minute with the Bucks bigs, but the Suns do need to have someone to fight for rebounds out there for 48 minutes a game. Ayton is fine by himself — the Suns lost by only 4 boards (47 to 43) for the game on Tuesday — but when he gets his rest, the Suns could get devastated on those boards if there’s no big man left to trot out there.

Head coach Monty Williams was asked about what he will do with Saric’s minutes.

Q. Dario wasn’t getting a ton of playing time, but it’s 12 minutes or so that you can dole out. What are your options? I know Frank played some yesterday. How do you think you move forward with those minutes?

MONTY WILLIAMS: Yeah, we have different options. Frank gives us quality size and playmaking ability. He’s smart. We went small last night with Torrey. We also have Doolie (Abdel Nader), who can play some small-ball 4/5. So we’re just going to try to make those decisions on the fly. But those three guys come to mind.

And then you just have to figure it out with your coverages. That’s the biggest thing, is trying to figure out the coverages for those guys, because when you go small ball with a guy like Torrey or Doolie, it’s trying to teach those guys a coverage when they’re guarding a five that dives. That’s not something that those guys are used to.

And then the offensive package can change a bit. Those guys are so used to playing 3/4. Now you got to put them in an environment where they’re playing the 5, speaking of Torrey and Doolie.

Ok, hold the phone. Doolie?! Abdel Nader, the unnaturally good looking 6’5” shooting guard who happens to have a 7’1” wingspan but is skinny and still only 6’5”, that Doolie?

I’m guessing that Monty Williams is making a leap like this: in lineups with Torrey Craig at center, it’s possible Nader could get some wing minutes and help on the glass in the way Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges do.

But then again, small ball is small ball and if they know the assignment, anyone can play a few minutes at any position. That’s the concept of switching, anyway.