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With Cam Johnson assuming the Crowder role, who will fill his?

Cam Johnson is vacating 24.1 bench minutes. That leaves plenty of opportunity.

2022-23 Phoenix Suns Media Day Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s unfortunate the Phoenix Suns will no longer have the assistance of NBA veteran Jae Crowder as they begin their new season on October 19. Jae was a valuable member of this organization and brought with him physicality and attitude, attributes that the team desperately needed filled.

As Suns GM James Jones does his best to try to find a trade destination for Crowder, the question remains how his departure will affect how the Suns manage their rotations this season. He leaves behind 28.1 available minutes.

Cameron Johnson is the heir apparent to Crowder‘s starting minutes, and as he noted on Suns Media, he’s ready for the opportunity.

We know that, although Crowder is a much better defender than Johnson, Johnson is a much better offensive threat than Crowder.

Per NBA Advanced Stats, in games in which Johnson started last season (16 games), he posted a 117.4 OFFRTG (‘offensive rating’ for the advanced statistics imparied), just behind teammate Devin Booker’s 117.6, which was third highest on the team for players who started more than 10 games. Crowder’s 116.1 was sixth.

Defensively, however, Crowder’s 105.9 DEFRTG (I’m sure you can guess what that stands for) was fourth best compared to Johnson’s 112.5. Last amongst those with 10+ starts.

Crowder embraced his defensive enforcer role and it is something that we all find out together if Johnson can fulfill. But that is a different conversation for a different day.

As a bench player, appearing in 50 games in that capacity last season, Cam Johnson provided a 108.0 OFFRTG and an impressive 101.0 DEFRTG.

If you’re expecting that role to be filled by the asset acquired via trade for Crowder, you might want to think again. As noted in a previous piece, I expect Jones to seek draft picks in return for Crowder, which will assist in the long-term success of the Suns as they go big game hunting with the opportunity, presents itself.

“We have enough,” Jones stated on media day when questioned about the Suns’ roster. “I believe in the group that we have. We have some really good players and no one sees that, and I’m fine with that. Because that means if they don’t see them, they’re in our gym behind closed doors putting in the work that’s going to lead us to a higher level.”

Jones is content with what is currently on the roster. Who is going to fill Johnson’s shoes coming off the bench?

Ish Wainright

Ish is back with the Suns, once again signing a two-way contract with the team this past offseason. He is a player who continues to bet on himself, and, after a productive NBA Summer League, finds himself in a situation in which his utilization could be higher than it was last season. The 27 year-old played in 45 games last season, averaging 8 minutes per game.

Wainright adds enthusiasm that can help the second team unit, some physicality, and the capacity to hit the corner three-ball. In his last 10 games during the regular season last year, he shot 36.4% from beyond the arc. Not stellar, but not trash either.

The challenge that Ish will have is to display an increase in defensive capability. You don’t look at him as a primary scoring option from the second team unit – you’ll most likely have to rely on the guard play of the Suns bench in an effort to score points when the starters are sitting – so his value must be defensive if he is to garner minutes.

He did post a 100.6 DEFRTG last season, although the majority of his playing time came in mop up duty at the end of games. If Ish wants to take Cam’s vacated minutes, he needs to show he can play defense consistently. Who knows? Maybe he is our next PJ Tucker?

Torrey Craig

A scoring option off the bench is one thing you lose when Cam Johnson moves to the starting five. Torrey Craig has already demonstrated his ability to be an offensive player, but if given the opportunity, he wouldn’t perform as well as Cam in that capacity. He’s too inconsistent.

It’s hard to get a read on Craig. It’s clear James Jones likes the guy; he’s traded for him twice in the past two seasons. But we’ve seen two different versions of Craig. The 2021 version played demonstrative wing-based defense and was a spark plug for the second team. The 2022 version would disappear on the court for minutes at a time.

You look at the statistics from last season, and you have to scratch your head. 105.7 OFFRTG, 108.5 DEFRTG. 32.3% from deep. 6.9 points in 20.8 minutes played. Nothing screams, “play him!”.

Dario Saric

The return of Dario.

His return to the Phoenix starting lineup gives Monty Williams roster flexibility that he will juggle throughout the season. Due to his size, shooting ability, and rebounding prowess (if you call shoving your ass into the opposition to box out and unathletically grab a board), Dario will permit the Suns to do numerous things with a second term unit.

With him at the five, the Suns can utilize a small ball lineup to create a five-out attack that will be challenging for defenses to stop during the course of the season. It’s one thing to try to defend the five-out in a seven game series, when teams are coaching against it and trying to implement strategies on how to defeat it. It’s another if it’s a random Tuesday night in Minnesota and the Suns roll out the five out for 15 minutes.

Those could be a very productive 15 minutes for the Phoenix Suns.

The other option with Saric back in the frey is playing with size. Put Dario at the four. Utilizing Bismack Biyombo and Dario Saric on the floor at the same time will be an interesting experiment for Monty Williams to explore. Bismack is not a perimeter player, but Dario can be. While he lacks the athleticism that Johnson has, she can fill it up from deep when called upon. He’s a career 35.7% three-point shooter.

It will be interesting to see how often the Phoenix Suns go to this addition.

Jock Landale

You want to go really big? Try out Jock Landale at the four.

Monty Williams expressed his excitement for the new member of the team, noting, “Jock (Landale) is somebody that has been a player that’s got our coaches really excited. And when I watch him play, I can see his ability and how he could help us this year.”

He will wear number 11, last worn by Abdel Nader, who is one player that Monty played, well, perhaps too much.

Again viewing the needs at backup power forward through the lens of advanced statistics, Landale had a 106.9 OFFRTG and 109.2 DEFRTG last season in 53 bench games played. Yikes. His size is a clear attribute, as is his strength, but playing him along Biyombo may be painful to watch.

It will be interesting to see how Monty navigates the minutes at the backup power forward position this season. There is plenty of opportunity for someone to step up and prove that they should receives those minutes. The hope is Monty realizes that rather than sticking with his loyalties and preconceived expectations rather than reality. We’ve see it before. He’ll play someone too long because he wants them to succeed rather than realizing that they aren't.

Let the battle for the backup four begin.

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