The Phoenix Suns, behind the execution of James Jones and the seemingly endless depths of Mat Ishbia’s pockets, have compiled one of the most deep and versatile rosters, on paper. How Vogel and the brain trust of this team tinker with lineups within their rotation throughout the season will be important, not solely for wins and losses, but in gathering data plus game film of player combinations against multiple opponents.
At the top are elite three-level scoring, on-ball in self-creation, and off-ball in movement, across any offensive context imaginable.
Under that are shooters that possess the ability to spray from the corners or above the break, creating spacing, as well as an overall sense of urgency that will keep defenders in conflict of thought — oftentimes to the extent that they truly can’t be right — off the extra attention garnered by the top-end talents.
Players in the realm mentioned above are all versatile enough to also put the ball on the deck and play off closeouts, while also even doing some creation of their own, to set an advantage offensively.
The tier adjacent to that will be tasked with anchoring these skilled players defensively, while also screening to free them while keeping the offense in movement, and operating as hand-off hubs in connecting. They also will be tasked with relevant play and shots making off the inevitable attention garnered in two-player actions.
The bottom layer possesses an abundance of length and refined skill, that possesses the ability to chip in with defensive activity and provide depth via that, plus opportunistic scoring.
Blending and processing these pieces into a puzzle, where the synergies all ping off each other in an optimized manner, is the challenge ahead for the 82-game marathon.
Let’s dive into the lineups I’m most intrigued to see:
(***This list omits the deemed starting group I’ve mentioned plenty before, in Booker/Beal/Okogie/Durant/Nurkic***)
1.) Embracing (much) more small ball
Not necessarily on volume, but a more steady diet than we saw in Durant’s eight games plus the playoffs last season as a member of the Suns.
This is a clear lean into the offensive firepower compiled, but these lineups also need balance in defensive ability as well.
There will be a couple of iterations tried, however, the one I’m most intrigued by is Booker/Beal/Gordon/Bates-Diop/Durant.
This one has a unique blend of five-out spacing, firstly, which is great!
However, Bates-Diop will need to be used as the screener and roller in these scenarios. Having an ever-present piece that can pressure the paint via cuts and rolls — underneath all the spacing, to get the inevitable switches they’ll see into a bit of rotation — will be extremely important.
Bates-Diop can also function viably as a hand-off hub.
Additionally, Durant’s post-ups and the ability to invert their offense and get two to the ball — seeing that screens here will see switches — likely will be their main advantage setter.
Also, these lineups will be where Beal and Booker ghosting for each other will be apt.
Generating reaction advantages, in addition to all else, will be as important as anything.
Mitigating the 1v1 and truly using it to its full advantage will be a challenge, and take some reps, but could be fruitful as a weapon to dictate with come playoffs.
Booker plus wings with a center have been a staple in Suns’ rotations for quite some time.
They now will be “supercharged” in that sense, given the activity levels (in theory) that can be compiled with a Booker-centric lineup.
The iteration of this unit I’d like to see the most is Booker/Allen/Gordon/Bates-Diop/Eubanks.
Enough spacing, a versatile collective for multiple defensive schemes, can run the floor or play in the half-court, and has multiple downhill pieces.
One drawback could be size, however, featured as a secondary unit that’s matched up against opposing reserve units (lineups that are often three guard in their regard), it more than suffices.
3.) Let’s have some experimental fun
A lineup I’ve thought about on and off, to match up with some opposing reserve units, was Booker/Beal/Okogie/Bates-Diop/Metu.
Metu had some successes from deep in the preseason, and if that is any hint as to the season he has in store, minutes will need to be carved out for him.
He brings a level of versatility, in a 6’9 frame, that allows him to play numerous roles on the floor.
There were pockets in the preseason where he was the five, of course on the floor without either Nurkic or Eubanks, and the Suns got into switching all over the place.
This specific lineup was used in their second match-up with Portland, sequencing together defensive possessions like these:
A six-point lead ballooning to 13 to close quarters and halves is the exact type of runs I have in mind for this specific group.
Switches with aggressive unders, sinking into opponents' legs to negate rollers progress downhill, peel switches, flattening out drives, activity — with size — on closeouts and weakside rotations, it is all there, in this lineup.
There’s inevitable rust in the scheme deployed, and of course, it is against a preseason lineup, however, this is a lineup that can be a spark or expand upon things as we saw in the clips above.
To gauge them through a lens of how the pieces complement each other, and why they’d make sense in the grand scheme of things, is the perspective I assessed through.
- Booker/Beal/Gordon/Durant/Nurkic — as a closing lineup
This lineup should be the Suns' most scheme-proof offensive lineup, so long as specific shots within the profile (Nurkic finishing at the basket and short-roll scoring with a soft touch, and corner threes) are executed with efficiency.
Multiple initiators, ample experience, movement shooters, cutters, isolation, pick-and-roll playmakers, post presences, five-out spacing, it is all there.
- Booker/Allen/Okogie/Durant/Eubanks — as a rotational lineup
This lineup is unique but strikes a productive balance in offense and defense.
Okogie is the weakness offensively but adds value as a cutter and screener. He and Eubanks are more than capable as scorers/playmakers on the short roll, as teams are likely to bet on them to get the ball out of Booker and Durant’s hands.
Defensively, Allen and Okogie can hound players, while Eubanks can keep teams guessing with his scheme versatility and activity, in addition to having Durant and his 7’5 wingspan in secondary rim protection, help, and support.
Pace would be this group's best friend, playing off the compiled activity defensively that they can conjure.
I do think there will come moments when Eubanks will be needed to come in and close for Nurkic. As a more able-bodied frontcourt piece, plus an active and athletic body.
The Suns have the optionality to plug and play multiple pieces into lineup templates that’ll help them layer their lineups within the rotation to optimize all shifts within it.
What other lineups would you all like to see, and why? Let’s speak more about it below!