clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Suns ability to deploy small-ball lineups early this season could equate to late season success

Lineup combinations and the use of small ball will be a way for the Suns to keep pressure on opponents, and it is intriguing to see that they have already began collecting data, even this early in the season.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Golden State Warriors D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Small ball hints, anyone?

The Phoenix Suns and their roster headed into the 2023-2024 season present ample opportunity for lineup “experimentation.” Not only do they have a versatility-packed roster that suggests optionality, but they have multiple pieces that can chip in viably (or even more than that) as scorers, scorers with size, defenders, defenders with size.

Additionally, they also have pieces that in tandem with each other, suggest they should have depths of scheme versatility as well, keeping these “small ball” iterations that are more offensively inclined, balanced with a defense that can do enough to dictate with.

The absences of Devin Booker (ankle) and Bradley Beal (back) have presented an opportunity to expedite the involvement of how Kevin Durant is featured.

In alignment with that has come open opportunity in minutes as well, to construct with Kevin Durant — who is the piece that truly unlocks all things small ball for the Suns. Small ball lineups have proven to be a true weapon and elixir, especially come playoffs.

These lineups typically won’t play a high volume of minutes on a per-game basis, but they will certainly play meaningful in their impact. They allow for a team to dictate the terms a game is played on if the impact is profound enough, and force a reaction from a team.

Whether opponents counter with going “big,” or counter “small,” the Suns have renditions they can compile that, in theory, should be able to win quick minute stretches. We’ve seen them close quarters doing so, then go with one rendition for an extended stretch, through three games.

Now, of course, Beal not being available for any of these games is an integral piece of the ceiling these lineups have. So, assessing too deeply, in addition to the lack of sample size isn’t warranted. Nonetheless, it gives us a peek into the thoughts of the Suns’ brain trust, even at this early juncture of the season.

For transparency, I had Bates-Diop included in my lineups I look forward to, when looking at small ball. That was because, of course, we’ve seen small ball with Okogie. There’s a curiosity for me, with Bates-Diop in those lineups based on how he’s operated priorly.

Of note:

Booker/Gordon/Allen/Okogie/Durant was +4 in 54 seconds, closing @ GS

Goodwin/Allen/Gordon/Okogie/Durant was -1 in 2:51 @ LAL

Last season, we saw small ball most frequently as a quarter starter, infusing Durant into reserve-adjacent lineups — paired with Paul. Durant’s minutes at the five with the Suns would replace one of their reserve centers for either half of their original shift in that pocket of the game, or for that full stint.

Tracking when, how often, how long, and what the lineup combinations are for this Suns team with said lineups on the floor will be intriguing, and it’s clear the brain trust thinks the same, as they gather data in multiple renditions through the first three games.

Upping pace, scoring in droves, speeding up the game defensively, and stretching a defense will be the deemed aim with most of the small ball lineups the Suns are likely to feature Durant in.

Also, offensively, these lineups have a multitude of ways to manipulate a defense — via cutting, inverting the offense with Durant or Booker post-ups, all five players screening on-ball for each other (but especially for Okogie, for his short-roll ability). The screening for advantageous match-ups, combined with multiple players that can get downhill in multiple ways, makes for a chaos-imposing lineup Rolodex.

Assessing how those lineups’ impact aligns with these principles, and the effect it has on a game and the opponents will be a season-long trend to track.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bright Side of the Sun Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Phoenix Suns news from Bright Side of the Sun