It’s no secret that there was massive roster turnover during the 2023 offseason for the Phoenix Suns. Ish Wainright is the second longest tenured player on the roster, and Chimezie Metu joked with the media that he’s a “veteran” because he was the first player to sign with the Suns in the offseason. There are high hopes for a lot of players coming into the season, and a lot of question marks about the rotation. I wanted to explore what the Suns’ regular season rotation will look like, who will likely exceed expectations and find themselves in the rotation, and who will fail to meet them and end up riding the pine.
The analysis is based on my work fusing and weighting 7 different metrics used to evaluated player value on the court: LEBRON, RAPTOR, Real Plus Minus (RPM), Estimated Plus Minus (EPM), Luck Adjusted Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus, LEBRON Box, and Box Plus Minus 2.0 for 414 players. I converted them to percentiles, weighted them based on correlation with minutes per game played (a qualitative judgement by the coach of how valuable a player is), averaged them, and converted them to percentiles as well. I don’t have a fancy name for the statistic I developed, but it is my best attempt to answer the question of what the on-court value of the players in the league based on what amounts to expert consensus.
So, without further ado, here’s what the stats say about the Suns offseason signings, by alphabetical order of their last names.
Grayson Allen comes in as a player who raw numbers aren’t eye popping, but he can consistently hit the three and act as a lockdown defender at both backcourt positions. He’s an adequate distributor for a shooting guard, and doesn’t hurt you at the offensive end of the court: teams cannot afford to ignore him when he spots up. He’s also very willing to take open pull-up 3s in transition if the defense backpedals too hard.
Overall, the stats rate him as the 107th best player evaluated (out of 414) putting him in the 74th percentile, and a borderline starter. He has a clear role as the first guy off the bench for Booker and Beal.
Verdict: Exceed expectations
KBD came in with the expectation that he would challenge Josh Okogie for the fifth starting spot. However, the numbers suggest that’s unlikely. KBD comes in at the 50th percentile overall, 52nd on defense, and 40th on offense. This is all well behind Okogie. Overall, his numbers suggest a situational role player (i.e. 9-11th on a roster); however, lack of depth at SF and PF may mean that he’s going to be closer to the 8th man on this team, backing up both Okogie and Kevin Durant.
He’s not BAD, per se, just unlikely to give the Suns the quality of minutes they would hope for.
Verdict: Minor Disappointment
You might be saying, “Huh? Why is he on this list? We know what we’re getting is an All Start.” Well, technically yes, but not in terms of on court performance. To put it bluntly, Beal is a terrible defender, and his rating suffers for it. He ranks in the 93rd percentile on offense, and the 24th percentile on defense.
Some of it may be because he was on a bad team that was going nowhere, and his effort was lacking. He’s still in the 85th percentile overall, which translates to “top starter” in terms of performance. But for the Suns to reach the promised land, they need Beal to be more efficient on offense (less high volume, fewer crazy shots, more passing given who’s on the floor with him) and to lock in on defense. But he’s never been a good defender regardless, and looking back over the years most of the stats say that he’s just plain bad there.
Vogel’s got his work cut out for him.
Verdict: Mildly Disappointed
There’s a very good reason why Orlando not only let Bol go but benched him after the team got healthy: he’s a big (literally) net minus on the court. The stats put him in the 35th percentile among active players last year in terms of court impact. That’s deep bench, “break glass in case of COVID outbreak in the locker-room” territory.
When you look at the scouting reports you can see why: poor basketball IQ, poor decision making, lacks the bulk to body a lot of centers, and shows bad technique. He’s never really put in the work to turn his athleticism into something special, and it shows. It’s unlikely he’ll be any better than a 4th string center.
Verdict: Major Disappointment
Eubanks was brought in to be a Jock Landale replacement. Problem is, he’s not…at least according to the stats. Landale was in the 68th percentile, while Eubanks grades out in the 43rd. While you can debate whether players separated by a few percentage points are better than one another, these two aren’t even close. It’s the same percentage difference between Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Junior.
Eubanks grades out as a situational role player (i.e. 9th, 10th or 11th man), which isn’t what you want out of your first or second guy off the bench behind Nurkic.
Goodwin almost seemed like a throw-in with the Bradley Beal trade. However, when you look at the numbers measuring his on-court impact, a different story emerges. He’s acceptable (average) on offense, coming in at the 54th percentile. His defense is well above average at the 75th, and overall, he grades out at the 59th percentile.
This translates to “solid rotation player”, or your quintessential 7th or 8th man. There’s been a lot of chirping that the Suns don’t have a back up PG, but between Goodwin, Beal, and Booker, the ball’s almost always going to be in good hands. Even better, his stats have improved every year from freshman year of college until now. The man has a “dog” mentality, and continuously works on his game.
I expect him to be even better this year than last, especially when playing alongside two of the big three.
Verdict: Significantly Exceeds Expectations
The Suns have been chasing Gordon for a decade, and finally landed him. Unfortunately, the stats say this will likely be his one and only year in Phoenix. He ranks in the 42nd percentile overall in terms of overall impact on court, and an abysmal 29th percentile on defense. Sure, on offense he’s 51st percentile, or slightly above average. But the question is: why would you play him ahead of Allen, Okogie, or Goodwin at back-up PG or SG?
Short answer is that you wouldn’t. Those three are all much better players. He’s going to struggle to get minutes because he doesn’t distribute, rebound, or defend. Basically, he’s a repeat of the Terrence Ross experiment. At best, Gordon is a situational role player who sees spot minutes in case of injury to two of the five guys ahead of him.
Verdict: Massive Disappointment
Johnson graded out in the 3rd percentile overall, among the worst in the league. He is expected to be waived or included in follow on trades. Zero is expected of him besides reporting to camp and he will likely meet this low bar.
Verdict: Meets Very Low Expectations
By all accounts, Lee is one of the best teammates in the league. However, his production is poor. Statistically, he’s in the 21st percentile of players in terms of court impact. Surprisingly, despite his blazing 44.5% from three, he ranks only in the 22nd percentile on offense, and his defense is sub-par (44th percentile).
With his recent knee injury, I could see him being cut. As it is, he grades out as a deep bench player, somewhere around the 17th out of 17 players allowed on the roster (if you include 2-ways). If he sticks with the team, it’s for his locker-room presence and to have a deep bench guy who can hit a 3-ball in clutch time, end of the game scenarios.
Entering his 5th year in the league, Little has shown little improvement (pun intended). He has fantastic hops and plays hard, but he strikes me as more of an “athlete” than basketball player. The stats bear this out: he ranked in the 5th percentile of the 414 players evaluated.
He’s a massive net negative on the court, and he’s making almost as much as Grayson Allen. His main value is as a guy who plays hard in practice, and as a chunk of salary that can be moved in future trades. If you wanted to put a label on where his level of performance belongs, he should probably be in the G-League working on fundamentals. The Suns should not expect any meaningful minutes from him this season.
Verdict: Massive Disappointment
Metu is the forgotten man in most of the discussions about the Suns offseason. He shouldn’t be: he grades out as an above average player (59th percentile) who can play either forward or center. He grades out at the 67th percentile on defense, and about average on offense.
These numbers are based on limited minutes last season (66 games at 10.7 mpg), but he gave good minutes on a playoff team. He rebounds well (11.1 R/40) and can play small ball center. He’s a human pogo stick and put-back dunk machine who shoots an acceptable average at the free throw line. Stat wise, he’s about right for a 7th or 8th man, and that’s where I see him ending up in the Suns rotation. As far as role goes, he’s going to back up KD5 at PF, and Nurkic when Vogel thinks he can go smaller.
Verdict: Greatly Exceeds Expectations
I’ve already written an entire article about this, but to summarize: Nurkic is underrated defensively (93rd percentile), and doesn’t hurt you on offense (50th percentile). Ayton was worse at both. There seems to be a misconception among both fans and pundits that the Suns took a step back at the center position in the offseason, but the stats say differently.
I expect fans to be pleasantly surprised how much better the Suns do with Nurkic at the 5. He also adds a wrinkle of passing and three-point shooting which could have 2nd and 3rd order effects on offense with the Big 3.
Verdict: Exceeds Expectations
Last year when I was watching the Suns, I kept thinking, “they should play Okogie more. Good things just seem to happen when he’s on the floor.” Now, with an ungodly amount of advanced stats available, it largely confirmed what my eyes were telling me. Okogie grades out in the 78th percentile, and the 5th best player on the team, just behind Nurkic (80th percentile overall).
He should be the 5th starter.
If he can start hitting threes at a slightly higher rate (35-36%) he’ll take a big leap. His defense puts him in the 91st percentile, giving the Suns a frontcourt who all rank in the top 90%. In general, your front court players have a bigger impact on overall team defense than your guards, and the Suns may surprise some people with their defense this year (despite Beal and Bookers’ woeful defensive numbers).
Of all the players on the Suns’ roster, Okogie is the best deal (or most underpaid, depending how you look at it). He plays like a solid starter, while making vet minimum salary.
Verdict: Slightly Exceeds Suns’ Fans Expectations / Way Better than National Media Realizes
Yuta Watanabe has a lot to like on paper: amazing three-point shooter, high energy, great teammate, 6-8, experience on the world stage and carrying team Japan to some amazing wins. Unfortunately, his advanced NBA stats aren’t so high. He grades out in the 26th percentile overall, 43rd on offense, and 26th percentile on defense.
He doesn’t rebound, is not a great passer, and generally struggles on defense. This latter fact is a bit perplexing: he was the Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year in 2018. The desire to defend is there, but it’s just not translating at the NBA level for some reason. There’s hope that Vogel will help him crack the code on defense, and if he does he becomes much more valuable. If he doesn’t he grades out as a deep reserve 14th-15th man.
Verdict: Major Disappointment if Defense Does Not Improve
All of this has implications for the Suns’ rotation. Based on the advanced stats, here’s what I expect the rotation to look like:
- Beal, Booker, Durant, and Nurkic are locks to start.
- Okogie should be the 5th starter.
- Grayson Allen should be first off the bench, and Jordan Goodwin and Chimezie Metu are likely to be 7th-8th men, with Metu seeing time at both PF and C.
- Keita Bates-Diop will likely be a 9th man and back up Okogie and Durant, depending on match-ups.
- Eubanks will be a situational role player 10th man: a big body backing up Nurkic when a small-ball center like Metu isn’t a good idea.
- Yuta Watanabe, Gordon, Damion Lee, and Bol Bol are deep reserves who get time if there are injuries. We could see Watanabe and Lee on final possessions where the Suns need a three to tie or win, though.
- Nassir Little is unlikely to see meaningful minutes regardless of injury (and if he does, it’s likely to be ugly).
- Keon Johnson, Ish Wainright, Saben Lee, and Udoka Azubuike are all fringe players who won’t see meaningful minutes and may be cut or traded at any time.