The Phoenix Suns are still figuring things out. Sitting at a record of 7-6 (.538) they are battling through injuries, new coaching schemes, an entirely new roster, and the entire NBA pressuring them to succeed right away. Therefore, it is extremely difficult, especially with Devin Booker and Bradley Beal missing time to generate consistency and break off the training wheels of the new NBA season.
A major part of getting acclimated is setting the rotation, and with new defensive-minded head coach Frank Vogel taking the reigns, it is clear that he rewards hustle and effort on the defensive side of the floor. We have already seen the likes of UNC product Nassir Little getting run early in this season, as well as returner Josh Okogie being in and out of the starting lineup. Even Drew Eubanks has solidified his spot as the backup center (and possible starter/closer) given his physicality and freak athleticism in blocking shots.
Within this article, I want to break down all of the Suns bench players that have played meaningful minutes, and where they belong within the long-term rotation. I will also bring up those who are not currently playing that could crack into the lineup given an opportunity. We have already seen the likes of Keita-Bates Diop get thrust into games and has proven to be an absolute pest on defense with his wingspan (see below for Diop for one of his 5 stocks on the night (steals+blocks).
To rank each player, I will give a number on where in the rotation they should fall in terms of total minutes played and compare to where they fall currently. For reference on how the minute allocation has played out so far this season, I will attach a data sheet laying out all of the significant per-player statistics including total minutes per game.
To meet the criteria of players I will be talking about, I am looking at players falling below the 7th rotational spot. This excludes the likes of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Eric Gordon, Grayson Allen, Jusuf Nurkic, Drew Eubanks, and Keita Bates Diop. Bradley Beal will also be in the mix, but as the Suns announced recently, he will be missing extended time with the lingering back issues. The offensive firepower will just have to wait for now, but ultimately will be a good move to take Beal’s injury slow especially with having enough offense between even Book and KD alone to supplement.
Phoenix Suns Per Player Stats 2023-24 Season (through 11/18/23)
|(CBS SPORTS)||GP||GS||MPG||PPG||FGM||FGA||FG%Field Goal Percentage||3FGM||3FGA||3FG%||FTM||FTA||FT%|
|(CBS SPORTS)||GP||GS||MPG||PPG||FGM||FGA||FG%Field Goal Percentage||3FGM||3FGA||3FG%||FTM||FTA||FT%|
|Kevin Durant PF||12||12||36.3||30.8||127||240||52.9||26||52||50||89||103||86.4|
|Devin Booker SG||4||4||32.5||29.5||42||77||54.5||12||25||48||22||24||91.7|
|Grayson Allen SG||12||12||30.9||12.2||51||109||46.8||32||65||49.2||12||12||100|
|Eric Gordon SF||11||7||29.8||13.7||61||133||45.9||26||70||37.1||3||3||100|
|Bradley Beal SG||3||3||28.7||17.3||18||46||39.1||5||15||33.3||11||16||68.8|
|Jusuf Nurkic C||12||12||26.8||9.9||38||94||40.4||8||31||25.8||35||47||74.5|
|Josh Okogie SF||12||6||22.3||7.4||27||62||43.5||7||26||26.9||28||33||84.8|
|Keita Bates-Diop SF||9||4||20.8||6.2||21||47||44.7||6||18||33.3||8||12||66.7|
|Drew Eubanks C||12||0||19||8.1||40||60||66.7||2||2||100||15||19||78.9|
|Yuta Watanabe SF||12||0||18.6||5.3||21||55||38.2||16||43||37.2||6||7||85.7|
|Jordan Goodwin SG||12||0||17.8||6.4||26||80||32.5||15||43||34.9||10||13||76.9|
|Nassir Little SF||7||0||10.4||3.7||9||18||50||4||12||33.3||4||4||100|
|Udoka Azubuike C||2||0||4.5||1||1||1||100||0||0||—||0||0||—|
|Saben Lee PG||3||0||3.3||2||3||6||50||0||1||0||0||0||—|
|Chimezie Metu PF||5||0||2.6||1.6||3||8||37.5||0||3||0||2||2||100|
|Bol Bol C||3||0||2.3||0.7||1||1||100||0||0||—||0||0||—|
7.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.1 AST, 22.3 MPG, 0.7 STL, 0.4 BLK
10/24 vs. Warriors: 17 PTS (7/9 FG), 5 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL
10/26 @ Lakers 10 PTS (3/5 FG), 8 REB, 3 AST, 1 BLK
Josh Okogie has been a bit all over the place this season. He started off the year with two very strong performances and showed his traditional skillset by flying across the floor snatching offensive rebounds, and ultimately being the perfect 5th starter adjacent to Devin Booker and co. The spacing was real as well, with being able to knock down the open corner looks that the defense would allow off of help rotations to the likes of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.
The defensive intensity continued, but gradually he lost all respect from opposing defenses after failing to establish consistency from behind the arc starting 3-5 in the first two games and then making only one of his next 18 shots. Therefore defenses could afford the luxury of leaving Okogie open, and was forced to affect the game as strictly a cutter off the ball, and in turn caused him to be played off the floor with not allowing for a free-flowing offense as a true spacer.
Okogie recently had a major bounce-back game against his former team the Minnesota Timberwolves going perfect from three (3-3) and finishing a +11 on the night, but still finished 8th in minutes. In the most recent game in the Suns’s first in-season tournament win against Utah, Okogie was a non-factor only having 1 point and 2 fouls.
It does not help his case that some of the attributes that make him so valuable are being replicated by players such as Jordan Goodwin, who is continuing to prove what he can bring to the team by being a jack-of-all-trades type of player who is capable of molding into whatever roles is necessary. Another noteworthy stat related to Goodwin as well is the fact that he is the league-leader in defensive rating at (98.1) which exemplifies the effort he puts on that side of the floor.
Even Nassir Little is being used as a POA weapon, as someone who can stick to a defender and generate turnovers on the fly. as well as being similarly built to Okogie at 6’5 and 220 LBS. His potential as a valuable asset in the rotation shined through last night adding 5 points (one three) as well as adding an assist and rebound in just 10 minutes on the floor while being a +8 and helping boost the Suns to a win.
I am not saying that Okogie’s spot as a consistent rotational player is lost, but the concerns about his three-point shooting are elevated, especially with other teams taking note (no, that does not mean just Utah). If that touch truly is not there, look for Vogel to struggle to find minutes for Josh Okogie moving forward.
Current rotational spot: 7
Projected rotational spot: 10 (-3)
6.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.2 AST, 17.4 MPG, 1.0 STL, 0.4 BLK
10/26 @ Lakers 14 PTS (6/15 FG%) 6 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL
11/12 vs. Thunder 11 PTS (4/10 FG%) 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK
Jordan Goodwin has been proving how effective he can be as a defender, boasting the highest defensive rating in the entire NBA. Combo that with the ability to shot create as both a spot-up shooter and off the dribble and you get a valuable rotational piece and certainly not just a throw-in in the Beal trade.
Goodwin has not been particularly efficient when shooting the basketball by any means with 32.5 FG% and 34.9 3P% splits, but the important part is that he is more than capable of knocking shots down and keeping the overall theme of spacing that this offense revolves around so heavily.
The only real inconsistency that Goodwin has is in running the offense as a true playmaker. Although Vogel does not have a ton of pick-and-roll sets, especially with the bench unit, Goodwin sometimes does not look comfortable in being the primary facilitator and does not always have the right reads right away.
In my opinion, Jordan Goodwin operates best off the ball, being a decent catch-and-shoot player with the capability to beat defenders off the dribble. Combo that with elite perimeter defense as well as a larger frame for a listed guard (6’4, 200 LBS), and he is the top candidate for the number one point guard option on the team (other than Devin Booker of course).
My prediction is as long as the offensive production is sustainable (with a ton of room to improve in terms of efficiency) Goodwin will find a way to stay within the rotation. My prediction is that Goodwin will continue to eat into the minutes of Josh Okogie as the best overall option as a two-way POA defender.
Current rotational spot: 12
Projected rotational spot: 8 (+4)
5.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.7 AST, 18.6 MPG, 0.3 STL, 0.3 BLK
10/24 @ Warriors 8 PTS (3/5 FG%) 4 REB, 1 BLK
10/28 vs. Thunder 6 PTS (4/10 FG%) 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK
Yuta Watanabe has been a bit up and down this season, with shooting numbers not exactly flying off the page in 38.2 FG% and 37.2 3P%. This is right around league average, but the Suns brought Watanabe to be a marksman assisting the overall spacing of the offense revolving around their stars.
To be fair, he has been automatic when checking into the game and hitting that first corner three, but at times after that, he seems to just kind of get lost in his overall role on offense.
Simplifying the game for himself would be the best thing going forward, and just keep shooting the rock. The track record is there and defenses will be forced to pull out to the perimeter to guard Watanabe. One of the more recent developments with his offensive game is the forced passes, which I did not see as much at the beginning of the season where he would work in a floater and mid-range game to complement getting by defenders trying to run him off the line.
Now, I am not too worried about the shooting regression as Yuta Watanabe can catch fire during a season in a heartbeat. This was clear last year in Brooklyn when he finished as one of the most accurate 3P shooters in the league at 44.4%. However, the defense could become an issue as larger forwards/bigs tend to get whatever they want in the paint. Watanabe is a good perimeter player and disruptor using his 6’10” wingspan, but slotting in at the backup PF spot may be tough against larger teams.
Watanabe could see his minutes go towards someone like Nassir Little even Chimezie Metu (who we have not seen in the regular season yet) if the shooting continues to be just average and the defense is lackluster. However, we know how lethal he can be from deep, so maybe it would be wise to continue giving him solid minutes until he Watanabe can find his touch.
Current rotational spot: 11
Projected rotational spot: 11 (0)
3.7 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 0.3 AST, 10.4 MPG, 0.7 STL, 0.1 BLK
10/31 vs. Spurs 6 PTS (2/3 FG%) 2 REB, 1 AST, 2 STLS
11/17 @ Jazz 5 PTS (2/3 FG%) 1 REB, 1 AST, +8
Nassir Little is very much trending upward after his performance against the Jazz that gave the Suns enough life to beat them 131-128 to grant the Suns their first In-Season Tournament win. The numbers are not going to jump off the page, but Little brought tenacity and an instant spark plug off the bench hitting a quick three and continually hammering at Utah playmakers.
He has not gotten consistent minutes so far this season, even racking up 4 DNPs in a row, but a large part of this is due to Frank Vogel still setting the overall wing rotation and balancing lineup changes due to stars such as Devin Booker and Bradley Beal being in and out of the lineup.
Do I think what Nassir Little has done so far should allow for a permanent spot in the rotation? No. However, his shot-making ability mixed in with insane verticality and overall athleticism is something to be worth monitoring going forward into the season. The three-headed monster to close the 3rd quarter of the Jazz game between him, KBD, and Jordan Goodwin really gave Jordan Clarkson and stand-out rookie Keyonte George trouble as they were in a rhythm the entire game leading up to that lineup.
Look for Little to be a recipient of the declining defensive play of Yuta Watanabe, as well as the lack of offensive production generated by Josh Okogie. He will have to earn his keep, but if the short bursts continue that positively alter the outcome of the game, then the Phoenix coaching staff will find minutes for the UNC product.
Current rotational spot: 13
Projected rotational spot: 9 (+4)
Pre-Season Stats (calculated):
8.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1 AST, 19.75 MPG, 0.6 STL, 0.6 BLK
10/8 @ Pistons 14 PTS (3/3 FG%) 1 REB, 1 AST, +8
10/19 vs. Lakers 9 PTS (3/7 FG%, 2/3 3P%), 3 REB, 1 BLK
The final player I want to bring up who can work his way into the rotation sooner rather than later is Chimezie Metu, who showed a ton of flashes in the preseason with his defensive versatility and three-point shooting accuracy. A lot of these threes made were on fast breaks operating as the trailer on the wings, which is super intriguing to think about potential running with the A-team.
At a 6’10” 225 LBS, he could play either at power forward or center depending on the lineup, and Metu could potentially be the key when facing lineups running multiple 7-footers such as the Jazz or Spurs without sacrificing spacing on offense. If the three-point threat can continue to be prominent, then there is no reason not to dem how he can operate within the offense.
I believe backup center may be the best spot for Metu as he has shown flashes of being a lob threat in the limited time he has played and can bring much-needed athleticism (especially if Jusuf Nurkic is relegated to the bench, which is another conversation to be had). The verticality between Eubanks and Metu could really be utilized, especially with the paint defense being suspect at times.
The former USC standout could be a great complement for Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Bradley Beal off of roles if he is able to establish legitimate minutes. Although the best fit may be at the 5, Metu may need to start by logging minutes at the 4 and then going from there, especially with the question marks surrounding the defensive capacity of players such as Yuta Watanabe.
I will be eager to see Metu get his Keita Bates-Diop-type opportunity at some point this season and may see it against the Jazz on Sunday night with Watanabe wearing a questionable tag going into the game.
Current rotational spot: 16
Projected rotational spot: 12 (+4)
With Beal out, nailing these rotational spots is a tough task but extremely effective if done correctly to provide the necessary support for Book and Kevin Durant who is nothing short of phenomenal this season and should be in serious conversation for MVP so far this season. These projections are simply made out of the eye test from watching the season so far, and whether a player has a realistic route in salvaging notable minutes.
The fact that I can name four players on the brink of the rotation who all have a legitimate argument for playing valuable minutes just shows the work James Jones and the entire front office have done in surrounding the stars with quality role players who can step up as needed.
Suns fans, let the Bright Side community know what you think about the Sun's current rotation and your view on potential changes below.