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The Phoenix Suns need to add a third center

The Phoenix Suns need a third big that can survive in short stretches for several reasons.

In-Season Tournament - Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s start with this. The Phoenix Suns have had excellent production from their two centers this season relative to expectations.

Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks have provided stability and durability while playing their assigned role to a tee. Despite the injuries and inconsistent rotations, the two bigs have played in every game but one.

Phoenix Suns v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

That being said, there is room for concern with the current structure of the center rotation.

If one of the two centers misses a game, or if there is early foul trouble, the burden intensifies for whichever of the two centers has to carry the load.

Come playoff time, Phoenix needs to be prepared to weather the storm of a rugged series which can include matchup variance, teams targeting players defensively or baiting them into foul trouble, injuries, and much more.

Durability

Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks have combined to miss just one game this season, with Nurkic playing in every contest so far.

Looking at Jusuf’s track record, this season seems to be an outlier regarding availability.

  • 2018-19: 72-82 (87.8%)
  • 2019-20: 8-82 (9.7%)
  • 2020-21: 37-72 (51.3%)
  • 2021-22: 56-82 (68.2%)
  • 2022-23: 52-82 (63.4%)
  • 2023-24: 23-23 (100%)

Based on his past, Nurkic isn’t likely to play in more than 70 games as the last time he did that was in the 2018-19 season. If he does, you will gladly take it, but keep in mind the foul trouble issues he has had throughout his career. Those could put the Suns in some tricky spots come playoff time as those issues seem to be enhanced the more physical play gets.

Eubanks doesn’t have the track record as a consistently relied-upon rotation player, but last season he did appear in 78 games. Drew has missed just one contest with an ankle sprain this season but has suited up in 21 of 22 possible matchups.

Sacramento Kings v Phoenix Suns Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

Considering their availability thus far has been excellent, it may seem odd to focus on this as a potential future negative, but that’s the reality of the situation.

Versatility + Depth

Having options aka fouls to burn is vital come playoff time, and that’s where a specialist like Bismack Biyombo would come in handy behind Deandre Ayton and Jock Landale last season.

Was there a need for him every game? Certainly not. It was nice to have him when you needed him, and that’s a luxury this current Suns roster lacks.

Deandre Ayton was injured and missed Game 6 against Denver, which shrunk Phoenix’s big man rotation to just Jock Landale and Bismack Biyombo to deal with MVP Nikola Jokic, for example. If Nurkic were to miss a game Phoenix would be relying heavily on Eubanks, Metu, and... Durant at the five?

Chimezie Metu is more of a “big four” than a five at this point, and Bol Bol has not even cracked the rotation yet. It’s difficult to imagine anyone on this current roster taking on that role as a “break glass in case of emergency” five. Udoka Azubuike still exists, I suppose.

That being said, I believe Phoenix should pursue another option at the center position this winter.

How to acquire

I highly recommend you read this piece from Dave King that highlights the latest from the Suns along with their cap sheet and what they can/cannot do when it comes to acquiring players.

The buyout market is an option, though the Suns cannot acquire someone making more than $12.4 million if they go that route.

Here’s an insightful chunk from Dave’s piece to get you entirely caught up:

The Suns...

  1. CAN aggregate salaries this year, in and out
  2. CANNOT take on more than 10% more salary coming back in a trade of players
  3. CAN sign a guy who was bought out, but only if he made less than #12.4 million
  4. CAN use a trade exception to acquire a player from another team into a roster spot, but cannot be included with outgoing players. Has to be used by itself to acquire someone else’s player into the salary spot
  • Dario Saric trade exception = $4.975 million, usable through 2/9/2024
  • Cameron Payne trade exception = $6.5 million, usable through 9/7/2024
  • There’s also small Isaiah Todd and Toumani Camara ones, but they are under $2 mil each

With this in mind, it feels as though the buyout market could be the Suns’ best bet to add a third big. Andre Drummond is one name that comes to mind as a buyout candidate that falls under the $12.4 million mark.

On the trade front, the Orlando Magic could be a team to keep an eye on. Their big-man rotation of Wendell Carter Jr., Moritz Wagner, and Goga Bitadze could lead to a deal to acquire another wing, which Phoenix could make available depending on the other moves they make.

Either way, I think it’s fair to be encouraged by the Suns’ center position’s productivity and availability, but at the same time be concerned about what could lie ahead and proactively address those problems before they become an actual issue.

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