Bradley Beal will soon make his return for the Phoenix Suns after rolling his ankle against the New York Knicks on December 15. In the next few days, we should have better insight as to when that will occur. The team stated that he would be reevaluated after the calendar turns to 2024. Well, what do you know? That is three days away.
Upon return, Frank Vogel will begin the minute’s restriction process that he has attempted twice thus far this season with Beal. Vogel isn’t going to simply insert Brad into the starting lineup and expect him to play 36 minutes a night. Considering he is coming off of a right ankle sprain, coupled with his previous back injury, it just doesn’t make sense.
Vogel has shown us twice this season when Beal attempted to return from his back injuries that he was going to put him on a minutes restriction. Beal, who has averaged 34.7 minutes played in his career prior to coming to Phoenix, has averaged 29.3 minutes (if you don’t include the game in which he was injured and played only 4:32).
So, if your expectations are, that will be reinserted into the lineup and make an instant impact over the duration of the game, sorry to inform you that that will not be the case. It’s okay, bud. It’s gonna be okay.
With the ramp up and minutes restriction comes opportunity for Vogel, especially from a strategic roster rotation standpoint.
The Suns have one lineup at this time that has been highly productive, especially a starting unit, and Vogel can continue to play them. Even after Beal returns. Devin Booker, Eric Gordon, Grayson Allen, Kevin Durant, and Jusuf Nurkic have been the best five-man lineup that Phoenix has put on the court thus far this season.
The Suns best 5-man lineup this season?— John Voita (@DarthVoita) December 28, 2023
Book, KD, Air Gordon, GA, & Nurk
2.26 AST/TO ratio
The 122 minutes these five have played together have been the most productive of any Suns’ lineup.
Their +61 +/- is 32 points than their second-best five-man lineup (which is the same five but with Josh Okogie rather than Eric Gordon). They’re hitting 48.5% of their three-pointers, which makes sense when you have players like Gordon (40.1% from three-point range), KD (46.7%), and Grayson Allen (45.5%). With that offense, both Gordon and Allen find themselves open on to perimeter due to the gravity that Booker and Durant create.
Vogel has done some tinkering with Beal out, putting players like Josh Okogie, Chimezie Metu, and Keita Bates-Diop into the starting lineup. Eric Gordon came off the bench in those scenarios as Vogel attempted to generate second-team offense through him.
Those lineups and that tinkering have not worked.
That starting five has been productive and provided rhythm, shooting, and some semblance of stability. But here we go. Bradley Beal is set to return in a week. Instability is around the corner once again. Sure, Beal is more talented than Gordon or Allen, who he would replace in that starting five, but he is also returning on that minutes restriction.
The option exists for Frank Vogel to have Bradley Beal come off of the bench in his return, and stay there until he is fully healthy and back in basketball shape.
It isn’t always about who you start, but who you finish with. Vogel could strategically space out Bradley‘s minutes to ensure that he is part of the closing five, but that starting five needs to remain intact. The level of effectiveness that they have as a unit allows them to jump on the competition, to develop an early lead, and it is something that Bradley Beal could enter the game and build upon.
It also would create a familiar role for Beal, who is coming off of 11 seasons with the Washington Wizards as the alpha on the court. There’s an adjustment that needs to be made for him personally as a basketball player with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. They have played a total of 24 minutes together in the NBA, and they are a +15. So he does have the capacity to do so.
But if you’re going to ease him back into the lineups, and assist him to be the best version of himself, there is an opportunity to come off the bench to play in a role that he’s familiar with. Devin Booker goes out, Bradley Beal comes in, and he plays the primary role on offense.
In time the reintegration will occur, and the definition of roles will fall into place. Bradley Beal will be part of the starting five for the Phoenix Suns. But there’s a unique opportunity that lies before Frank Vogel to accomplish multiple things simultaneously. Get Beal back in shape. Build his confidence. Assist the second team with elite-level scoring. Build upon leads created by your best starting five. Win basketball games.
Frank Vogel did a good job with his adjustments in the Houston Rockets game both on offense and defense. We saw much more movement, we witnessed offensive sets that weren’t purely isolation. Here’s an opportunity for him to once again make an adjustment that could equate to wins.
That’s what the Suns are searching for right now. Wins.