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The ramifications of Bradley Beal’s eventual return to the Phoenix Suns starting lineup

When BB3 is back, someone will lose playing time. The question is who?

Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

The season hasn’t started the way that we had all hoped for as it pertains to health for the Phoenix Suns. The acquisition of Bradley Beal this past off-season came with risk as he’s a player who is averaging 51.2 games played over the past four seasons. From a talent standpoint, it was an easy win for James Jones and the organization.

Chris Paul, who turns 39 years old this season, was sent to the Washington Wizards along with Landry Shamet in the deal. I don’t need to get into the conundrum that Shamet was with Phoenix, but when you receive Bradley Beal, it’s the right move. Add to the fact that the Suns acquired Jordan Goodwin, and on the surface, Phoenix won the trade.

But here we are in early December and Beal has played just three regular season games. Back tightness has turned into reevaluations, and the three-time All-Star has yet to make an appearance with Kevin Durant or Devin Booker.

Some critics may point to this early-season injury challenge and make silly statements like the Suns should’ve kept Chris Paul.

Ah, selective memory. What a beautiful mental state it must be. They must not remember how often Chris Paul was injured for the Phoenix Suns. And it would happen at the most important time of the season, the postseason.

With Bradley Beal out, Frank Vogel has had to adjust his rotations on a consistent basis. This season the Phoenix Suns have had eight different starting lineups through 21 games. We in the business call that, “instability”.

On the horizon, however, Bradley Beal could be back before Christmas. The Suns’ Big Three could finally make their debut.

This return is what we want, what we need. The challenges that Phoenix has had can all stem from the instability in their lineups. Oh, and their turnovers. Yikes, am I right?

His eventual return will have ramifications that will surely affect the Suns’ rotations dramatically. Beal, who has averaged 34.6 minutes played in his career, will certainly be slowly ramped up into full starter minutes. But once he is in, someone is out, and the rotations behind him will need work.

For the majority of the season, we’ve seen Eric Gordon and/or Grayson Allen get the starting nod. EG has started 15 games while Grayson Allen has started 19 times. This was not the original architectural vision of the roster before the beginning of the season but, due to injuries, it is what Phoenix had to do to survive. “Survive” equates to a 12-9 record without their Big Three playing in one game together, mind you.

Frank Vogel will need to make adjustments as he resets his rotations.

Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen both have plenty of experience being second-team unit players. Gordon has 190 games played coming off the bench and the 2017 Sixth Man of the Year award in his pocket, and Allen has 93. They will assume the role they were brought to Phoenix to fulfill: sharpshooter off the bench who can spell injuries when needed. They’ve done their part with the latter.

Whenever everyone is healthy, we know it is something that will never last. It’s like being fully staffed in the “real world”. There’s always one opening at your job, isn’t there? The moment that you say that you’re fully staffed is the moment somebody gives notice. The same goes for health in the NBA. When the injury report comes out, and no one is on it, it feels like you should pop some champagne. But the moment you go and grab the glasses, somebody sprains an ankle.

Knowing this to be the case, we will still (optimistically) operate from the stance that everyone is healthy. Which brings me to question number one.

Who will lose minutes?

The goal (eventually) will be to always have either Booker, Beal, or Durant on the court. He will feather them in and out of the lineup throughout the game, resting them appropriately until the final five minutes.

The backend of the rotation is where Vogel will have to save minutes.

Josh Okogie

Josh Okogie has had the accordion role this season, starting some games and coming off the bench for others. His numbers in those roles?

  • Starter: 9 GP, 24.2 MP, 7.7 PPG (40.9/22.2/80.6 splits), 4.1 RPG, 1.3 APG, +5.6 +/-
  • Reserve: 12 GP, 19.5 MP, 5.9 PPG (43.6/26.9/72.7 splits), 3.1 RPG, 0.8 APG, -0.8 +/-

JO has had his peaks and his valleys, but he is an ideal energy guy coming off the bench. He will most likely continue to receive minutes in both starting and reserve capacities, based on matchups.

Jordan Goodwin

There’s no way the Phoenix Suns are going to put him on the bench given his defensive acumen and consistency thus far this season, right?

Goodwin has played in all 21 games for the Suns, averaging 17 minutes played. He’s scored 6.3 points, dished 2.0 assists, and snagged 3.9 rebounds. What he brings is some semblance of a playmaker onto the floor. And he brings the defensive intensity this team needs.

Vogel will most likely continue to sprinkle him into the lineup, especially in minutes with Beal while Booker is on the bench. This will allow Beal to maintain his status as a two-guard and to score in that capacity. Gordon or Allen, in these lineups, will slot in as a small-ball small forward.

Nassir Little

Nassir Little has played himself into the rotation with his defensive hustle and ability to knock down a three-pointer when needed. He is averaging 15 minutes played in 15 games this season. He may see some time shaved off in order to move EG and GA into their correct roles, using Little in defensive-specific lineups.

Yuta Watanabe

This is where it gets interesting. Yuta, who has played in 15 games and averaged 17 minutes, is the metaphorical line of demarcation. Like Liam Neeson, he has a very specific set of skills. Due to this and his challenge of fitting into defensive lineups, Vogel may opt to cut his minutes and use him in certain situations in which he can flourish from beyond the arc.

My guess is that when Beal returns, we see far less of Yuta.

Everything that we’ve mentioned are a good problem to have. The fact that Beal is on the mend infuses talent, shot making, and offensive stability to the Suns’ lineup. The butterfly effect of what it does to the rest of the rotation is what we have been waiting for. Vogel will have to unlock the differing lineups and manage the substitution patterns to maximize their effectiveness, and this will be a challenge. It’s a great challenge to have.

In the meantime, we wait. We anxiously wait for Bradley Beal’s reinsertion into the lineup. We’re scared a little bit because we’re afraid to get hurt again. We’re afraid to get our hopes as high as they were during the preseason relative to the Big Three being on the court. The moment we get those hopes high, somebody gives notice. Somebody gives two weeks. It’s like clockwork. No team is ever whole, whether in the workplace or on the basketball court.

So we wait. And we wonder.

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