Since the trade for Kevin Durant, the back end of the Phoenix Suns rotation has been in major flux and is in desperate need of some consistency on both ends of the floor.
Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul are set in stone as the top four players, but who comes next? An ideal playoff rotation includes 8-9 players who can stay on the floor for several minutes at a time and positively impact the game on both ends.
Unfortunately, beyond the top four the Suns don’t have many of those players.
Today I’m going to focus on the wings. You already know that Cam Payne will be the backup playmaker and one/both of Jock Landale and Bismack Biyombo will get some backup big man minutes.
It’s the wings who need to get figured out.
Josh Okogie, Torrey Craig and Ish Wainright are wings who can be impactful on defense when they’re not fouling but are only helpful on offense when their catch-and-shoots go through the net. The problem is that you don’t know how effective they’re going to be before they make a play.
Okogie has been the most impactful since the trades, averaging 14.1 points on 43/38/78 splits with 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 31 minutes per game with +4.6 plus/minus. But he’s still very inconsistent, including 0-8 on threes in the Dallas game and sitting out much of the second half of the Thunder game due to foul trouble.
Still, Okogie has been a revelation and the best of the non-big-four options. He puts every ounce of his energy into the old Mikal Bridges role: defend the opponents’ best offensive guard/wing, fight through screens, and still have energy on the offensive end to do something positive.
Beyond those guys, the Suns need someone who reasonably defend guards/wings in a switch-heavy defense without fouling, make open shots, make shots on the run, handle the ball in the half court, bring it up against pressure in the back court and do their job without making massive mistakes every two minutes.
Torrey Craig, Terrence Ross, Damion Lee, T.J. Warren and Ish Wainright can do one or two of those things but not most.
Enter Landry Shamet.
Trust me, I never thought I’d write those words either.
But after Terrence Ross struggle mightily on the defensive end, Lee and Warren play like they forgot how to play basketball and Ish fail to hit shots 3 out of every 4 games, I find myself hoping that Landry Shamet plays the way coach Monty Williams always thought he could play.
“He spaced the floor well,” Williams told azcentral.com Duane Rankin of Shamet after the game. “Defensively, he’s a guy that we trust to play on the ball and get over screens. It was good to have him back in the lineup.”
Shamet (foot sprain) returned from a two-month absence on Sunday and looked incredibly steady compared to those around him. It helps that he made 3 of 4 threes (so you know I’ll want to bench him once he misses four straight!), but overall I was reminded how steady and predictable he is. He plays solid defense, fights through picks, makes the right rotations on switches, keeps the ball moving on offense and, well, is the opposite of Cameron Payne.
He won’t wow you with this production, but he won’t single-handedly lose you a lead either. He’ll give you 9-10 points, 1-2 assists, 1-2 rebounds, make 38% of his threes and provide solid, predictable defense every night.
And every once in a while, he’ll give you big numbers. This year, he’s posted 2 of his 3 three career 30-point games, including one against Denver on Christmas night when Booker had to leave after four minutes, and scored 10+ points in 12 of his last 20 games.
No he’s not nearly as good as Mikal Bridges or Cameron Johnson, against whom he paled by comparison. But against the Craig/Ross/Lee/Warren/Ish quintet? He’s a veritable gift.
Let’s hope he earns that mid-level salary the Suns handed him two years ago. The Suns desperately need him.