There are numerous contributing factors as to why the Phoenix Suns are struggling and down 0-2 to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals. You can point to Kevin Durant not being Kevin Durant. You can reference their collective three-point shooting (24.1%). You can note that they opened the fourth quarter of Game 2 with a three point lead, and then proceeded to go 0-of-9 from the field. You can observe that Chris Paul pulled his groin, and from that moment on in the game, the Suns were outscored by 18 points.
All are valid. What concerns me – and has throughout the duration of this postseason run – is the productivity, or lack thereof, of the Phoenix bench.
2-of-16 from the field.
71 minutes played.
The Suns’ bench was putrid in their Game 2 loss against the Nuggets. Sure, it was a wonky game. Phoenix as a team shot 40% from the field and 19.4% from three — their third worst performance of the season from beyond the arc. Despite shooting the ball 95 times to Denver’s 76, Phoenix lost.
Earlier this week I wrote about the Suns and Monty Williams coming to the realization that Landry Shamet ain’t it. Monty‘s lack of an ability to make that simple adjustment shook my faith in his abilities as a coach. After Monday night, I am not sure if Monty is the problem.
If we turn back the clock two seasons ago, it’s apparent that the Suns bench provided the boost necessary to get the team to the 2021 NBA Finals. Over the past two postseason runs, however, the bench has become progressively worse.
Suns’ bench the past 3 postseasons:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) May 2, 2023
2021: 24.8 PPG, 44 FG%, 40 3PT%
2022: 29.3 PPG, 47 FG%, 34 3PT%
2023: 14.3 PPG, 33 FG%, 22 3PT%
Gone is the electric play of Cameron Payne, the defensive impact from Torrey, Craig, and the organic chemistry that this team once knew. When you compare the Suns’ reserve production throughout this entire postseason to the other 8 teams remaining, here is how they rank:
- 14.3 PPG - last
- 33 FG% - last
- 22.2 3PT% - last
- 10.1 RPG - 6th
- 3.9 APG - last
- 42.5 OFFRTG - 7th
- 45.2 DEFRTG - 6th
I’ll accept responsibility for asking for Landry’s head. In the postseason, he has been dreadful. But so have his peers.
What we witnessed in Game 2 was Monty trying to make an adjustment. He was throwing a plethora of different lineups on the floor in an effort to try to salvage minutes in which Kevin Durant and Devin Booker were on the bench.
Once again, none of it worked.
Ish Wainwright for two minutes? -6. Cameron Payne? 3 fouls in the first half. Damion Lee for 26 minutes, ultimately replacing the Shamet time? 0-of-5 from the field, 0 points.
Whatever faucet Monty is trying to turn, it’s coming up dry. I feel like I can’t even blame Monty at this point. His team is leading him down.
The Suns bench combine for over 70 minutes played. They were 2-of-16 for 4 points. I can't blame Monty. The bench is ass.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) May 2, 2023
Oddly absent from the rotations, however, are T.J. Warren and Terrence Ross, the gents we at the Suns JAM Session Podcast affectionately refer to as ‘The Outlet Boyz’;. Two veteran scorers who have yet to play a meaningful minute in the series. Yes, Ross played 5 minutes in Game 1, but it was garbage time.
Remember in March when Kevin Durant was injured, following rolling his ankle prior to the start of his home debut against the Oklahoma City Thunder? It was T.J. Warren and Terrence Ross who, for three games, picked up the scoring slack. Their ability to come in and provide instant offense while the Suns primary scorers caught their breath was a reason for hope.
National pundits, following the Durant acquisition, we’re knocking the depth of Phoenix. But The Outlet Boyz challenged that narrative. In three games from March 24 to March 27, T.J. Warren and Terrance Ross averaged a combined total of 32.6 points off the bench.
Yet Monty has yet to play that card and call their name in this series and throughout these playoffs. Combined, T.J. Warren and Terrence Ross have played 15 minutes through 7 games. I mean, one of the guy has the nickname, “Buckets”.
I’m no doctor, but the Chris Paul injury did not look good. I’m guessing out of pure speculation, factoring his age and that type of injury it is, that we’re not going to see him for the remainder of the series, and potentially the remainder of the playoffs. I’m not pessimistic, I’m a realist.
If CP3 is a no-go, Monty will be forced to change up the rotations. My assumption is Cameron Payne will receive the start, although I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right move. Point Book with Josh Okogie, Torrey Craig, Kevin Durant, and Deandre Ayton is the answer in my opinion. But that’s a topic for another day.
More minutes will be vacated from the second team unit with Payne’s addition to the starting lineup. Will we see Landry Shamet once again? Or will Monty Williams finally lean on his two veteran scorers? Points came at a premium in Game 2 and you can’t tell me Terrence Ross could’ve done worse than Damion Lee. Or Cameron Payne. Or Torrey Craig.
The bench needs help. They need to step up and, for once this postseason, make Monty look smart. He needs to have the ability to turn on the faucet and have the water come flowing, and along with it some points.