We are less than a month away from the commencement of the preseason for the Phoenix Suns and, with training camp scheduled to begin on October 3, questions still exist as to how the roster will actually look. We know they’ll be in new uniforms on a new court, and we know that the core four of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, and Deandre Ayton will be in the opening day lineup.
A question we have all been pondering this offseason is who will fill that fifth starter position for the team?
Phoenix has plenty of options as James Jones went wild in free agency. He brought in nine new players and drafted another as he flipped the roster and added a new head coach to the mix. The Suns are hunting a championship and, with new owner Mat Ishbia piloting the ship, the franchise has taken numerous risks in an effort to achieve the Larry.
The Bright Side writing team discussed who they believe will fill that fifth starter role, and in a poll provided to the community, 67% think Keita Bates-Diop would be the best option.
In an interview with the Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin, Suns’ head coach Frank Vogel provided some insight as to who will fill the role. “We’ll have a lot of guys that have an opportunity to be that fifth guy,” Vogel said. “The versatility of maybe being able to guard multiple positions or maybe it’s an elite shooter.”
Guarding multiple positions? Sounds like Keita Bates-Diop. Per B-Ball Index, the 6’8” wing rates out as a B with his on-ball perimeter defense and 80% of his time is spent guarding an opposing shot creator. Perhaps it is Josh Okogie, who we witnessed play well with the Booker/Durant starting five for 8 games last season before Monty Williams used his heart instead of his head in the postseason.
But wait. An elite shooter? Yuta Watanabe? He shot 45.7% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, something the fifth starter would most likely be called upon to do. And if he spots up in the corner like Josh Okogie did last season, that is where Yuta the Shoota shot 51.4% from. Can’t you just imagine defenses collapsing around Devin Booker as he drives left, only to have him kick it out to a Watanabe on an island in the corner?
Vogel went on the add, “Maybe it’s just another playmaker.” Oh. So you’re thinking Eric Gordon, aren’t you Frankie? Him and his 98%tile in passing versatility.
“I think we have a lot of guys with a lot of different skill sets and we’ll put a lot of different combinations throughout the year, but I think all of those skill sets would fit the four guys you mentioned. We’ll see how it plays out.”
That’s where the Suns will land. With all of the options above, despite the team supposably lacking depth, the will have the ability to test and experiment. Like seventh grade science class, hypothesis's will be made and tested throughout the season.
“When you’re a brand new team like this, the opening day starting lineup doesn’t have to be that lineup all 82 games. There’s an element of trial and error. Giving certain guys opportunities with certain groups and not because one is succeeding or failing, but just because throughout an 82-game season, you want to explore what possibilities you have on your roster so you’re best equipped come playoff time. I do think there will be several guys that get those opportunities.”
This is the challenge that lies before Frank Vogel. Trying to find the right combination is one thing, and using restraint will be another. If rhythm is found, he will have to navigate how to empower that rhythm and let it ride at the first sign of deterioration, a challenge his predecessor didn't execute well. Trust will be key and communication with the team as to why he is making the decisions he is making. Whether it is matchup based or rewarding those who are playing well, a balancing act lies ahead for the Suns coaching staff.