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Inside the Suns - Topics: The “Death Lineup”, defense, the bench

Your weekly Inside the Suns analysis straight from the BSotS community who live and breathe the team.

Chicago Bulls v Phoenix Suns Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Welcome to ‘Inside the Suns’, your weekly deep down analysis of the current Phoenix Suns team.

Each week the Fantable - a round table of Bright Siders - give their takes on the Suns’ latest issues and news.

Fantable Questions of the Week

Author’s Note: All questions were submitted to the Fantable members before the Suns/Bulls game Tuesday Night.

Q1 - What’s you opinion of the Suns’ small-ball “Death Lineup” of Book, Beal, GA, EG and KD at the 5?

GuarGuar: I think it’s unique and definitely is a unit we can use against certain teams when we need to change up the game. KD can certainly match up defensively against certain 5s. And there’s no center in the league that can guard him so it forces help and opens up space for everyone else.

OldAz: The results in a small sample size are impressive. The effectiveness of this lineup really hinges on Gordon’s ability to hit the open 3 along with how active and aggressive they are on defense. They are really small, so they have to play the passing lanes and extend the pressure. This was what helped them “turn the corner” against Sacramento. Since that game I have become more convinced that the Suns success is more about playing good defense triggering faster offense regardless of what 5 are on the floor. This “death lineup” will be more a function of specific matchups and game situations. Hopefully Vogel uses aggressively it to force the opponent to adjust and not as a reaction to moves made by the opposing coach

Brrrberry: I’m not sure if hate is the correct word but I’m not a fan of that lineup whatsoever. The lack of defense and rebounding is just too stark for it to be a consistent winning formula at the end of games. If you replaced EG with two Grayson Allen’s I may feel a tad different about it having two true elite shooters alongside the 3 playmakers but the fact still remains re: lack of defense and rebounding.

I’m gauging just about everything with this roster in terms of how they’ll match up with the other teams I consider legitimate contenders (Denver, Boston, Clips, OKC, Bucks, and potentially you could throw Sixers and Minnesota in that mix). Most of those teams will brutalize the death lineup either with their elite bigs in the paint or relentlessly attacking the basket and getting easy looks. So I suppose the lineup name is apt, it’s basically death to our season if that’s the 5 we’re counting on closing out playoff games. In my humble opinion.

Rod: To have such a small lineup out there is worrisome when looking at it from a defensive viewpoint but offensively it has the potential to “shock and awe” opponents when it’s firing on all cylinders. If that’s happening, it has the potential to force other teams to try and adjust their lineups to defend against it which gives the Suns an edge.

I don’t think it will work against everyone but any time you can force other team into trying to adjust to your style of play, you’re in the driver’s seat... unless they can actually find an adjustment to nullify it. I just hope the Suns don’t fall in love with it and try to overuse it.

Q2 - Stats indicate the Suns’ defense (16th for the entire season) is improving (it was 9th over the last 5 games and 12th over the last 10). Do you think this is an anomaly or something sustainable?

GuarGuar: I think this is sustainable. A big part of defensive success is simply buying in and putting forth an extra effort. And that has been there throughout this win streak. Noticeably Kevin Durant has really stepped it up recently on D. He’s been our best defender for sure out of the starters. He disrupts so much with his length. I believe we can get close to top 10 on defense…which is all we really need to be given our potent O.

OldAz: This is the bigger deal to me, and something we have been saying for a while would take time. I don’t know how many games it was with the big 3 playing together, but there was a clear “moment” when the gears aligned and the seals tightened leading to tight aggressive defense that was triggering fast and efficient offense. They have not lost since that moment in the middle of the 4th against Sacramento, but more importantly we have seen more sustained stretches where this defense has appeared and simply overwhelmed the opponent. Last night’s game against Dallas was a great example where, after a bad 1st quarter (where Dallas showed all the defensive intensity), the Suns turned it up in the early to mid 2nd quarter and then sustained it for almost 2 full quarters until the game was put away in the 4th. I think the defensive success is totally sustainable and can even get better (top 9 is pretty darn good) as they extend these stretches regardless of the score and the opponent.

Brrrberry: I think it’s both an anomaly and sustainable at the same time in a lot of ways. Vogel does have the track record on that end so minimally he’s one of the best 10 defensive head coaches in the league. Meaning we’re not going to get completely out schemed on that end. As the players get more comfortable with what he wants them to do that’s going to lead to more sustainable success.

Then you’ve got the effort factor, which is the part that could be a bit of an anomaly while at the same time something the guys have control over each game. Over the course of an 82 game season, the effort is going to wane from time to time which is why it’s so important that the bench guys come in with their hair on fire and give their teammates (and the crowd) a boost of adrenaline. Exactly like Eubanks did last night. Eubanks and Okogie are guys that can give that consistently, but who else? KBD needs to bring something similar but it doesn’t really seem part of his nature, same with Metu. They’ve gotta figure out a way to provide it all the same though.

Rod: I think of it as a good trend. Whether it’s sustainable or not is still up in the air but it’s certainly possible. The Suns have shown that they can play good defense but it doesn’t come without effort. They can’t slack off on the defensive end ever because they’re just not good enough to defend well without working hard at it. That’s going to be the key as to whether it’s sustainable or not, how much work and effort they’re willing put into their defense.

Q3 - What’s your current opinion of the play of the Suns’ bench?

GuarGuar: The bench is in a big drought despite the team having good success lately. KBD looks like a G-league player half the time, Yuta can’t get any run after shooting 31% from 3 to start the year. Little hasn’t cracked the rotation since January. Eubanks I can’t believe we tampered to get he’s been that ineffective. Okogie is such a monstrous liability on offense I don’t think he can be in the rotation come playoff time. Eric Gordon has lost his 3 point stroke the past 10 games. Metu has really been the only guy that’s been pretty consistent off the bench…and even then his production hasn’t been something that wows me.

I think a trade would be very helpful to bolster the bench. Either a rim protecting backup big or a backup point guard to run the Beal/KD lineup when Booker sits. I also could see us getting a true 3/D wing player. Little/KBD/Yuta simply can’t get it done so I can see us going after someone else. Hopefully the bench unit picks it up soon.

OldAz: My opinion has not changed. Give it time. There was a lot of freaking out when the bench got outscored 55 to 9 against Indiana, but this missed the big picture. In that game, the bench only took 9 shots and 6 were by a cold Gordon. The new found defensive intensity was leading to more early offense where the Big 3 was getting a great shot most every time down. Why would we want the bench to be shooting more when the starters were 45/74 (60.8%)? Yes, there are still possessions when it becomes a half court game and the ball sticks too much, but this too will come in time. The Big 3 will figure out when to balance pressing an isolation advantage vs. creating ball movement.

The Dallas game was a good example as Book was scorching hot so they wanted to feed him, but the bench still found 17 shots (not including garbage time) and scored 19 or so points (again before garbage time). To me the more important aspect is maintaining the defensive intensity and then making the right plays on offense. KBD looked more confident than he has all season, more of that will help. Bol has looked good and I expect that to continue when he returns. Okogie did hit some shots against Dallas, but he also saved or created a number of extra possessions with his hustle. Finally, the trio of Drew, Azubuike & Metu basically give Vogel the flexibility to use a different backup center that matches up the best. The bench will be fine as they get more time in their proper roles with the Big 3 all playing.

I would still be open to any trade that utilizes Little + any player(s) beyond the top 6 (probably have to include Okogie and Lee since they have trade protection) and returns a player who can clearly crack that top 7 rotation. Jones should not be limited by the position of that player as the bench is pretty well balanced overall and rotations will tighten as the playoffs approach.

Brrrberry: Obviously they’ve been playing poor but I’m not inclined to make much of it, yet. There’s been way too much lineup flux, both in the guys they’re playing with and just overall minutes played. The starters are set and they’re literally just here in the last couple games seemingly getting into rhythm. The bench continuity, and comfortability in roles is bound to come after that. Starters need to stay healthy and building, then the bench guys will follow suit.

We’ve got more talent up and down the roster than it seems currently. At the same time, I’m interested to see what comes of the buyout market as there could definitely be a role someone from the outside could come in and fill so really hoping for the best on that front. With all the injuries that have happened I’m elated that we’re currently sitting in the 5th seed in the WC. I’m expecting they’ll do well on this road trip and looking forward to some tough WC games when they return 50 games deep into the season and 32 remaining. Apparently we have the toughest remaining schedule in the league and I think it’ll serve us well come playoff time.

Rod: A lot of people look at the point production first but that’s not really a big worry to me. It’s hard for the bench players to put up a lot of points when they actually don’t take a lot of shots. For example, in the Indiana game the bench scored only 9 points but the total FGAs for the bench was just 8 (and 6 of those were by Gordon who was 1 of 6). Then against the Bulls they scored 21 points on a total of 12 FGAs (66.7%).

With the way Vogel does his player rotations, the Suns don’t really have what I’d call a second “unit” because the only time we don’t see at least two of the starters on the court is during those rare garbage time moments. When bench players are out there with those starters, almost everyone except EG seems to be looking for one of them to pass the ball to rather than trying to take a shot themselves. That’s not exactly a bad thing but it’s also not good for them to think pass first even when they’ve got a good look at the basket. That second or two of hesitation can quickly turn an open look at the basket into a contested shot. I suspect this and the fact that Vogel’s lack of a stable bench rotation scheme has led to few of them not getting comfortable in a role which makes them often not play as well as they are capable of.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable members for all their extra effort this week!

Last Week’s poll results

Last week’s question was, “Should the Suns play at a faster pace?

95% - Yes.

05% - No.

A total of 280 votes were cast.

Suns Trivia

Kevin Durant’s game-winning field goal with 1.6 seconds left in Tuesday’s game against Chicago was his eighth career game-winning field goal in the final five seconds of a regular season game but only his first since Feb. 3, 2016 with Oklahoma City against Orlando.

This week’s poll is...


Would you be for or against a trade with Charlotte that brought Miles Bridges to the Suns?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    (151 votes)
  • 55%
    (189 votes)
340 votes total Vote Now

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