With returns of Booker and Reed, Suns’ scorching bench will have to adjust
PHOENIX — For a 12-23 team getting its star player back, the Phoenix Suns have quite the unforeseen predicament coming as the calendar year reaches its conclusion.
With Devin Booker likely returning from a strained adductor Tuesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies and second-round pick Davon Reed nearing a full recovery back from a torn meniscus, those two players need to be slotted somewhere.
In Booker’s case, the question isn’t where he’s put, but who he bumps down the pecking order.
That will be rookie Josh Jackson, but now he replaces someone in a second unit that has been absolutely on fire.
In 49 minutes over the course of five games, that bench fivesome of Isaiah Canaan, Troy Daniels, Danuel House Jr., Dragan Bender and Alex Len has some per 100 possessions data that is off the charts.
They have a scorching 127.0 offensive rating and terrific 96.2 defensive rating for a jaw-dropping 30.7 net rating, per NBA.com.
Take out House and put in starting small forward T.J. Warren, and in 28 minutes the net rating is still an outstanding 18.4.
The net ratings of Jackson’s time in the second unit, meanwhile, with Tyler Ulis — now the starter — and the recently released Mike James are -19.9 and -17.0, respectively.
Jackson has to play, though, and head coach Jay Triano believes he can really benefit from how the bench group is playing.
“It gives us a cutter and a slasher in that group, which is a good thing,” Triano said after shootaround Tuesday, noting House will be inactive due to a foot injury. “It naturally fits.”
The core of that group has been Daniels, who averaged 14.3 points and shot 44.3 percent from 3-point range in the nine games Booker missed.
Booker had very high praise for Daniels, saying as a team they often discuss where he would rank among the league’s best shooters. He said he’s for sure top-five.
“Some of the shots he takes are just, I think, shots that he can just make,” Booker said, making a great observation of Daniels shooting this well while teams are scouting, picking up and keying in on what he does as the bench thrives.
Veteran Jared Dudley didn’t even mention Daniels right away when asked about the second unit and that’s because it’s no surprise to see his shooting in extended play.
“If he’s starting, if he’s a backup – the more minutes he has as a shooter, the better you shoot,” he said.
“If he was playing third-string two-guard and he got spot minutes, he wouldn’t shoot the ball as well … but now he knows he’s gonna shoot seven threes a game, so he can miss a couple to get in his flow, where sometimes when you’re that third two-guard, you only get one or two shots, and if you miss 0-for-2 you might not play for two games.”
Don’t let Canaan’s contribution go unnoticed, though, as his experience as an NBA guard tops both James’ and Ulis’. That shows.
“He’s been around the league a long time so he’s seen a lot of situations and straight off the street he did an unbelievable job,” Booker said.
Being around for so long and seeing so many second units, when asked what makes a second unit click, Dudley said it’s always about the point guard first.
“We know he can score — I think his biggest thing has been defensively on the ball getting through pick-and-rolls and passing,” he said of Canaan. “He had nine assists last game. Assists are contagious.”
That puts the Reed in a rough spot to find rotation time when he is back into the fold at either shooting guard or small forward.
Booker is the star, Daniels has been arguably the team’s best player this month, Warren is the team’s secondary scoring option and Jackson is a first-round pick that needs playing time to grow.
Triano noted that Reed is using this time as training camp and the preseason, as well as gaining NBA experience. The Suns’ coach said the logical step is for Reed to first spend time in the G League with the NAZ Suns; that could happen any time this week.
“I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself,” Triano said of the long-term rotation pieces moving around. “One game at a time.”
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