Suns’ depth, versatility on wing provides fascinating rotation dynamic
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Take a walk across the Phoenix Suns’ roster and you are going to have a tough time keeping your balance.
There’s little to no experience at point guard. The center rotation goes from a rookie to a 17-year veteran.
The most variance lies at small forward, where there are four quality players who should all earn legitimate playing time while providing different and unique skills.
Trevor Ariza has been one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA this past decade and shoots a high volume of threes (6.5 a game in four years with Houston) that he makes at a good rate (35.2 percent in those four seasons).
Josh Jackson is coming off a strong second half of his rookie season. He’s the best slasher on the team, the most athletic wing of the four and is the team’s most aggressive defender.
Rookie Mikal Bridges is the best shooter on the Suns outside of Devin Booker, and if he meets his pre-draft expectations, he will make at least one All-Defense team at some point in his career.
Fifth-year player T.J. Warren is an efficient scorer, and while limited in areas such as shooting and defense, has his own strong quirks like his nose for the ball that racks up buckets on cuts and offensive rebounds.
There’s a challenge there for first-year head coach Igor Kokoskov to find all four names good minutes, but it sounds like the Suns are embracing what they will need to do with their rotations to get everyone involved.
“One of the things we’ve talked about is being creative with our wings,” general manager Ryan McDonough said at the team’s media day on Monday.
“Even if we might not have a traditional, established point guard, [Kokoskov] and his staff have been thinking of creative ways to get the ball moving side-to-side and get it in the hands of our playmakers.”
That’s reliant on Kokoskov’s system, one predicated on ball and player movement. It’s also leaning on the current trends in the NBA.
“Our wings have positional versatility,” McDonough said. “Most of them can play two positions.”
This is something that will become the signature trait of the team based on what Kokoskov has said about his coaching philosophies.
“My job as a coach is to adapt and adjust to the personnel I have,” Kokoskov said Monday.
Automatically, the first thought is the offensive dynamic, one his players seem to be a fan of.
“Just constant movement,” Warren said Monday of the system. “The ball is finding the right guy down the floor every time and the [ball’s] not really sticking.”
The other side of the court, however, is what has Ariza the most excited about the potential lineup combinations.
“Especially on the defensive end with the length that we have,” Ariza said Thursday of the group playing together. “Definitely could be an issue for teams on the defensive end.”
Whether it’s Jackson or Bridges playing shooting guard or Ariza and Warren playing power forward, the beauty of going small, in particular, is something Kokoskov is aware of.
“We’re gonna try to incorporate — if we go small-ball with T.J. as a four, we have four ball-handlers [and] not many teams have the luxury [to] do that,” he said Monday.
The excitement here is a free-flowing system, one in which Kokoskov’s offensive values maintain the ball movement while the pace stays high because of how easily one wing can slip into another’s place.
This is something Jackson highlighted Wednesday.
“We got so many guys that are really versatile, can play multiple positions, guard different guys,” he said. “It’s gonna give us a lot of freedom on offense and defense to switch screens and, like I said, guys are able to play different positions so coming down the court we don’t have to necessarily be in a specific spot.”
Ariza notes everything is there for the three other wings he plays with — it’s just a matter of them putting it together.
“They have their own unique skill set that definitely translates to the NBA and can be used,” he said Thursday. “It’s just about learning.”
To take it back to Ariza, that’s a specific focus where there’s an added benefit of his veteran presence being in that group.
“Even last year when we would play the Rockets, he would give me a lot of advice during the game so when I heard about us picking him up I was extremely happy and he’s been nothing but a leader since the moment he got here,” Jackson said Wednesday.
The head coach is seeing the same thing as far as Ariza taking on the mentorship role.
“That’s his job description,” Kokoskov said Thursday. “You can feel his voice, his presence — that’s his personality. That’s what he brings here and so far he’s doing (a) great job.”
Bridges is clearly a player the Suns valued after trading up for him in the 2018 NBA Draft, and he noted that Ariza isn’t the only guy to help him get acclimated.
“Crazy to say, Josh has only been here for one year, but he’s already helping me with stuff so it’s cool to listen to him,” Bridges said Wednesday. “And I listen to Trevor and then Trevor also teaches down to Josh also so I’ve got two right there who I listen to and it’s helping me out big-time.”
All of this adds up to what could not only be an exciting brand of basketball to watch, but one few teams across the league can match in terms of versatility, and that could mean a brand of winning basketball as well.
With anything, though, it’s going to come down to how all the pieces mesh together.
“Team chemistry is gonna be a big part of it and figuring out roles is also gonna be a big part,” Jackson said Wednesday.
And especially with a young team, it’s going to take time.
“Seeing how each other play, and playing off each other — that’s the biggest thing,” Bridges said Wednesday. “And that’s just gonna be a lot of reps.”