Suns’ James Jones speaks on starting lineup changes, Booker’s role

Nov 21, 2018, 4:44 PM | Updated: 4:45 pm
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives past Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) in t...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives past Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)

(AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)

The Phoenix Suns abandoned the philosophy of starting a traditional point guard on Monday, moving Isaiah Canaan to the bench and rookie Mikal Bridges to start.

While it was in a 119-114 losing effort to the Philadelphia 76ers, the lineup worked. The Suns played some of their best basketball of the season, leading for the entire first half and competing with one of the best teams in the NBA.

The change, though, will not long last, as 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s John Gambadoro reports the Suns will go back to Canaan starting on Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls.

The Suns saw the switch-up as more matchup-based for a larger and longer 76ers team.

“Depending on the team we’re playing, it’s not a situation where you want Devin or Mikal chasing point guards for a majority of the game,” vice president of basketball operations and co-interim general manager James Jones said on Burns & Gambo Wednesday. “I think we’ll continue to experiment with it and expand and stretch our guys’ role so once we do turn that corner, once we do solidify what our core rotation is — we’re able to build some momentum.”

The move, in theory, makes sense. The Suns feel with no point guard on the court that Booker’s workload will be too high.

“It’s good in spurts,” Jones said, stressing that they have to look at the move long-term over the course of an 82 game season.

The flaw in the logic is Canaan isn’t doing much to suppress that workload. Canaan’s usage percentage on the team is 15.1. Only Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Richaun Holmes have a lower number and Canaan’s compared to starting point guards across the league is one of the bottom percentages overall.

Booker, meanwhile, has a 30.6 usage percentage, the sixth-highest number in the NBA.

On top of that, the Suns’ starting lineup has been terrible statistically this year while the numbers drastically jump when Booker doesn’t play with another guard.

The lineup also gives Bridges more opportunities, who has been one of the Suns’ best players.

Per 100 possessions, the Suns are outscoring teams by 4.5 points when Bridges is on the floor. That’s the only positive net rating in the team’s rotation and Devin Booker’s -5.9 net rating is the next-closest number.

“I think [Bridges has] shown steady improvement every night, outside of foul trouble against Philly, we thought he was building on some momentum but that’s an ongoing conversation for us is how can we find more minutes for Mikal,” Jones said.

“His approach has afforded him the ability as a rookie only 15, 16 games into the season to have an expanded role but we also understand that this is a situation where we have to build him up to be able to do it consistently night in and night out.”

What the decision comes back to is protecting Booker as much as possible and putting him in the best position to succeed despite the team’s mild success with untraditional lineups.

“Ultimately for us to be really good we have to allow Devin to be who he is, which is a high-volume scorer, a very efficient scorer and a guy that shifts the focus away from the primary action,” Jones said. “So we’ll try to strike a balance.”

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