The 5: Burning questions for Phoenix Suns’ rotation ahead of season
The preseason usually gives fans the opportunity to watch their favorite stars back in action for a half before players who will never suit up for that team again check in.
But, through two games, the Phoenix Suns have generally stuck to playing the guys who will be competing for spots in their rotation once the season starts.
The bench has gotten plenty of minutes of course, so let’s look at a few questions surrounding the Suns’ depth as the season quickly approaches.
How equipped is the Suns’ point guard depth going forward?
Through two preseason games, the Suns have given ample time to most of their point guards.
Offseason signee Ricky Rubio has played 40 minutes and youngsters Ty Jerome, Jevon Carter and Elie Okobo have all gotten their time to get going.
Rubio, who signed a three-year contract this past summer, has been one of the most consistent players in the NBA with dynamic passing and playmaking, subpar shooting and strong defense. Barring injury, he will likely do the same during his time in Phoenix.
Behind him on the depth chart is where the questions start.
Jerome is an intriguing rotation piece due to his stellar shooting in college. He knocked down six of his first seven shots as a Sun, though all six of them were inside the arc.
Carter has been perhaps the Suns’ best bench player through two games. His activity on defense makes him a pest to match up with, and offensively he has shown some impressive bursts for Phoenix.
Last year, he struggled mightily offensively as a rookie in Memphis, but if he can take strides this season, then he could develop into a decent two-way role player.
Okobo largely disappointed for Phoenix last year as his inability to shoot from deep hindered his scoring output.
He shot really well from three in France before entering the league. After one year, the book isn’t shut for him but he’ll need to show strides this season or else he could get buried on the depth chart (he was already getting less action than Carter and Jerome during the first two games).
Behind Rubio, this is a group with great upside. If Jerome shoots effectively from three and Carter continues his defensive prowess then there could be good depth at point guard for a while.
Who is the go-to bench scorer when Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton step off the floor?
The Los Angeles Clippers made the postseason without an All-Star last year but with a dynamic sixth man. LA fought back and forth with its opponents until roughly halfway through the opening period, when it got a second wind from Lou Williams who came in and scored in bunches with the second unit.
The Suns have not had anything like that in some time, but they could this year depending on what the starting lineup looks like.
If Mikal Bridges starts at the three, then Kelly Oubre Jr. potentially becomes that explosive first guy off the bench.
Oubre is an athletic scorer who gets to the rim frequently. He is not the outside threat that Williams is, but he has greater size and defensive ability.
He got paid this offseason and did start down the stretch though.
If Oubre starts with Booker and Ayton, then this question gets tricky since there aren’t many Suns who can create their own shot.
The ball movement would have to be great and perhaps a young shooter like Bridges, Cameron Johnson or Jerome could separate himself as the go-to option.
Another option is head coach Monty Williams could leave Oubre in with the second unit to get it off to a good start, or rest him earlier and put him back while the opposing bench is in the game to have that dynamic playmaker on the floor.
Where do the rookies fit into this?
The Suns had a clear objective at this past year’s NBA Draft: add shooting. Johnson and Jerome were excellent spot-up shooters in college and have both performed in big tournament games.
Because of this, both could be with the second unit where they will be vital to the scoring production when Booker and Ayton rest.
Johnson works very well off screens, which he should get plenty of good ones with Aron Baynes on the court.
Jerome can handle the ball, which could be vital for the Suns in three-point heavy lineups.
Jalen Lecque is the third rookie on the team, but it appears that he is more likely to get good experience in the G League before making an impact in Phoenix.
He has good athleticism, as fans saw during layup lines before Suns’ first preseason game, but could use some pro experience as he forwent college ball and plays a crowded point guard position. He has barely played in the preseason so far, which does not bode well for his early minutes potential this year.
Is the shooting improved?
Phoenix nailed the third-fewest threes in the NBA last year and had the league’s worst shooting percentage from deep. In the NBA, that correlated pretty closely with offensive output last year as of the six teams that made the fewest threes per game, only the San Antonio Spurs had an offense that scored more than the league average per contest (111.2).
Suns general manager James Jones added stretch fours Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky along with drafting the college sharpshooters.
There are two factors that will tell whether Phoenix can take a step up from three.
One is how well Jerome and Johnson’s shot translates to the NBA.
Another is can the Suns generate open shots? They had the fourth-fewest wide-open three-point attempts in the NBA last year.
Rubio and Baynes will help with this but it is a huge key. The shooters are there, but if they can’t get shots off without there being a defender in their face then that doesn’t matter much.
Who will be the odd man out in the rotation?
The Suns have some intriguing position battles this year.
There are three young backup point guards who will compete for time.
Behind Saric at the four, Cheick Diallo and Kaminsky represent two very different styles of play who will clash for minutes.
If someone gets left out, then it will likely be one of the point guards. Carter adds a defensive element and Jerome could work as a ball-handler and catch-and-shooter at the two as well, so perhaps Okobo is the odd man out of the group if that three-pointer fails to develop.
Williams’ dispersion of minutes early in the season could be a telling sign of what he believes the best rotation going forward will be.