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Suns notebook: Oubre moving forward, wing rotation still mixing

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — After the Phoenix Suns’ 123-115 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night, Kelly Oubre Jr. was seen coming back into the locker room after some of his teammates had already left the building.

He was one of the notable names from that game, and not in a good way, as he scored only one point and had one of his worst performances as a Sun.

Oubre was uncharacteristically missing shots badly and just seemed in a rut all game, a departure from his great form to start the year.

It turns out Oubre was returning from the practice court, where he immediately tried to move forward past a rough night.

“After a day like yesterday, you can’t wake up the next day and have the same energy,” he said after practice on Wednesday. “It’s going to deplete you.”

Oubre said he watched film too and referred both to what he could have done better and “didn’t do at all.”

The 23-year-old said it’s “all mental” for his approach after a game like that and trying to reset.

“You have to,” Williams said of Oubre. “It’s just too long of a season.”

“If you dwell on it too much it just ruins everything. You ruin your sleep, you ruin your life. You have to have the mental stamina to learn from a loss or a win and apply it to the next one but you got to move on.”

WING ROTATION STILL MIXING TOGETHER

While the Suns had a lot of players step up and perform, Oubre is a critical piece for Phoenix and they’re going to have a tough time winning if he plays like that again, especially with Deandre Ayton suspended.

With that in mind, they have options, and Williams showed that against the Lakers by playing rookie Cam Johnson 27 minutes and using him in crunch time.

There’s an interesting and quite delicate balance there for Williams to find time for Oubre, Johnson and Mikal Bridges. That’s part of why Jevon Carter is out of the rotation and it’s down to nine bodies so there’s more to go around.

Williams has never shied away from keeping his best performers in longer when they have it going, and it even went further with Johnson, a potential indicator for how he might approach Ayton or Aron Baynes playing as well.

He’s been playing the wings together too, a nod to both the versatility of that group and the different skills they offer.

Oubre is far and away the best scorer of the three and offers the most energy while also being the most experienced and balanced. Bridges is the best defender and has a knack for making huge plays while Johnson is in that boat as well for basketball IQ but is, most importantly, easily the best shooter of the three.

It’s a mix-and-match game for Williams with them for the time being.

He’s used about 140 minutes this season with at least two of them on the floor, roughly 29% of the games this season through 10. With the nature of the current roster using Baynes, Frank Kaminsky and Saric as the lone bigs, that’s been mostly small-ball despite all three having some merit to shooting guard minutes depending on the matchup.

When asked what he thinks of those multi-wing lineups, Williams landed somewhere in the middle.

“It’s OK. I wouldn’t say it’s been great,” he said. “It’s harder to call plays because those guys are used to playing the wing spot and that’s the one different position to me in the league is from the three to the four — it’s a totally different position.”

Williams, as he often does, put some of it on himself and said he has to do a better job of calling the right types of plays when those guys are out there.

Defensively, he said the X-factor is if Baynes is in there to give them stability because the switching will get funky and leave guys open for threes.

Baynes doesn’t let that happen too much with the way he communicates.

“Aron usually calls that stuff out. He’s like a middle linebacker in that regard,” Williams said.

The coach also noted Ayton’s presence as a rim protector being something that will help in those looks when the big fella returns.

In a limited sample, the minutes haven’t been great from those wing combinations as a duo.

Bridges and Johnson, who now often make up part of the second unit together, are minus-35 in 95 minutes. To be fair, a lot of that has to do with the time they play away from Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio.

Johnson on the year has a -11.5 net rating, the lowest in the rotation, albeit a number that’s a bit broken because of how little he’s played this year. Bridges is the second-worst at -2.3. Oubre, meanwhile, is thriving with the starters at plus-11.8.

Bridges, in particular, has really struggled offensively to start the year. He’s shooting 42.9% from the field, which is OK, but 20% from three-point range is not.

Williams wants Bridges, as a player who won’t get many shot attempts anyway in his role, to look for the easy bucket like the wing has been throughout his young NBA career.

“I’ve talked to him about running the floor and trying to get an easy layup,” Williams said.

Ultimately, because of how different the three wings are, it should be a luxury for the Suns and play into what makes them a good team.

With various factors such as a tough start to the year for Bridges, Johnson being a rookie that’s just breaking into the rotation and an off-night for Oubre, that element of the team just hasn’t quite clicked into place yet.

From the standpoint of evaluating the features of the roster as a whole, it’s the one that has yet to be fully fleshed out despite all the success early on.

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