EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns already tapping deep into bench depth

Feb 2, 2021, 6:53 PM | Updated: Feb 3, 2021, 10:34 am

Dallas Mavericks forward Tim Hardaway Jr., left, defends against Phoenix Suns guard E'Twaun Moore (...

Dallas Mavericks forward Tim Hardaway Jr., left, defends against Phoenix Suns guard E'Twaun Moore (55) in the first half during an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, in Dallas. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)

(AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)

The Phoenix Suns were celebrated in the offseason by swinging the Chris Paul trade and attracting a hard-nosed Jae Crowder in free agency.

Before they play their 20th game of the season, it’s become clear that what general manager James Jones did from that point forward by filling out the roster matters, too, especially as the NBA pushes on during the pandemic.

It showed Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks.

As the Mavs began gaining steam and opened an 11-point lead with five minutes left to play in the third quarter, Suns coach Monty Williams subbed out his three best players: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Paul.

In came Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore and Frank Kaminsky. Over the final five minutes of the quarter, Phoenix pulled within five points, setting up a fourth quarter that ended with Booker hitting a game-winning shot and Luka Doncic missing his last-second heave to complete a Suns win.

With Phoenix already down big man Dario Saric (health and safety protocols) and backup point guard Cam Payne (foot), it was an extreme example of just how impactful the usually overlooked roster-building process played out.

Galloway followed Moore this offseason by joining the Suns on veterans minimum contracts late in the free agency process. Maybe that felt redundant for a backcourt that already included the re-signed Jevon Carter.

Now, that duo has played as the backup minutes the last three games.

“They just know how to play. Whether it’s a zone defense or man, I think they have experience,” Williams said Tuesday. “You can watch those guys communicating on the floor, they know what to say and even if they’re not as fast on certain plays they’re usually in the right spot.

“They’ve been able to get us organized. The ball movement with that group and the player movement with Langston, E’Twaun and Frank (Kaminsky) … we want to continue to grow that. Those guys give us a great lift when they come into the game. They get great shots on offense.”

Moore, who entered the rotation the past four games, has taken on the play-initiating duties and brings enough shiftiness off the bounce.

In Williams’ eyes, Moore, who has a floater game and can hit an open three, has passed up a few too many shots because he’s so focused getting the offense in order.

Galloway, who entered the league six years ago, is evolving into a pure off-ball shooter.

He’s blowing his career shooting averages (40% overall and 37% from three-point range) out of the water so far by connecting on 49% of his shots and the same percentage from deep.

Abdel Nader, who joined the Suns in the Paul trade from Oklahoma City, has given Phoenix slashing from the wing of late, and Williams on Tuesday made sure not to leave out Kaminsky when discussing his second unit that has carried more than its weight.

The big man who the Suns didn’t re-sign this offseason and picked up after he was waived by the Sacramento Kings before the regular season started is admittedly more comfortable right now. Playing almost exclusively as a backup center after ending last season doing the same has given him continuity.

“Just being vocal on defense, I know what spots to be in, I know our coverages,” Kaminsky said. “That’s something I’ve gotten better and better at in my career. It was a little difficult at first, especially last year. It’s a different set of coverages.”

Three games back against the Golden State Warriors, Kaminsky was two assists shy of a triple-double, a sign of his role as an offensive initiator who swings the ball from strong- to weak-side.

He’s grown into a similar role that Saric forged in the bubble to end last season.

It’s likely Saric will regain that role in the coming days once he’s cleared to play. It’s possible the same goes for Payne, who was playing at a high level before an ankle and foot injury. That duo and Carter, who is healthy, gives the Suns options, at least.

Williams can’t mind that Jones provided him with such depth.

Asked Tuesday about Carter’s current role and how he might fight his way back into the rotation, the head coach said it well: “It’s really hard to play that many guys.”

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