Suns double down, trade for Bradley Beal to form superteam
Jun 18, 2023, 5:14 PM | Updated: 9:50 pm
(Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images)
In February, the Phoenix Suns made the biggest gamble in franchise history by giving up a tremendous haul for Kevin Durant.
Four months later, they’ve doubled down.
But don’t get it twisted. Like trading for Kevin freaking Durant, acquiring Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, second-round picks and draft swaps is a no-brainer.
Before we get to an introduction on someone really, really good at basketball, let’s cross the T’s and dot the I’s on the big picture.
Prepare for uninformed opinions to rain down in the coming days criticizing the Suns for positioning themselves in a spot where depth will be a weakness. As relentlessly covered over the past two months, Phoenix was already in that spot. The likely alternative was having its fourth-, fifth- and sixth-best players be better and its third player be far worse. The Suns’ signings on the veteran’s minimum will dictate how big that gap is on the former. We’ll have to wait until the second or third week of July to really formulate a solid stance there.
The wildcard in all of this is Deandre Ayton. Phoenix surely still looks to trade the big man after these events, receiving two or three lesser rotation players in return. Ayton might not have that value. It’s been the great mystery surrounding the Suns’ offseason. He massively underachieved in the postseason after regressing in the regular season, putting his flaws in the spotlight.
It makes sense from a team-building perspective but also when arriving at the undeniable conclusion that the title hopes would hinge on Ayton being consistent if he stayed. The Suns are gambling enough as it is. Betting on him too after the faults he’s shown would be unwise but the Suns might not have a better option.
The money is extreme and puts the Suns in the new collective bargaining agreement’s second apron, which should go into effect next season. It greatly restricts Phoenix’s ability to add more talent and the Suns will effectively be looking at draft picks, two-way contracts and veteran’s minimum signings for filling out the rest of the roster the next three years. I’ll leave it to the experts like ESPN’s Bobby Marks in this video, so we can move on to actual basketball.
Beal is a true three-level scorer, an overused label that has lost its weight in the last decade but truly holds up for both him and his partners. Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant form one of the best trios of offensive talent in league history. Durant’s previous superteam in Brooklyn is really the only comparable squad, given the advancements in shooting and skill across the last 15 years of basketball’s evolution.
When looking at the NBA’s leaders in points per game across the last five seasons combined, Durant (27.8 PPG) is sixth, Beal is ninth (27.0 PPG) and Booker is 10th (26.6 PPG), per Stathead. The next-closest group of three that are teammates at the moment is in New Orleans, where Zion Williamson (12th, 25.8 PPG), Brandon Ingram (23rd, 22.7 PPG) and C.J. McCollum (28th, 21.8 PPG) are. All three reside outside the top-10 and all three of Phoenix’s are in the top-10. Think about that!
Looking at the same five-year timeframe, the Suns have three guys in the top 16 for free throw attempts per game as well.
To that point, Beal critically gives the Suns another player that generates rim pressure. He’s attempted at least 29% of his shots at the rim each of the last five seasons, per Cleaning the Glass, which is higher than Booker’s career-best.
At the basket, Beal is an awesome finisher. His efficiency sits well north of 65% since 2017, an excellent mark for a perimeter player of any size.
For years, Beal has been the only other player I’d say is similar enough to Booker. Most of that is because of how he has mastered rhythm and tempo. Beal is great at using his crossover to pick a time to explode. He’s flat-out one of the best in the league at manipulating screens, often rejecting them, to create the initial advantage and slithering or slashing from there.
He is tough on drives, often eliminating his initial defender from the picture and figuring out a way to get a bucket over the rim protector from there.
A way he does that is with a package of floaters he deploys well.
Beal over the last three years has produced some of the highest rates of midrange attempts in the NBA. He made right around 45% of them, another very good number.
His secret is rarely getting sped up, like Booker. Nearly everything look in rhythm, no matter what the defense is doing.
He and Booker are going to have to play rock-paper-scissors each night to decide who gets to play bully ball in the post on the smallest guard.
Beal came out of Florida known primarily for his shooting, along with the scoring upside. His 3-point percentage fluttered near 40% in the first five years of his career before dipping down in the back half of his career. A lot of that can be attributed to his role change as the primary option and a lack of other threats setting him up.
Even in that situation, Beal shot 37.1% on catch-and-shoot 3s across the last five seasons, per NBA Stats. On 3s deemed as wide open by NBA Stats, Beal’s five-year efficiency on those was 41.1%. Expect far more of those alongside Booker and Durant. It was astonishing to see how many more open looks Booker was getting playing with Durant, unlike anything we had seen before in his career. Beal is about to have the same experience, and he will aid that pair in that way as well.
Defensively, Beal’s got something to prove. Booker has already gotten past the career arc Beal is on, the quest to prove he can be a winning player beyond the great stats on bad teams. He will surely take on the challenge and still moves fairly well 11 years into his NBA tenure.
That side of the ball is the biggest question of fit, and that is still to be determined.
Phoenix could go three directions. It could go small, adding a defensive-minded point guard to still take on the other team’s primary ball-handler, giving Booker and Durant the defensive responsibilities on the larger perimeter players. Or it could be a more traditionally-sized starting five, bringing in a wing that could take on the duties against whatever No. 1 option awaits on the perimeter, like Josh Okogie when Durant came to the Valley. There’s also the thought of the Suns creating the MonStars, slotting Durant at small forward in favor of a true 4 with some mobility, which would make Beal and Booker busy defensively.
If only they had a terrific defensive-minded head coach to figure that out with.
Insert Frank Vogel. Don’t be surprised if Booker takes a leap forward defensively with him and gets in the mix for All-Defense. He showed this past postseason he’s capable of reaching that level.
As far as the offense’s shape, it’s Point Book time. His playmaking has grown in such a way the last five years that he’s straight up one of the best point guards around at this point. Beal and Durant are more than capable of serving as secondary initiators to not only make Phoenix remain dynamic with ball movement but also presents enough threats and divvies up the responsibilities enough so Booker won’t wear down running the show.
The real swing in all of this is how Booker, Beal and Durant mesh together, creating ebbs and flows for each other throughout a game. A point guard like Paul is typically responsible for making sure everyone is good on that front. That’ll be on the coaching staff obviously but it really goes back to those three on the court in real time. The regular season will be lots of experimenting and feeling out.
Injury-wise, Beal’s had enough stuff pop up over the last three years to be a bit concerned. Some of it was getting shut down on a terrible team trying to get a better draft pick. Some of it was him getting hurt. Along with the more worrisome history for Durant and less worrisome history for Booker, all of this once again depends on health beyond anything. The championship gambit starts there.
Superteams have formed before. Ones like this, though, that further embrace the movement toward positionless basketball? That have three offensive players like this? That will be heavily handicapped when adding players around them under brand-new restrictions? With a tax bill this large?
Yeah, we’ve never seen anything like this. Strap in.