EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

The if of the 5th: Eric Gordon as starter would give Suns offensive firepower

Sep 30, 2023, 7:12 AM

Eric Gordon #10 of the LA Clippers reacts during the second half Game One of the Western Conference...

Eric Gordon #10 of the LA Clippers reacts during the second half Game One of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Footprint Center on April 16, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Clippers defeated the Suns 115-110. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The unofficial start to the NBA season in media day is within a week, and who the Phoenix Suns make the fifth starter alongside Deandre Ayton, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant is unknown.

Well, that was how we introduced this series on Tuesday, a day before Ayton (and Toumani Camara) was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a multi-team trade in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson.

Nurkic slots in for Ayton but the question still remains of who the fifth starter is, and now the Suns have even more options.

It is a compliment to the depth Phoenix has built up but also points to how necessary it is that they must figure that out. We are going to roll through eight candidates leading up to media day on Monday with respect to names like Damion Lee, Chimezie Metu and Ish Wainright, who could hypothetically start games this season as well.

While much intrigue is percolating in regard to the player receiving the nod on opening night in the Bay, we will instead preview all of the options under the optics of who starts the first game of round one in the postseason.

This means our conversations will naturally trend toward what these players have to do over the course of the regular season to earn that spot and how they can differentiate themselves over that time, as opposed to keeping it more theoretical by projecting how training camp and such goes.

That is likely how this will pan out. Head coach Frank Vogel will try different looks and grant various opportunities across a seven-month period. Injuries will force him to do so anyway. Could the Day One starter secure that job immediately? Sure. But Vogel and his staff would be wise to sift through everything he’s got.

Eric Gordon’s case as Phoenix Suns’ 5th starter

Why should he start: Gordon is behind the “break glass in case of emergency” warning.

Everyone else that will be covered in the series has a level of something to prove as an NBA starter. Gordon has been there, done that. If Phoenix has hesitations on other candidates and is willing to go out guns blazing with offense, Gordon would give them yet another ball-handling threat and three-level scorer for defenses to worry about, creating even more mismatch mayhem while a lethal shooter with range sits in corners no help defender can willingly leave. Perhaps there is a potential postseason opponent who presents little enough threats offensively for Gordon’s defense to hang out there in this role.

Pros: It starts with experience. Gordon has started 628 regular season games and another 36 in the playoffs. Looking at the six other players we’ll cover in this series outside of Allen, they have combined for 293 regular season nods and five postseason starts. A whopping 149 of those and all five in the playoffs are via Josh Okogie. There’s no reason the Suns will whiff entirely on those six guys when it comes to the poise and reliability required from starters. But certain players will earn the trust of head coach Frank Vogel over the course of the regular season, and Gordon will undoubtedly be one.

He can begin possessions on the ball while the manic panic begins off the ball of how to rotate around all the movement to open up the Big 3. Off it, Gordon can not only space the floor, but be used as a decoy to create room for the head honchos in a different way. As a 0.5 player, Gordon would excel attacking rotating defenses and is a plus shooter from beyond 30 feet if helpers really want to try leaving that option.

Defensively, Gordon is below average but provides more resistance than you’d think. He was among the group of fire hydrant guards the Los Angeles Clippers tossed Phoenix’s way last postseason, a few small yet strong defenders who got very physical with the likes of Durant and Booker. In a more limited role, Gordon can expend his gas tank more on that end, like he did for L.A. against the Suns.

Cons: Nearly this entire group is made up of supplementary players, and rightfully so. Gordon’s offensive skills as this fifth starter become redundant at a certain point, especially on the ball. In a similar way Ayton wasn’t utilized on offense before he got traded, while there are positives to running offense around him, every possession not doing so for Beal, Booker or Durant edges on foolishness. Gordon’s still got the juice as a scorer. But it would be better served when those guys are mixing in and out of games.

Defensively, the Suns would be just about as small as last year. Teams with size on the perimeter would be all over them both in matchups and on the glass. Booker and Durant are plus defenders but can’t do that consistently enough or at an elite enough level where a league-average defense could still materialize around Nurkic as an anchor. The contributions from Beal and Gordon are more up in the air.

Likelihood: Minimal. Gordon might actually be the least likely of all these players, especially after the trade. The previous appeal in experience is where someone like Allen slots in with his reps in Milwaukee and Allen’s accentuating skills are better as a shooter and defender. Gordon’s going to start games this year, just when one of the Big 3 is out injured. That is most of his appeal, along with having some offensive fireworks to turn to on and off the ball when reserves begin trickling in.

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The if of the 5th: Eric Gordon as starter would give Suns offensive firepower