36 unbothered: Who is the Suns’ most important player outside Big 3?

Oct 16, 2023, 8:06 PM | Updated: Oct 17, 2023, 1:18 pm

Jordan Goodwin, Washington Wizards...

Jordan Goodwin #7 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the New Orleans Pelicans at Capital One Arena on January 09, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Devin Booker left the Phoenix Suns’ second elimination game blowout loss in the conference semifinals without saying a word. At least to the media.

He went into the offseason without addressing what happened, both after the game and at exit interviews the next day, only posting a vague social media post “36 unbothered” afterward, two days following the firing of head coach Monty Williams. What was first speculated by fans as a reference to his and Kevin Durant’s added-up jersey numbers was later corrected by Booker: He was just cruising through 36 holes of golf.

Regardless, he unknowingly created a nickname for the Suns’ superstar duo in the process.

To keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is eight days away from Monday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will round out the last 12 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season after being joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby for the first 24.

Previously –

Day 36: Devin Booker enters his prime
Day 35: The Suns have put in the work this summer
Day 34: Suns do have some continuity with returning bench players
Day 33: Kevin Durant gets integrated
Day 32: Bradley Beal proving something
Day 31: How the Big 3 develop chemistry

Day 30: Mat Ishbia’s first full season as owner
Day 29: How does Suns’ place of play change without Chris Paul
Day 28: Suns can maximize Yuta Watanabe in proper role
Day 27: Deandre Ayton finally is traded
Day 26: Who is Suns’ biggest threat in Western Conference?
Day 25: Matrix and STAT in Ring of Honor
Day 24: Phoenix Suns’ most appetizing lineups combinations
Day 23: The importance of Kevin Young’s return to the Suns
Day 22: The revamped Suns sunburst jerseys

Day 21: TV antennas and Phoenix Suns basketball for all
Day 20: Is there room on the Suns to unlock Bol Bol?
Day 19: What Grayson Allen brings to Suns
Day 18: Suns’ championship expectations
Day 17: Drew Eubanks could bring pop to Suns’ center group
Day 16: Olympic implications
Day 15: Jusuf Nurkic changes the Suns in the middle
Day 14: Jon Bloom takes over for Al McCoy on the airwaves
Day 13: Eric Gordon was the Suns’ biggest offseason signing
Day 12: Do the Suns need to trade for a point guard?
Day 11: The Suns need Josh Okogie

Day 10: How Phoenix Suns can build a championship defense
Day 9: How Suns can lose the Deandre Ayton trade

Day 8: Who is the Suns’ most important player outside the Big 3?

Kellan Olson: I presented this as a topic of conversation because I think this is actually a very difficult question to answer.

It’s easy to say Nurkic, who replaces Ayton and has to bring some level of solidity to the center position. Given the way the Suns are talking about his offensive involvement as a playmaker, there’s an additional boost there to make up for the severe difference in finishing efficiency around the rim. He’s probably the answer, but we’re already sort of talking about his role in the playoffs as one that could end up with him on the bench for closing time.

So what about someone who has more of a chance on the floor?

If I could cheat and say “the fifth starter,” that’s the answer. That, however, insults the purpose of the question getting asked. So, I’ll go with the fifth starter who has the most upside to fill the exact role the Suns want to fill.

That answer is Jordan Goodwin.

Let me explain.

I think Goodwin could very well be the best perimeter defender on the team already, a big statement considering how great Josh Okogie is and how Goodwin’s first crack at an NBA role just came last season. But his outstanding hands and screen navigation are two standout attributes that make him great in his own right. I feel like he’s the best option for the gauntlet of problematic star guards in the West.

Offensively, Goodwin presents the accentuating on-ball playmaking no other starting candidate can. He’s comfortable as a combo guard running the initial action to set up one of the stars, just like he did for Beal in D.C., and in general making that first pass to kick off the defense’s rotations. Having that in the back pocket would allow the Big 3 to occasionally attack a rotating defense without requiring one of them to start that whole process.

Now, can Goodwin take advantage of a 2-on-2 situation in ball screens if the situation calls for it? Can he hit enough open 3s? Does his defense reach elite status? Is the decision-making in tight situations really ready for the bright lights of a deep postseason run?

That’s where I’m unsure and bring us back to talking about upside. But I’ll stand by it. Keep a close eye on how he does over the regular season.

Kevin Zimmerman: This is a crap shoot. Heading into the Monday preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers, none of the jumbo wings have separated themselves — to the public eye at least — from one another. If one of Nassir Little, Keita Bates-Diop or Chimezie Metu can become a 3-and-D boost, then the Suns get pretty versatile.

Nurkic, again, is the easy answer, but I think for me, he falls into being a role player who will do his job, have his flaws and contribute in ways we already know. Will that be enough? Can Drew Eubanks back him up so effectively we’re talking about which one of them should start? Maybe!

But the answer I think is between two players — and it’s because we’re strictly speaking about talent. Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon are on paper starting-caliber players who could have a new world opened up for them facing the worst perimeter players on the court.

Both of them could be average defensively and will battle.

Both of them are elite three-point shooters but also relatively capable three-level scorers who have enough off the bounce to make things easier on Booker, Beal and Durant.

I think they’ll each have their say for being No. 4 in minutes averaged per game by the end of the regular season.

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36 unbothered: Who is the Suns’ most important player outside Big 3?