Devin Booker named starter, Brandon Knight makes ‘sacrifice’ in bench role for Suns

Oct 3, 2016, 2:57 PM

Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker (1)  on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game agains...

Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker (1) on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Thursday, March 17, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Kim Raff)

(AP Photo/Kim Raff)

PHOENIX — Typically, the NBA preseason is used for experimentation.

Earl Watson is not one to experiment.

The Phoenix Suns’ first-year head coach announced his starting lineup “for the season” on Monday morning, naming Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler. That five-man unit will make its debut against San Antonio in Monday’s preseason opener for both teams.

“That’s the starting lineup for the season,” Watson said. “We’re not wasting time. We’re not lingering with inner-competition. We competed against each other throughout training camp. Training camp is over. Preseason starts. That’s our starting lineup.”

Starting Booker means Brandon Knight will come off the bench.

“Brandon Knight is not a bench player. He’s a starter in this league and he sacrificed the most for our group, and he took it like the pro that he is. He understands the opportunity we have to be special,” Watson said. “Do players like coming off the bench? No, and we embrace that. That’s that inner-competitive nature that we need. We want all of our players who step on the court to feel like starters, and Brandon Knight, to me, is immediately in the discussion for Sixth Man of the Year.”

Knight appeared reluctant to accept a sixth man role when it was brought up to him at media day, and previously at exit interviews back in April.

He declined an interview request after shootaround.

For most of his five-year career, Knight has been a starter. Watson, though, sees Knight’s playmaking skills fitting in quite well with the reserves.

“We understand second-unit guys can’t defend him, and that gives us a major advantage,” Watson said. “We all know that Brandon Knight can put up numbers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has some big nights. We embrace him, we love him and he’s the ultimate professional. Everything we talk about in family and sacrifice, he’s the most important player that did that for this to even happen.”

Watson also made it seem as if P.J. Tucker, once healthy, will be a bench guy.

Tucker is two weeks removed from back surgery with a return pegged for, or just following, the start of the regular season.

“T.J. is the best available small forward for us right now. He’s going to have a great year. He’s done great in training camp,” Watson said. “We can’t wait for P.J. Tucker to get back, so we have another decision to make, but right now, we’re living in the moment.”

Booker proved himself not only capable but also worthy of a starting spot based on his late-season play a year ago. He averaged 18.5 points over the final 44 games after permanently joining the starting lineup on Jan. 8.

For the season, Booker enjoyed one of the better rookie campaigns in Suns history and one of the best by a teenager in NBA history, earning NBA All-Rookie First Team honors with averages of 13.8 points, 2.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 76 games including 51 starts.

“I knew at one point in my career I would be a starter. I didn’t know it would be this soon, but I have put in that work to be one,” he said. “It’s new to me. Obviously, I didn’t even start in college, so it’s really new to me, but we’re going out there, we’re trying to win with a team concept, so this is what the team wanted so that’s what we’re going to do.”

Pairing Bledsoe and Booker will give the Suns a different look in the starting backcourt. The two didn’t see much playing time together last year given Bledsoe’s season-ending knee injury.

“It’s really fun playing with Bled because he’s a creator. It makes the game easier for me,” Booker said. “I got a lot of open shots because of him, so I’m excited to play with him.”

Playing Bledsoe, Booker and Knight at the same time remains an option, according to Watson. The Kentucky trio just can’t start.

“Because otherwise maybe one or two will get going and one will be left out or two will be left out,” he said. “Once they all get going, maybe we can finish that way (or in) parts of the game. We’re not sure yet. It can get be two of the three, any two of the three or all three. We’re not sure. But our purpose is do something special, and like I said before the season started, losing teams talk about who’s starting and winning teams just accept their role and be the best at it, and Brandon is going to be pretty special for us.”

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