LAS VEGAS – The Phoenix Suns may have another trick or two up their sleeve this summer.
They have already had quite a busy high season.
Firing coach Monty Williams. Employment of Frank Vogel.
Trade Bradley Beal. Trade away Chris Paul.
Signing guys at the veteran minimum once they are over the second tax bracket of $182.5 million.
Landing Eric Gordon. Finally.
The Suns have had a successful offseason, but anything less than a championship at the end of the 2023-24 season will be a disappointment for a team with three prolific scorers, a talented big man and depth.
Can this group win it all?
The Suns win an NBA championship with this roster if…
The sun must remain healthy
Health is always a concern, but especially for the Sun. Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Beal have dealt with injuries throughout their careers.
So let’s just say their Big 3 play close to 60 games together and are healthy by the time the playoffs are over.
Defending is also a given. New head coach Frank Vogel brings a defensive philosophy that should improve a team ranked 13th.th out of 16 teams in the playoffs last season.
Being healthy and playing solid defense will certainly help Phoenix’s championship cause.
Durant probably has two good years left. He turns 35 in September.
The father time is undefeated, even against the greatest, but the Suns need Durant to have one of those seasons that reminds the league how special he is.
Beyond that, Phoenix’s championship hopes hinge on three other things.
Booker, the playmaker must thrive
You’d think that bringing in better players would lessen his load, but Booker will have to do even more to play the lead guard role.
Booker is as prepared for this as he’s ever been at any point in his career.
Former coach Earl Watson put the ball in his hands. Williams did it to make him a more complete player.
Booker watched and learned from one of the all-time greats in Paul, who is third all-time in assists. Now it’s time for Booker to put those experiences into practice and make plays.
He still gets his points. No worries there. His ability to score will create opportunities for others.
The Suns even kept Booker’s guy, associate head coach Kevin Young, who will likely orchestrate the offense.
If Booker can have a 2-to-1 ratio of assists to turnovers, great. If he’s 3-for-1, that’s scary good for the Suns.
Deandre Ayton maximizes opportunities
He’s going to get fewer shots playing with Beal, Booker and Durant, but more than half of his attempts should be wide open or at the rim because of the attention they’ll attract.
Ayton is a career 59.7% shooter from the field. His career best was 63.4% in 2021-22. With this team, he should make a worst 65% of his shots. At best close to 70%.
Ayton should also be a better defender under Vogel. He will have to be for the Suns to defend like Vogel will have on the perimeter.
This ultimately comes down to his attitude. The obvious tension between him and Williams is gone as his former head coach now leads the Detroit Pistons.
Vogel is really looking to connect with him. He plays with three of the game’s best.
No more excuses. Ayton needs to deliver the touches he gets and really be a defensive anchor.
Making open shots
Vogel’s scheme will help everyone defensively, but it will be interesting to see how the offense plays out.
No matter what offense they run, the Suns will get open looks.
Whoever the fifth guy is, he has to make the defense pay to play off of him. Keita Bates-Diop. Damion Lee. Yuta Watanabe. Josh Okogie.
Confidence is everything, and if those guys can’t deliver, it becomes easier to defend Booker, Durant and Beal.
Ideal: Booker, Beal, Durant, Bates-Diop and Ayton. 6-8 Bates-Diop provides size, length, athleticism and can knock down the 3. He shot a career-best 39.4% from distance last season. If he can hold his own defensively, Bates-Diop completes what could be the greatest starting five in the league.
If not, Okogie could very well get the starting nod as he is the best defender. The Suns could use someone who can take on the role of guarding the opposing team’s best offensive perimeter player.
Next five in rotation: Cameron Payne, Eric Gordon, Josh Okogie, Yuta Watanabe and Drew Eubanks. Got a pace setter in Payne, two shooters in Watanabe and Gordon, a defender in Okogie and an active big in Eubanks who can get extra possessions with offensive rebounds.
3-shift look: Payne, Beal, Booker, Durant and Ayton. Payne’s biggest strength with this group would be creating tempo. Playing fast will allow everyone else to get easier shots earlier in the shot clock. Must make shots though. Payne is a career 36.3% shooter from 3.
Next five in rotation: Jordan Goodwin, Gordon, Watanabe, Bates-Diop and Eubanks.
Bigger lineup: Booker, Beal, Durant, Ayton and Eubanks. Ayton on the four is interesting. Haven’t shown the handles to play that position. Guys in that role have to space the floor with their shooting, but Ayton can knock down the jumper. This unit should own the glass with him and Eubanks.
Next five in rotation: Payne, Gordon, Okogie, Watanabe, and Chimezie Metu.
Ending 5: Booker, Gordon, Beal, Durant, Ayton. The Suns need someone to space the floor in close games down the stretch. Damion Lee could easily be in there after knocking down 45.5% of his 3s last season, but Gordon has the big-game experience to fill that role.
Wildcard rotation: Damion Lee and Toumani Camara. It’s another show-and-prove season for Lee. Can he continue to light up from the depths. He shot 20% on 3s (3-of-15) in the postseason last year.
As for Camara, the 6-8 rookie has size and can defend. If how he guarded in Dayton can translate to the NBA, Camara has a good chance to get an opportunity.
If he can also defend and make shots?
Best free agent signing: Bates-Diop
He was a role player in San Antonio. So that mentality alone will help him, but Bates-Diop can space the floor. He has shot better than 50% from the field overall in his last two years.
The key for him is defense and rebounding. He averaged 3.2 boards for his career. It is not enough.
From Suns GM James Jones: “Keita’s combination of length, defensive versatility and shooting is extremely valuable to our team.”
Biggest free agent signing: Gordon
Suns fans have long called for him to join their team.
He’s finally here. Gordon will be a veteran presence in the locker room. His shooting speaks for itself, but Gordon also struggles on defense.
From Suns GM James Jones: “Eric is a winning player who will make our team more dynamic and help us in our pursuit of an NBA championship.”
A major requirement when playing with Durant and Booker is knocking down catch-and-shoot 3s.
Those images will be there for everyone else, including Beal.
Here’s a look at what their remaining perimeter players shot from 3 on the catch-and-shoot last season.
Lee: 47% (108-of-230) in the regular season, 23.1% (3-of-13) in the playoffs.
What monkey: 45.7% (59-of-129) in the regular season, 50% (1-of-2) in the playoffs.
Bates-Diop: 40.5% (51-of-126) in the regular season, did not make the playoffs.
Gordon: 37% (98-of-265) in the regular season, 31.8% (7-of-22) in the playoffs.
Okogie: 34.6% (56-of-162) in the regular season; 14.3% (2-of-14) in the playoffs.
Goodwin: 34.2% (27-of-79) in the regular season, did not make the playoffs.
Payne: 33.3% (36-of-108) in the regular season, 29.4% (5-of-17) in the playoffs.
Ish Wainright: 33.1% (53-of-160) in the regular season, 25% (1-of-4) in the playoffs.
These guys should have open catch-and-shoot 3s. Whoever comes out of the regular season with the best combination of percentages and marks will be on the floor in the postseason.
Nuggets power forward Aaron Gordon, a career 32.5% shooter from 3 in the regular season, made 37.9% (11 of 29) of his catch-and-shoot 3s in the playoffs this year.
It was huge for the Nuggets to win their first NBA championship.
Keep that in mind as the Sun moves forward.
Like Ray Allen
Allen made the biggest adjustment playing with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as the Celtics formed their Big 3 and went all-out in their first season together in 2008.
That’s when Allen became more known for being a catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter.
Beal is the Wizards’ all-time leader in 3s made. Like Allen back in the day, Beal can do more than that, but draining catch-and-shoot 3s could very well be his main job.
Last season, Beal made 44-of-110 (40%) of those 3s. If he can deliver like that playing alongside Booker and Durant, teams will have an even harder time guarding the Suns.
In addition, Gordon also needs to do more catch and shoot.
He likes to put the ball on the floor at times to get to the rim, but with this team, Gordon would be wise to let it fly more times than try to create the jump for himself or anything else.
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