The Phoenix Suns are set to enter the 2023-24 season with a significantly overhauled roster. Bradley Beal is taking the place of Chris Paul, and the team is welcoming eight players on minimum contracts. The big question now is how successful this new group can be.
Our initial projection for the franchise is a regular season record of 58-24, but achieving that will require more than luck and staying injury-free. Head coach Frank Vogel will also need to carefully construct the optimal starting lineup.
Fortunately, the new head coach, Frank Vogel, is in a favorable position with a roster of talented players, including star athletes and well-suited role players.
While some argue that having a strong closing lineup is crucial, it remains essential to experiment and find the perfect combination of starters. The Phoenix Suns have an advantage because four out of five starting positions are already certain.
Assuming everyone stays healthy, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, and Deandre Ayton (we’ll discuss him later) will undoubtedly start every game. Most likely, they will also be on the floor in crucial moments, especially during the playoffs. So, who should complete this starting lineup for the upcoming season?
Let’s start with an unconventional idea right away: Center Bol Bol might seem like an unusual choice to start games, especially considering his defensive shortcomings that make him unlikely to be in a closing lineup.
We’ve already witnessed this during his time with the Orlando Magic last season, and the Phoenix Suns have a more competitive roster than the Magic did in the 2022-23 season. So, why did the Suns sign Bol Bol? What if the plan is for him to play around 15 minutes per game, as many believe, but also to start games to disrupt opponents’ game plans?
Think about it: Deandre Ayton can handle defensive responsibilities for Bol, with Kevin Durant also contributing defensively. This would allow Bol to focus on his strengths, like some ball-handling and outside shooting. In December 2022, Bol demonstrated his ability to shoot 44.4 percent from beyond the arc on over two attempts per game, so we’ve seen his success in this area.
Bol could be an offensive wildcard, benefiting from open looks due to the talented players he’d be sharing the court with. Given his height, he naturally gets open opportunities, but if he could develop a two-man game with Bradley Beal or Devin Booker, those 15 minutes, including starting each game, could be incredibly valuable for the Suns.
Here’s a more conventional approach: Keita Bates-Diop is stepping into the starting lineup, aiming to provide everything Josh Okogie can and more for the team. Bates-Diop’s recent performances, somewhat overlooked due to his time with the San Antonio Spurs, make him a valuable addition.
At 27 years old, he’s a known quantity and precisely the type of versatile player this team needs. Bates-Diop won’t be seeking the spotlight; instead, he’ll grind it out on the defensive end and may even contribute a few baskets.
While Devin Booker has improved defensively, Bates-Diop will be tasked with shutting down formidable opponents like Jayson Tatum and Kyrie Irving. In the 2021-22 season, when Bates-Diop was with the Spurs, their defensive rating was 111.7, around the league average, resulting in a 34-48 record. However, when Bates-Diop was on the court, their defensive rating dropped to 106.2, tied for the league’s best with the Boston Celtics.
It’s worth noting that this number increased significantly to 116.6 last season, but the Spurs were intentionally tanking to secure Victor Wembanyama, which they did. Despite that, the Spurs had the worst defensive rating in the league at 119.6, highlighting that they performed noticeably better when Bates-Diop was in action.
On paper, this lineup makes the most sense, with Bates-Diop taking on a defensive load to support the stars as they focus on scoring points.
Let’s discuss Deandre Ayton’s role, as he isn’t part of the starting lineup in this scenario. While it might sound surprising, he could still play a key role in closing games. Instead, the starting five would consist of Eric Gordon and Yuta Watanabe alongside the established three players, creating an intriguing combination.
While these five players will certainly share minutes during the season, the question is whether they could actually start games. Eric Gordon has displayed impressive form this summer, helping The Bahamas come close to Olympic qualification, despite being 34 years old. He brings a wealth of defensive experience to the team. In fact, players like Keita Bates-Diop and rookie Toumani Camara could learn a lot by observing Gordon’s contributions.
Yuta Watanabe is often underrated defensively due to his size, but he’s a solid defender, and both he and Gordon are above-average 3-point shooters. This lineup offers an exciting mix of shooting, size, ball-handling, and athleticism on the offensive end. There’s potential for them to lead the league in offensive rating.
This adjustment would also allow Deandre Ayton to dominate second-unit opponents for longer stretches, helping him regain his form. While Ayton might not be thrilled about coming off the bench initially, it could serve as motivation and ignite his competitive spirit, ultimately bringing out the best in him. Keep an eye on this group; there’s a lot to be excited about.