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A look at Suns fifth starter and bench options after the Kevin Durant trade

With the trade deadline past and the dust settled, the Phoenix Suns roster looks considerably different than it did a week ago.

A week ago, the Suns had a ton of interchangeable small forwards and not enough stars. Now, the Suns have that star power at the expense of a black hole at small forward.

Kevin Durant joins the Suns, knocking everyone down a peg on the pecking order. Durant is a top-3 player in the league, Devin Booker is a top-10 player and Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton are, at worst, Top-50 players.

But after those four, who is the Suns fifth best player now?

With Jae Crowder, Cam Johnson, and Mikal Bridges gone the Suns lost most of their rotational depth at the small forward and undersized power forward positions. The Suns are reportedly looking at adding a player in the buy-out market to bolster their wing depth, such as veteran SG/SF Terrence Ross after he is released from the Orlando Magic, but you cannot expect someone else’s cast off to be your fifth best player on a championship contender.

While it is obvious that Kevin Durant will start at power forward (he’s well past playing small forward at this stage of his career), what is less obvious is who will start at small forward, and how the Suns rotations will look once Durant, Cam Payne and Landry Shamet get healthy.


Cameron Payne has missed extended stretches of the season with foot injuries, and the Suns attempts at filling the back-up point guard role from within have met with failure. Landry Shamet is an oft-injured shooting guard who can’t shoot. Duane Washington Jr. (aka Langston Galloway redux) is no longer with the team due to his inability to run an offense and abysmal defense. Saben Lee has been abysmal in his recent stints trying to run the second unit offense. This has forced Coach Monty Williams to bring 38 year-old Chris Paul back into the game sooner than he would like, driving up the injury-prone star’s minutes.

Reggie Jackson was rumored to be drawing interest from the Suns after being traded by the Clippers to the Hornets, but he unexpectedly decided to sign with the Denver Nuggets instead. This leaves the Suns with options such as John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Kemba Walker to supplant Saben Lee. The Suns need better insurance for the oft-injured CP3 and Cam Payne. While Westbrook has an ugly history with Durant, and Walker has been available for months, it has been reported Wall has drawn some interest from the Suns. Hopefully the Suns will find a way to improve here, given the risk that an injury to either CP3 or Payne could doom their playoff run.

At shooting guard, the Suns have Damion Lee and Landry Shamet as back-ups. Lee has led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage for much of the season, including a ridiculous 60-plus percent in the fourth quarter. Shamet has been wildly inconsistent with both his passing and shooting, though he has improved on defense and is good at creating deflections. However, he has failed to provide the sort of play-making ability the Suns hoped for a combo-guard. I expect Lee to be the primary back up behind Booker during the playoffs. Terrence Ross, if he does indeed sign with the Suns, will be another shooter off the bench as well.

Backcourt Rotation: I expect Payne to remain as the number two PG on the team, and Wall (if signed) to be a situational player to play alongside Booker when the Suns need an on-ball defender against the opponent’s point guard or smaller shooting guards. I expect Damion Lee to be the primary back-up to Booker even when Shamet returns so long as the Suns have a healthy back up PG besides Saben Lee. We can also expect to see some CP3/D. Lee/Booker/KD/Ayton line ups in crunch time, especially if playing from behind.


Presuming that the Suns do not sign a starting quality wing as part of a buyout (like Will Barton) the Suns have a mish-mash of flawed players to play at starting small forward and as back-up at both forward slots. Above all, what the Suns need out of their starting small forward is a Point-of-Attack (PoA) defender to guard opponents’ best players on the perimeter. Scoring is only a “nice to have” when playing alongside CP3, Book, Durant, and Ayton. When it comes to back-ups, they need some combination of players to continue to provide PoA defense without the offense collapsing. Let’s look at the players, and how a functional rotation might work based on the players available.

Torrey Craig has spent his NBA career as a reliable journeyman combo forward who is known as a 3-and-D player who hustles for transition blocks and fights for rebounds. He’s not a shot creator, and sometimes he struggles as a tweener with being too small to guard some PFs, and too slow to guard some of the quicker small forwards, he’s still arguably their best defender among the Suns plethora of no-name guys who can play small forward. Despite being 3rd in total minutes played for the Suns this season, Craig isn’t going to cause problems if he isn’t coming off the bench.

Josh Okogie is a 5th year SG/SF who is a ridiculously athletic, strong, fast, lock-down defender who can guard 3 positions. He ranks in the 97th percentile for creating deflections, averages 1.7 steals per 36 minutes, and generates a surprising number of blocks and rebounds for a 6-4 SG/SF. He lacks Bridges’ ability to use length to recover on defense but has amazingly quick feet and hands. His offense leaves a lot to be desired with a 31.1% 3-point rate and an overall true shooting percentage of 52.1% (though it has been improving of late). His drives to the basket generate free throws, but if he isn’t fouled it often results in ugly heaves as often as soaring dunks.

T.J. Warren has returned to the Suns. He’s injury prone, not all that athletic, and his defense is terrible. However, unlike anyone else on the Suns bench, he can generate his own offense. In fact, he doesn’t give you much of anything besides points: his rebounding, steals, assists, and blocks are all well below what you would expect of a 6-8, 220 pound small forward. In years past he’s shown the ability to hit threes at nearly 40%, and he’s another master of the mid-range. He’s got sneaky good “old-man” game below the three-point line and has a staggering array of tricks. He’s only 29, and it’s easy to forget that he went off for 53 points in the 2020 Bubble.

Ish Wainright is on a two-way contract and has only 10 more games of eligibility left before the Suns must sign him for the rest of the season. As for describing his game, he’s a poor man’s Torrey Craig, doing many of the same things but not quite as well. Three-point shooting, defense, issues on D as a combo forward, rebounding; he’s sort of a Xerox of a Xerox. Which is to say he’s a third string guy that can see some minutes during the regular season, but probably won’t get meaningful minutes in the playoffs unless something has gone horribly wrong.

Darius Bazley came to the Suns in a trade deadline deal that sent Dario Saric to the OKC Thunder. Bazley is sort of TJ Warren’s mirror universe evil twin: he’s a long, athletic defensive minded combo forward who is absolutely wretched on offense. Bazley’s has some great defensive skills: he’s long and quick enough to routinely leap out onto perimeter shooters and block their shots (generating fast breaks in the process). He’s also an able rim protector with good enough speed to defend either small or power forwards. He also is great at avoiding contact: at one point he was the only player in the NBA with more blocks than fouls. On offense, his ceiling is 3-and-D guy who gets a few poster dunks. If you see him trying to do anything on offense besides this (including the pick-and-roll), it’s best to not look, because nothing good is going to happen.

Terrence Ross is reportedly on his way to the Suns. He’s an athletic 6-6 206 lb swing man who has the ability to play either SG or SF. He’s 32 years old and clearly on the downswing of his career, but he can still shoot 3’s at a relatively high percentage (38.1%). He doesn’t provide much beyond that though: the rest of his stat line looks more or less like TJ Warren’s except for his true shooting percentage, which is an anemic 51.5% this year. His defense is also bottom of the barrel (4th percentile per one advanced stat source), though he’s been under-motivated riding the bench for two-years on bad Orlando teams that are in player development mode. It is hard to see Ross pushing his way past Damion Lee, TJ Warren, and Torrey Craig, though he could be an option if Coach Williams decides that he needs Ross’ shooting more than he needs Okogies’ defense.

Frontcourt Rotation: The rotation that makes the most sense is to start Okogie and bring Craig and Warren off the bench as a pair whenever Durant is off the court. Okogie’s ultra-pest defense allows the Suns to put him on the oppositions’ best player at PG, SG, or SF, and hide Chris Paul on whoever is the least threat. His mediocre offense isn’t much of a drawback with four other guys who can collect 20-30 points a night and generate their own offense. Okogie plays all-out, all the time so you can keep his minutes.

When Durant leaves the floor, the Suns will still need front court defense and a willing PoA defender, but they also need another shot creator. The Suns have the luxury of only playing 16 minutes per night without Durant (if he’s healthy), and Monty will likely buffer those with some combination of CP3, Booker, and Ayton. Bazley is situational player available if the Suns need someone with better length and shot blocking to play back up behind Durant, or Craig gets in foul trouble. Wainright is mostly there as insurance on Craig or Okogie.

Backup Center:

The Suns options at back up center haven’t been great. Jock Landale has been getting the most minutes at back-up center, and the results have been mixed, in part because the Suns depth has been so decimated by injury and trades. His three-point shooting doesn’t keep defenses honest, and he’s not a rim protector or great rebounder. He has some pretty moves (sometimes) on offense, but it’s not enough to prevent him from being a net negative on defense.

Bismack Biyombo has the opposite problem: all defense and horrendous offense. Bizzy is shooting a horrendous 31.4% from the free throw line this year, which makes him all but unplayable in the fourth quarter. His touch around the basket if fine (56.6% on two-point shots), but his range is limited to hooks and lay-ups. Still, Biyombo might make more sense than Landale when both Durant and Booker are on the floor together, and there’s no need.

It’s possible the Suns may experiment with Bazley at center for short stretches, the way they used Tom Chambers in 92-93 or Channing Frye in 2009-2010 as stretch 4’s in the absence of a competent center. Still, Ayton will get 30 minutes per game, and the Suns have three or four options to choose from. Thus, I suspect that back-up center minutes will be determined on a situational basis determined by who else the Suns have on the court, and opposing match-ups (e.g. Bazley makes more sense alongside guys who can score, and matched up against perimeter oriented 5’s like Christian Wood).


I believe the Suns’ (Normal) playoff rotation should be CP3/Book/Okogie/Durant/Ayton, with Payne, Damion Lee, Warren, Craig, and Landale as the main rotation players off the bench. Bazley has the biggest potential to be a surprise contributor based on his defensive versatility at three positions, dunks, and respectable 3-point shooting. I could see a replacement PG getting spot minutes (if the Suns sign them) when they’re a better option than Payne. Shamet, Wainright, and Biyombo are likely situational players based on injury and foul trouble. I believe that Saben Lee is likely to be cut if the Suns obtain another point guard in the buy out market.

Phoenix doesn’t have the bench depth to do a “hockey rotation”. Instead they will have to intersperse back-ups with any two or three of Paul, Booker, Durant, and Ayton during the game to avoid massive drop offs in quality of play at both ends of the court.

Let’s have some fun. Who do YOU think is the Suns 5th best player now?


Who is the 5th best player on the Suns now?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Cameron Payne

    (222 votes)

1640 votes total

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