The Phoenix Suns are less than a month away from their first preseason game. Suns coach Frank Vogel was recently interviewed by The Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin, who asked what he will look for in the team’s fifth starter.
Here is what Vogel said.
“I think the one that’s going to fit the best, really,” he said. “We’ll have a lot of guys that have an opportunity to be that fifth guy. The versatility of maybe being able to guard multiple positions or maybe it’s an elite shooter. Maybe it’s just another playmaker. I think we have a lot of guys with a lot of different skill sets and we’ll put a lot of different combinations throughout the year, but I think all of those skill sets would fit the four guys you mentioned.”
The Suns will have arguably the best four-man lineup in the league with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Deandre Ayton. Suns wing Josh Okogie is a candidate to start since he did so in the last 25 games of the 2022-23 regular season.
Phoenix also added wings Keita Bates-Diop and Yuta Watanabe in free agency, who could be key pieces.
Okogie started the last quarter of the season, which was important since the team looked to establish continuity with Durant after it traded for him in February.
Consistent rotations were important for previous coach Monty Williams to establish. The Suns only played eight regular-season games with Durant after he suffered a sprained ankle. Once the playoffs started, Williams benched Okogie for forward Torrey Craig.
Craig had positive games in the Suns’ first-round series against the Clippers. However, the Suns had little time to experiment new lineups and chose to do so in the playoffs, when Williams himself said in a press conference Phoenix had closed Game 3 the Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets with a lineup the team had not used previously.
Williams on the #Suns’ fourth-quarter lineup with Booker, Shamet, Warren, Durant and Landale. Williams said it had not been used before.
(1/2): “It was just the feel. It was, ‘What can we do to compete and be physical on defense?’ Get some athleticism on the floor… pic.twitter.com/p1PdtW07JD
— Trevor Booth (@TrevorMBooth) May 6, 2023
The Suns’ rotation was fluid. Phoenix played some players big minutes at times and benched them for other games. As a result, they had no rhythm and played Durant and Booker the most minutes per game of any players in the playoffs.
Okogie is a player whose skills fit right in Vogel’s wheelhouse. Okogie won the 2023 Dan Majerle Hustle Award and earned playing time thanks to his defense. Okogie is yet to have a defensive rating below 112.2, according to NBA Stats.
Okogie also improved as a shooter but will need to be very consistent. ClutchPoints wrote the following in our expectations for Okogie this season.
“He will have value in Vogel’s defensive scheme because of his activity and commitment…the Suns overhauled their bench with shooting and high-potential defensive players, and Okogie needs to step out from that crowd.”
Watanabe shot 44.1 percent (60-of-135) from 3-point range in 2022-23 with the Brooklyn Nets, including over 50 percent on corner threes. He was assisted 14 times by Durant, who embraced Watanabe’s energy.
“He’s going to be one of those people that’s highly, if we (the Nets) don’t lock him down, a lot of people are going to want him,” Durant said.
Watanabe recently played for Japan in the 2023 FIBA World Cup. He helped the country win qualification for the Olympics for the first time since 1976.
Watanabe looked like a player who could fit next to the Suns’ big four. He is smart with the basketball and not make decisions that could enhance odds for a turnover.
Watanabe had three games with 20-plus points in the World Cup. He played on a bad ankle but still looked good.
Watanabe’s shooting would undoubtedly pay dividends for a Suns team that wants to play with pace, Vogel told Rankin. Phoenix does not have a true point guard but has three of the best isolation scorers in basketball, which means they will need to have players ready to shoot once Booker, Beal and Durant create shots for themselves.
Since Watanabe can shoot effectively from the corner, he might be called upon to make defenses pay if they help on the Suns’ stars. He is one of a few options who could take the fifth starting spot.
Bates-Diop might have the highest potential of any probable Suns fifth starter. He is listed at 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, which would make him an annoyance off-the-ball.
Bates-Diop started 30 of 34 games for the Spurs at the end of last season. For the year, he averaged a career-bests in points per game (9.7) and 3-point percentage (39.4). He shot 50.8 from the field overall.
Bates-Diop is 27 years old. If he maximizes his capability, he can develop into an effective defender and shooter.
He might not be as effective right now from 3-point range as Watanabe or as a defender like Okogie but has physical gifts the others do not have. He might be the Suns’ guy they go to if he can play like he did at the end of the 2022-23 season.
The post Suns’ top three candidates for fifth starting spot appeared first on ClutchPoints.