The Phoenix Suns showed their commitment to placing the right pieces around Devin Booker this offseason. The question remains how well the talent will mesh together.
Heading into the 2018-19 season, Ryan McDonough has the Phoenix Suns in the most promising situation the team has been in for years. He locked up the future of the franchise with a five-year extension, drafted Deandre Ayton to provide the team with a dominant inside presence, and surrounded those two offensive cornerstones with switchable defensive wings.
Mikal Bridges and Josh Jackson each bring a lot to the table. Bridges is a high-efficiency player who spaces the floor well and can shoot off movement, which has high importance in Head Coach Igor Kokoskov’s offense. Jackson too brings intensity in everything he does, can develop into a great driver and back-door cutter, and has showed improvement in his shooting numbers ever since college.
However, even with their offensive skills, everything starts with defense for them. Booker is a budding offensive superstar who can control an offense and relieve pressure off other players.
The team simply needed players to mask his defensive shortcomings.
Acquiring Bridges on draft night showed the team understands that. Regarded as a top defender in the draft, he spent his college career locking down perimeter players and has the speed to switch from shooting guards to power forwards.
No player is without their weakness, but Bridges’ lack of play-making ability will be masked by Booker and hopefully a healthy Brandon Knight. You know what you are going to get night in and night out, which does not make him the most exciting young prospect, but one who can develop into a glue guy.
Jackson is extremely different.
He struggled with consistency throughout his entire rookie season and had a few glaring weaknesses that stunted his growth. His intensity is incredible, but also lead to him being tied for 14th in the league in technical fouls, taking lots of ill-advised shots, and turning the ball over at a high rate.
His sheer talent and potential makes you live with those weaknesses. On defense, he is fierce and can become a true lockdown defender. He sometimes gambles too much with blocks and steals but with some discipline may end up as a top perimeter defender in the league.
Offensively, he is very quick and aggressive when attacking the basket, has flashed impressive passing abilities (his court vision still needs some work), and is working on a consistent jump shot.
While both their natural positions are at small forward, the new position-less basketball of today’s NBA offers a chance to be a very unique pairing. This may rely on one of two things happening; Jackson becoming a good playmaker or Bridges comfortably moving to the 4.
Even with the expectation that Booker will improve his already impressive playmaking ability, the Suns should not leave him as the one credible source of playmaking on the court. His true strength is his scoring ability, and having him initiate the offense for others takes away from that strength.
Having Jackson on the court as a point forward would give Booker the chance to play off ball and focus strictly on scoring. The defense would have to place a lot of focus on preventing penetration from Jackson, while keeping in mind if you draw to many defenders onto him Ayton will be left open in the post.
Booker is used to seeing two to three defenders trying to contain him due to never playing with any true offensive threats, which allows him more opportunities for easy buckets and improving his already impressive efficiency.
Mikal Bridges works perfectly in this lineup, where he projects as the 4th or even 5th option on offense. A defender will have to stick close by him which frees up room in the post for Ayton and driving lanes for Jackson and Booker.
If they sag off too much, Bridges will make them pay, as he needs very little room to get his shot off with such a high release point.
If Jackson cannot pass as a solid playmaker, and the team needs to put a true point guard on the floor, that would push Bridges to the 4. He is a little short for power forward and will need to bulk up to guard bigger players, but that is typical for rookies. There should be little doubt that he can hold his own playing the 4, but the team may not want their future power forward to be 6’7″.
If the Phoenix Suns decided they prefer Bridges at small forward instead of power forward, that creates a bit of a logjam the position. They did not trade for Bridges so he could come off the bench, but should value Jackson’s development more.
At the end of last season, Booker expressed that he was done missing the playoffs. With such a young roster, chances are that may still happen again this year.
However, with Booker teaming up with Team USA and seeing other stars pair up around the league, it is possible the Suns may want to keep Booker happy by giving the team a real shot at being a contender and trading for a star.
They have been brought up in rumors for stars in the past, but nothing really developed.
If a big star becomes available, Jackson is the most likely to be moved. Suns fans may be angered after spending a high pick on him, but realistically the team cannot expect to keep Booker, Ayton, and Jackson, while putting together a truly competitive offer. Having a star along with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton can push the Phoenix Suns into playoff contention and make the team more desirable for future free agents.
The Phoenix Suns have their work cut out for them assembling the roster. The potential for a logjam is there, but hopefully Bridges and Jackson can create an incredible defensive duo along with complimentary offensive skill-sets. Having both these players on the team is a great building block in developing around Booker and Ayton and climbing their way back into contention.