The Phoenix Suns are the top team in the NBA.
That’s quite an improvement in a couple of (shortened) seasons, but that’s what the numbers say: At 45-18, the Suns are tied with the Utah Jazz but hold the tiebreaker as they head for games at Oklahoma City, Cleveland and Atlanta.
The season — 72 games’ worth — ends with back-to-back road games in San Antonio May 15-16, and then, it’s a couple of watch parties to scout the first-round opponent during the play-in games.
The Phoenix Suns have the next two weeks to analyze, strategize, stabilize and identify the best rotation options for the playoffs.
It’s been an exciting climb to the top of the West, with the victory over the Los Angeles Clippers clinching the franchise’s first playoff spot since 2010. And serving to pose the question: What do Suns fans want for a playoff scenario?
The three most important elements of focus are shooting, rebounding and backup center.
Phoenix Suns rotation question 1: Who’s the shooter?
GM James Jones successfully built a roster of shooters — in James’ mold — so there will be options come playoff time.
Jevon Carter has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise from the past couple of months, hitting 30-for-75 from 3-point range in March and April. His consistent defensive energy is contagious, too, and he’ll be counted on for big minutes off the bench.
Suns fans saw Langston Galloway back on the court Friday night. He’s likely going to be needed for short stretches when the offense stagnates. Keep him actively involved.
Phoenix Suns rotation question 2: Who’s the backup five?
It’s pretty clear that the Suns’ starters will not be overwhelmed by the moment during the upcoming playoffs.
But this one has concerned Suns followers the most, with a good deal of angst growing as prime backup options Andre Drummond, LaMarcus Aldridge (since retired), DeMarcus Cousins and JaVale McGee joined other NBA title contenders.
So Williams has used Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky when Ayton needs a rest.
What’s best? This, again, is where the matchup will dictate Williams’ allotment of minutes.
Saric was on the radar for Sixth Man of the Year honors before seeing his production — and his health — suffer a little bit recently.
Kaminsky is shooting a career-best .389 from 3-point range this season, but has struggled since the All-Star break to the most of his second chance with the bench minutes provided.
Kaminsky, whose interior defense is a well-known liability, has hit only 2 of 10 from 3-point range since the break. Right now, Kaminsky serves as only a somewhat-desperate option for the playoffs (Ayton/Saric foul trouble, injury, etc) who needs to show a more aggressive rebounding approach — and better shooting.
Phoenix Suns rotation question 3: Who grabs the boards?
This is an easy one: Deandre Ayton needs Paul and Booker in his ear — constantly — from the beginning of the playoffs. Ayton’s energy needs to be on point, with nothing more than 100 percent effort on every play. Get back on defense! Run the court! Work for rebounding position!
After Ayton, it’s going to be great for Williams to have the luxury of Torrey Craig’s instincts and effort. Assuming there’s enough scoring on the floor — and there usually is — Craig can roam the interior hunting for a piece of the ball on every missed shot. He’s Dennis Rodman light, but it’s a heavy role for this playoff-bound group.
Booker, Paul, Cam Johnson and Bridges must use their court IQ and athleticism to provide rebounding support — and don’t take any plays off, because that’s when the rebound falls in a spot they should already be occupying.
OK. That’s what the next couple of weeks will be all about: Securing a top-two seed and refining the rotation. Let’s go!