How the Suns can use Biyombo and Smith once Ayton and McGee Return

Phoenix Suns, Jalen Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns, Jalen Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

Last week, the Phoenix Suns reluctantly handed replacement bigs Jalen Smith and Bismack Biyombo the keys to their expensive, luxurious, and possibly Matthew McConaughey advertised sports car of a team.

At the time, the Suns owned the NBA’s second best record, trailing only Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Under such circumstances, the decision to move forward with Biyombo and Smith felt a bit shaky, even despite it being inevitable with Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee stuck in health and safety protocols.

Regardless, Biyombo and Smith hopped into the driver’s seat without much hesitation, both playing big minutes for the Suns during games against the Charlotte Hornets and New Orleans Pelicans. Given their inexperience, everyone expected them to drive off the highway, but instead, they kept things moving, preserving the team’s position in the West and illustrating the importance of having solid backup players.

Eat your heart out Tom Brady.

Today, Phoenix boasts a 29-8 record, with Smith and Biyombo having combined for 58 points, 29 rebounds, and six blocked shots over their past two games. The pair also shot a collective 65.7 percent from the field, on par with Ayton and McGee, who have together shot 64.0 percent so far this year.

But with Ayton quarantined for well over a week now, he and McGee coming back to the team feels right around the corner, and even with the phenomenal play from Biyombo and Smith considered, this return still threatens to push them back down on the totem pole. Ayton and McGee will undoubtedly retain their spots toward the front of the rotation once cleared, simply as the more established stars.

Going forward though, Monty Williams and the Phoenix coaching staff would be ignorant to just forget about everything which Smith and Biyombo brought to the table over the past few days. Drawing up a new blueprint for the team’s frontcourt rotation, the Suns can feature all four big men effectively under these guidelines.

How will the Phoenix Suns feature Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee, Jalen Smith, and Bismack Biyombo?

With Ayton and McGee finding abundant success as a tag team for the Suns this year, you do not want to necessarily take important minutes away from either guy. However, a few cracks do exist in their respective games which Biyombo and Smith can fill nicely.

Where does Jalen Smith Fit in the Phoenix Suns Rotation?

As the only active center on this team with a 3-point shot, Smith resembles the most versatile piece across this quadrant of bigs, leading him into his new role with the team.

From here on out, the Suns need to slide Smith up to field backup minutes at power forward. Playing along the block, his post game and jump shot can both flourish, while also helping Phoenix dominate on the glass with his height beside McGee/Ayton’s.

Most importantly though, this format does not take any minutes from typical backup power forward Cameron Johnson. Under this rotation, Johnson still comes off the bench first to replace Jae Crowder, but later in the game fields minutes at small forward behind Mikal Bridges, allowing Smith to come in. With speed, quick hands, and as the team’s best jump shooter, Johnson possesses all the tools needed to play the three, and promises to thrive there as Smith gets some run.

So by extension, the minutes typically taken by Abdel Nader, Elfrid Payton, or whoever Monty throws out along the wing after Bridges transfers over to Johnson, and then to Smith.

If players like McGee or Ayton run into foul trouble, then all bets are off and Smith can surely still play some center. But this system still carves out 5-10 minutes per game for Smith without taking anything away from Bridges, Johnson, or Crowder, and instead poaches from the team’s less impactful reserves.

Where does Bismack Biyombo fit in the Phoenix Suns Rotation?

As a bruiser down low, Biyombo’s game fits the center mold too perfectly to slide him into any other position like with Smith. Chemistry between him and Chris Paul off the pick-and-roll already appears evident as well, which the Suns surely want to utilize.

So with that noted, the path for him stays true to the center position, just taking a few minutes away each night from McGee. Contrary to popular belief, doing so will help McGee and the Suns to a greater extent.

When the COVID-19 wave first hit the Suns, it actually put Ayton into protocols a few days before McGee. During that time, McGee served as the team’s starter, and although he managed to hold his own, his scoring totals, rebounding, and efficiency numbers all plummeted in comparison to those posted by him during his games working strictly as a reserve.

Without question McGee still resembles a valuable player, but only an effective one during spurts, rather than long periods on the floor. So to help McGee stay extra fresh and play his best basketball when called upon, Biyombo comes in to ease his workload a bit.

Taking just 3-5 minutes per game from McGee, ideally midway through the second or third quarter, Biyombo comes in to provide a punch similar to McGee’s while also taking some of that weight off his shoulders. Doing so again preserves McGee better, henceforth allowing the Suns to get the best out of him during important moments, while still allowing Biyombo keep putting in work.

Unlike Smith’s merger, Biyombo’s insertion to the full rotation does indeed take some minutes away from a typical rotation guy, but again, it works to everyone’s benefit, which matters far more than anyone’s ego or pride.

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Obviously with injuries, guys heating up at different points, certain matchups wielding different results, and so on, these rotations will be entirely “give and take.” But Monty is surely up for that challenge, and this strategy identifies a solid place for him to at least start with in navigating through all this talent.