Phoenix Suns Secret Lineup Monty Williams Must Use in NBA Playoffs

Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Down by double digits heading into the fourth quarter against the Toronto Raptors last month, Monty Williams reached deep into his bag of tricks for something Phoenix Suns fans had never seen before.

At the next dead ball, Williams deployed a daring and unique lineup, which gave the Suns an uncommon level of energy in a common regular season game.

Although the Suns took the lead down the stretch, Toronto’s Gary Trent Jr. ultimately slammed the door shut on Phoenix, dropping a career-high 42 points. This unconventional lineup got the Suns back into the game, but Toronto was just firing on all cylinders.

This loss against the Raptors would be a small blip in an otherwise brilliant season for Phoenix though. Chris Paul would return from injury two weeks later just in time for the playoffs. The Suns would also finish the regular season with a record-breaking 64-18 record to solidify their home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

So how is a regular season loss against Toronto going to impact Phoenix’s title hopes? Well that secret lineup which Monty unveiled during it could pay dividends down the road. Although the Suns remain highly unlikely to see the Raptors again this year, they can flummox all their other opponents with that same five.

Phoenix Suns Secret Lineup: Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet, Mikal Bridges, JaVale McGee, and Bismack Biyombo

Going back to that mid-March contest, Toronto held complete control over the Suns heading into the fourth quarter. Unable to find much rhythm without Chris Paul and in a desperate attempt to keep the game competitive, Williams doubled down on size, deploying both JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo to man the middle.

Backup guards Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet joined them up top. Mikal Bridges rounded things out as the only starter amidst this supersized lineup, which resembled a unit more commonly seen in the 1990s rather than what we typically see now.

In today’s NBA, you almost never see lineups with two traditional paint-bound centers on the court together. It would equate to basketball blasphemy, especially in Phoenix, where former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni was the architect of the perimeter-oriented offenses seen in today’s NBA.

But somehow, this five proved effective. Right after the game, Bridges even tipped his hat to the oversized lineup idea, specifically citing rebounding as an advantage brought on by it.

Bridges also noted how playing two centers made life easier for him defensively. As the runaway favorite for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, his words should carry tremendous weight in the Suns organization.

In the game, the Bridges-McGee-Biyombo trio quickly shut down Toronto’s path to the basket. Attacking the basket against those three defensive stalwarts was as frustrating as driving through I-10 in the middle of Downtown Phoenix at 5 PM.

Toronto struggled just to get shots off anywhere near the paint. Toronto’s Precious Achiuwa even got stuffed by both McGee and Biyombo when trying to attack the basket. 

Interestingly enough, that was the only block recorded in that five minute stretch. But while the total number of blocks were not as high as one might expect from a supersized lineup, these numbers really stood out in the Suns’ favor.

  • The Suns went on a 14-4 run during those 5 minutes
  • The Suns drew six fouls while only committing two fouls of their own
  • Toronto shot an abysmal 28.6% from the field
  • The Suns dominated Toronto on the boards (6-2 rebounding advantage!)

This might be a small sample size. But think about what cost Phoenix a title last year against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Eventual Final MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated Deandre Ayton and the often-undersized Suns frontline during last year’s championship series. Once Ayton ran out of gas midway through Game 6, the Greek Freak smelled blood in the water—and nobody was there to stop him from chowing down inside.

Furthermore, Milwaukee pummelled the Suns on the offensive glass, putting up a 79-42 advantage for the series. But this Suns lineup wields the potential to counter Giannis if the Suns face Milwaukee again in this season’s NBA Finals.

This lineup also promises to disrupt an opposing team’s offensive flow if accustomed to attacking the Suns perimeter-oriented defense.

Against the McGee-Biyombo duo, there will be a lot of ill-fated mismatch huntings by other teams. Opposing players will see McGee or Biyombo as easy isolation targets, only to find out they were wrong the hard way.

These isolations will force offensive players to either shoot over a seven-footer or attack the basket with the two centers looming nearby. This will ultimately slow down opponents and take them out of their offensive rhythm.

Let me take this a step further: this is a no-win situation for opposing offenses. The only reliable counter to this lineup is if all five opposing players are viable three-point shooters.

Of course, this lineup should not field minutes against teams with five shooters on the floor. But the Suns can use this lineup to ruthlessly funnel the ball to opposing players who they want shooting the ball (i.e.  Patrick Beverley in last season’s Western Conference Finals).

If Monty Williams wants to venture out even further on defense, he can deploy a 1/2/2 zone with Bridges up top. The Warden’s length at the top of the zone will neutralize any offense looking to go downhill. Moving the ball from side-to-side would also present a strong challenge with Bridges being able to deflect most swing passes.

Williams can even run a box-and-one: Bridges can guard the opposing star player, while McGee and Biyombo position themselves on the blocks.

But for as fortified as this group might look at the defensive end, its potential offensive benefits remain equally strong. The McGee-Biyombo lineup promises to gobble up offensive rebounds and free-throw attempts. Even if the Suns struggle to score with this lineup (which they might!), they will get the opposing big men in foul trouble.

This offense also threatens to present a bewildering look to opposing defenses. The Suns almost always have four perimeter players flanked by a traditional center. With the opposing scouting reports zeroed in on defending the Suns’ four-out lineup, Phoenix would benefit from having an additional look to throw at opposing defenses.

There are also several effective sets that can be run out of this lineup. Here are three that I see as most effective with both McGee and Biyombo in the game:

  • McGee and Biyombo set a double ball screen for Payne going right-to-left with Bridges and Shamet positioned in the corners
  • McGee and Biyombo set a staggered double screen for Bridges, Shamet, or another perimeter player (e.g. Cameron Johnson) for an open triple
  • A simple horns set with one of McGee or Biyombo receiving a post entry feed at the elbow and the other player quickly diving to the basket

The possibilities do not stop there though, as I am sure several other sets can be run out of this lineup. Williams is a great offensive mind who knows how to generate effective half-court offense seemingly out of nowhere. He will engineer ways to get his top shooters wide open looks using the defense’s inevitable tendency to play way off of Biyombo and McGee.

Conclusion: Phoenix Suns Biyombo/McGee Lineups is Worth Playing

The unorthodox McGee-Biyombo pairing will serve as a speed bump to opponents who are accustomed to Phoenix’s perimeter-oriented lineups. It may even slow down a Milwaukee lineup that was otherwise unstoppable in last season’s NBA Finals.

The endless length of the Bridges-McGee-Biyombo trio will disrupt and irritate opponents to no end. Teams will have an extremely hard time scoring points consistently in a half-court setting.

Next. Suns Player Certain to Dictate Playoff Success. dark

The opposing defenses will also have to defend all 24 seconds in the shot clock, and aggressively box out Bridges, McGee, and Biyombo every single time. At the end of the day, the McGee-Biyombo lineup may not win a game for the Suns, but it might force an opponent to lose a game instead.