Why the Phoenix Suns are set for a change to their starting lineup

Phoenix Suns, Cameron Johnson (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Cameron Johnson (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Phoenix Suns have possessed the steadiest starting lineup in the NBA over the last two seasons, but things could be set for a change after a disappointing exit in the 2022 playoffs.

The Phoenix Suns’ lineup of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton has been, by far, the most used five-man group across the league.

For the most part, it’s garnered incredible success. The Suns have been the most dominant regular season team over this period, just falling short of the NBA title in 2021.

During that postseason run, the lineup played a mammoth 127 minutes more than any other five-man combination. That had come on the back of playing 50 more minutes than any other during the regular season.

In 2021-22, the lineup sat second in regular season minutes, falling just behind the Denver Nuggets’ lineup of Monte Morris, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green and Nikola Jokic.

They then played the second most minutes during the playoffs, this despite having fell in the second-round to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.

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

The Phoenix Suns are ready for a starting lineup change next season, with Cameron Johnson ready to take power forward responsibilities from Jae Crowder.

As successful as the current starting lineup has been, there were signs of staleness as the playoffs rolled on. In 180 postseason minutes, the group had a -2.2 net rating. This included a 115.5 defensive rating, with Doncic taking advantage of issues on that end of the floor.

Johnson, having now completed three seasons in the NBA, is primed to take a starting role off Crowder heading into next season. The latter averaged slightly more minutes last season, but expect that to change as the 26-year-old Johnson grows into a larger role.

You can now argue he’s simply a better player than Crowder, even if the defensive aspect isn’t fully rounded yet. Johnson proved himself a much better offensive player, shooting far greater percentages from the field and three-point range.

It’s remarkable how little the group of Paul, Booker, Bridges, Johnson and Ayton have played. They combined for a grand total of 42 minutes in the regular season, then 24 minutes during the postseason.

This is made even more incredible by the statistics with this five on the floor. They were +29.5 in net rating across the 42 minutes, then an astounding +41.5 during the 24 minutes in the playoffs. This prompts the question, why hasn’t that unit been used more?

Perhaps Monty Williams rights his wrongs by inserting Johnson into the starting lineup next season. Complicating matters is his eligibility for a contract extension this offseason. Surely he would want some assurances on a starting role in the future before signing a new deal.

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Of course, these conversations are based on the Suns making no major moves this offseason. That could happen at any point, but it probably appears unlikely at this stage.