Among the many goals the Phoenix Suns must accomplish down the stretch of the regular season, figuring out playoff rotations is one of the most important. There are still a lot of spots up in the air right now, and perhaps chief among them is the backup center spot.
It seemed like Jock Landale had the spot on virtual lockdown for a long time. He was almost exclusively getting the backup center minutes while Bismack Biyombo was racking up DNPs. Recently though, that has shifted with Biyombo starting to get more and more time, culminating in a premier matchup against the Warriors in which he got all of the meaningful backup center minutes.
Neither Biyombo nor Landale is a perfect option for Williams and the Suns
Biyombo had a performance to forget in that game. He struggled mightily on the offensive end as the Warriors focused their defense elsewhere, daring him to make something happen around the rim. He couldn’t, and not providing any offense is a big reason why the Suns’ rally was stifled.
I do understand Monty Williams’ thought process on the recent switch. I think he correctly realized Landale will be hunted relentlessly on defense when on the floor in the playoffs and was seeing if Biyombo could boost that end of the court. He was right on that account, but it came at a cost.
Biyombo is a much better defender than Landale but is negative on the offensive end of the floor. As great as he is on defense, he’s equally as weak on offense, and the opposite is true for Landale. If only there were a way to combine them to get the best of both worlds!
This yin and yang leaves the Suns in a precarious position. Biyombo’s warts on the offensive end might be minimized when flanked by Kevin Durant, and the other Suns featured players when their minutes spike in the playoffs. Landale’s defense might not matter as much if the Suns’ stars outscore everybody. Deandre Ayton will also see his minutes jump, limiting the Suns’ exposure to their backups bigs to only 5-10 minutes a game.
But those 10 minutes could be the difference between winning and losing a championship, and if having Biyombo and Landale out there is doing more harm than good, it’ll be a tough ask keeping them on the floor. The Suns will have a harder time switching things up on the fly in the playoffs, so figuring this out now is critical.
An alternative to playing the Suns playing one of the regular backup centers
There may be an alternate option besides those two players, however. Monty can forgo running a traditional center lineup in the playoffs and play small ball. He dabbled in this in the short time that KD was active.
In the game against the Mavericks, KD played the center position for about four minutes. It’s far too short of a sample size to glean anything of note from it other than that Williams tried it in the first place. I think it is an idea worth exploring further with a different player.
Darius Bazley has barely played since being acquired at the deadline, largely due to the number of options the Suns have at the wing. But Bazley might be able to find time at the center spot. He fits the physical profile of a small ball or even just a traditional center. He’s a hair taller than Biyombo, so he has the size for the center position. He’s just as athletic and can pressure the rim in the pick-and-roll while spacing the floor like Biyombo can’t.
Bazley is known for his defense, giving him an advantage over Landale in that department. I joked about a combination before, and Bazley might just be it. Playing him in this way and being successful could open up a world of possibilities for when Durant gets back. Durant and Bazley could pick up those backup center minutes together and form a strong defensive front-court, with Bazley taking the tougher assignments to ease the burden on Durant. Conversely, the Suns wouldn’t be giving up as much offensively.
Admittedly, this is a “perfect world” view of this situation, but I believe Bazley provides a much higher two-way ceiling than the other backups. I know the Suns should exhaust every option to try and find the winning formula because time is short, and their other choices haven’t withstood these playoff-type tests.