The Phoenix Suns are on their way home after an Eastern Conference road trip that saw them go 2-1 against the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls. An acceptable return for the franchise, with their lone loss coming to the 76ers, a game they could have won.
The organization were also boosted by the timely return of Bradley Beal, who made his regular season bow against the Bulls and poured in 13 valuable points. His back-to-back 3-pointers in the first quarter showcasing just how good he will be next to Kevin Durant.
Lost amongst all of this was head coach Frank Vogel making a key lineup change while the team was on the road that paid dividends.
Josh Okogie has been one of the Suns’ best role players in the absence of Beal and Devin Booker. Both he and Grayson Allen exceeding expectations early in the season, with Okogie an excellent defender for the team and often being tasked with trying to shut down high level scorers.
Okogie started the first five games of the season, but once the team headed East, Okogie found himself coming off the bench. Thursday’s win against the Bulls was the second fewest minutes Okogie had played all season, tallying 18 minutes. In that time, he had seven points.
This was because coach Vogel had decided to start Keita Bates-Diop for the three road games, and he was rewarded with an excellent performance from the player against the Bulls. Center Jusuf Nurkic will get more plaudits for how he played, and Beal will get the headlines with it being his first game of the season. But Bates-Diop was right there for the team.
Bates-Diop was the most underrated pickup by the Suns this offseason, and his skill set has similarities to Okogie. To have both on the same roster is a luxury, and the team have really benefitted from this in recent games. Former Suns player Torrey Craig – now with the Bulls – used to fill this role for the group, but both Okogie and Bates-Diop are looking like upgrades.
Benching Okogie in favor of Bates-Diop was a brave call by coach Vogel, because Okogie had done really well for the Suns so far this season, and defensively they had looked a lot better than most thought they would. It paid off, but coach Vogel will have another tough decision to make before long.
Once Booker returns, does he revert back to Okogie alongside the “Big 3” plus Nurkic, or does Bates-Diop continue to start given how well he has taken this opportunity? Then there is Allen, who has done his chances no harm with how he has shot the ball and played next to Durant. He has also started every game to this point as well.
The win over the Bulls was so much closer than it should have been, and on another night they would have beaten the 76ers. The Suns rank 10th in defensive rating so far (109.1), but when Bates-Diop is on the court, that number shrinks to 107.8. He has done his chances of sticking in this rotation once the team gets down to the business end of the campaign no harm at all.