The last week was a momentous one for the Phoenix Suns. Not just because they’re on a three-game win streak, or even because they finally vanquished their fourth-quarter demons in a massive comeback win against the Sacramento Kings.
The Suns also reached a milestone of sorts this week: it’s the healthiest they’ve been all season. Twice this week they went into a game with only two players on the injury report. Bradley Beal is finally, fully back and playing every game.
After a tough couple of months, the Suns are getting a look at what this roster is capable of.
Head coach Frank Vogel did an admirable job of managing the short-handed Suns, while also using it as an opportunity to try various different lineups. In stark contrast to years past with Monty Williams’ rigid rotations, it seems like any member of the Suns 15-man can play on a given night.
Still, that’s not necessarily an ideal way to operate this late into the season. When the playoffs roll around its preferable to go into them with a set 7-8 man rotation with everyone knowing their role. The playoffs are still months away though, so that’s not the reason Vogel should start honing in on his rotation.
Instead, the urgency is coming from the rapidly approaching February 8th trade deadline. It’s hard to tell just how big of a player the Suns will be on that day, but it’s a safe bet that they’ll make a move or two. With such limited draft assets, a lot of the value they send out will be via players.
That’s why it’s imperative that Vogel finds out who fits the long-term vision of this team, and who is expendable to improve it. Right now, the backup center and backup wing rotations are especially in need of some clarity.
Outside of Jusuf Nurkić, who’s started every game when available, the Suns big rotation has been a revolving door this season. Drew Eubanks started as the backup, before being benched while Bol Bol, Chimezie Metu, and Udoka Azubuike got some run. Now Drew has found his way back in the rotation.
One of those players has to stake their claim on that spot, but there's also an extra spot for someone who can play next to a big. Vogel has used some double-big lineups lately, and the success of those lineups could make someone like Bol Bol invaluable to the team.
The wing rotation has been just as tumultuous but even more important to figure out due to their contracts. Unlike the backup bigs who all have similar, minimum contracts, the Suns backup wings’ contracts are varied, making them the more likely players to be traded to match salaries.
This applies specifically to Nassir Little and Josh Okogie. Little, like almost everyone, has had an uneven role this year. For a stretch, he was one of the most consistent players on the team, but lately he’s barely played.
Meanwhile, his $6,250,000 contract figure could be the most useful trade piece the Suns have. Figuring out what to do with Little might be the most important question the Suns strive to answer in the next few weeks.
Josh Okogie’s strengths on defense and weaknesses on offense are well known at this point. Less known is how his particular archetype fits around the “Big 3” due to them having played so few games together.
If his weaknesses are nullified around them, then the Suns have a valuable rotation player. But if not, Okogie’s contract, which is slightly higher than the average minimum, could be key in making sure the Suns are taking back less money than they’re sending out.
Figuring out the rotation was only ever going to be possible with the Suns, namely the "Big 3", healthy. Vogel and his staff will have had about a month’s worth of games to evaluate the healthy Suns prior to the deadline. That should be enough time to make some informed, consequential decisions, before they can turn their focus to getting the playoff rotation set.