3 players who could break into Suns starting lineup

Eric Gordon, Phoenix Suns (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Eric Gordon, Phoenix Suns (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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Jimmy Butler, Keita Bates-Diop (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images)
Jimmy Butler, Keita Bates-Diop (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images) /

The Phoenix Suns will be under the spotlight next season as Kevin Durant looks to win his third NBA championship. Four members of the starting five are set in stone. The fifth spot, not so much.

The Phoenix Suns are going to score a lot of points next season. There are valid concerns about the defense, about Deandre Ayton’s limited enthusiasm, about the overall depth, but none of that will matter so long as the core trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal stays healthy.

Okay, not true. It will matter, especially in the playoffs. But the regular season should be an offensive showcase from Phoenix. Even with rest built into the schedule for Durant and Beal, the Suns will have at least two of the world’s best offensive players on the floor more often than not. Beal is the “weak” appendage here, but he averaged north of 30 points per game twice in the last four years. He’s one of the league’s most versatile offensive guards and he is going to feast on defenses who are more concerned with Durant and Booker, arguable top-10 NBA players.

The Suns’ front office went to work over the summer to surround their core triumvirate with a decent supporting cast. A bunch of veteran minimum contracts can only get you so far, but Phoenix has several bench players who can be confidently deployed in a postseason setting. From stable vets to upside plays, the bench unit has it all.

The big question with Phoenix is, who will be Frank Vogel’s fifth starter? There’s no way around Beal, Booker, Durant, and Ayton. Those four are locked in until Ayton gets traded, if that ever actually happens. The fifth spot could go any number of ways depending on what Vogel needs. In fact, it wouldn’t be shocking if Phoenix changes its fifth starter on a game-by-game basis to fit the matchup.

For our purposes, let’s assume that last season’s group gets the first crack, with Beal replacing Chris Paul at point guard. That would mean Josh Okogie is the nominal fifth starter. These players represent his biggest competition for that spot.

No. 3 player who could break into Suns starting lineup: Keita Bates-Diop

Frankly, the Suns will struggle to find a better fit than Keita Bates-Diop. He checks more boxes across the board than any other Suns reserve. He’s a good shooter, check. He’s probably the best wing defender on the team behind Okogie, check. He’s switchable, he’s an adept cutter, he’s smart. Check, check, another check.

The Suns added plenty of shooters over the summer, but Bates-Diop is the only shooter who profiles as a truly above-average defender. Okogie is a brilliant defender, but he’s smaller than KBD and he’s a non-entity on offense. Bates-Diop will start the season with the second unit, but there’s a strong chance he doesn’t stay there.

The 6-foot-9 forward out of Ohio State averaged 9.7 points and 3.7 rebounds on .508/.394/.793 splits in 21.7 minutes per game for San Antonio last season. He started in 42 of 67 appearances and was a source of veteran stability for a team plagued with youth and defensive fragility.

The Suns will offer KBD a much brighter spotlight and the opportunity to compete for a championship. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but Bates-Diop is light on his feet. He switches comfortably between multiple frontcourt positions on defense. On offense, he’s a bankable spot-up shooter who frequently cuts and relocates to make himself available. Defenses will load up on Phoenix’s stars, which should leave Bates-Diop with plenty of clean looks at the basket.