When the Phoenix Suns acquired Bradley Beal this offseason to join Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, the first thought was how all of that superstar talent and shot-making was going to coexist. The next thought, formulated quickly by most NBA fans, was how on Earth the Suns would construct a viable supporting cast around three players making $130 million combined this season.
Led by president of basketball operations James Jones, the front office went to work, assembling essentially an entire new squad mostly comprised of minimum contracts. The signings — players like Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe and Keita Bates-Diop — were lauded, and the depth was bolstered with trades that brought in players like Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen and Jordan Goodwin.
On paper, it looked pretty decent. But on the court, time would have to tell.
Following two games this week without Booker and Beal in the lineup due to injury, it’s safe to say that Phoenix’s depth has passed its first test. The shorthanded Suns nearly spoiled the Los Angeles Lakers‘ home opener on Thursday night, ultimately falling, 100-95. Durant was unreal, as he tends to be, scoring 39 points on 28 shots. But the supporting cast stepped up to help the Suns keep the lead until midway through the fourth quarter.
Gordon scored seven of his 15 points in the opening frame, forcing the Lakers defense to reckon with a threat other than Durant. Josh Okogie, one of the few holdovers from last season’s roster, pulled down eight rebounds (four offensive) and hit two of his four 3-point attempts. Goodwin, a throw-in in the Beal trade, put up 14 points, six rebounds and two steals on 6-for-15 shooting, and was a plus-eight in the box score, hitting multiple floaters in the paint.
Despite the loss, the Suns’ “others” showed up in a big way against L.A. But there are no moral victories, as we know. So how about a real victory?
In Saturday night’s home opener, Phoenix absolutely dismantled the Utah Jazz, 126-104, again with Booker and Beal watching from the sideline. The best part about the victory if you’re a Suns fan: Durant only took 11 shots.
It was a complete team effort, registering 31 assists on 45 made field goals, as six Suns scored in double-figures. It wasn’t a lucky shooting night either — they only went 10 for 37 from 3-point range. Durant unsurprisingly led the way with 26 points, but here’s a look at some of the key contributions from the rest of the lineup:
- Eric Gordon: 21 points, 4 assists, 9-14 FG
- Grayson Allen: 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6-10 FG
- Jordan Goodwin: 12 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds
- Drew Eubanks: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 6-7 FG
- Jusuf Nurkic: 10 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists
Watanabe even made the bench erupt after a smooth behind-the-back and some jelly on the finish.
Yes, it’s only three games into the season for a team with championship hopes, but you have to remember that when Durant, Booker and Beal are at full strength in a playoff situation, the Suns aren’t going to need all of these role players to perform every night. Maybe one night it’s Okogie. Another it’s Gordon. Another it’s Goodwin. The point is, head coach Frank Vogel seems to have multiple options.
Whether that pans out in the postseason remains to be seen, but the front office has to at least be giving itself a slight pat on the back for the way the supporting cast has stepped up with two of the three stars out of the lineup.