How Monty Williams deploys his guard rotation will be of much interest to those closely watching the Phoenix Suns this season.
Yes, the addition of Chris Paul and how he meshes with Devin Booker is at the top of the list, but there are important inquiries to present for the players behind those two.
Last season, Booker played 36.0 minutes per game in the 62 outings he had with Ricky Rubio. In those, the duo shared the court for 24.4 minutes a night. That meant there was roughly a full quarter a game with a reserve guard in, save for the rare exception Williams played three wings.
Given the fact that the Suns outscored teams by more than 7 points per 100 possessions when Booker and Rubio shared the floor, and that that net rating for the team overall landed at 0.5, you can do the math on how much worse Phoenix was when the starting backcourt wasn’t playing together.
That 0.5 rating, by the way, bumped from -1.0 to 0.5 thanks to the 8-0 run in the bubble while a 7.3 net rating for Booker and Rubio together held. So, that wasn’t even the guard duo getting better in Orlando — it was the depth behind them improving through Cameron Payne and Jevon Carter earning bubble playing time and performing well.
General manager James Jones this offseason added E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway, two well-respected veteran guards, on veteran’s minimum salaries to add more depth behind Payne and Carter. Paul mentioned those Moore and Galloway a few times when he spoke on Wednesday, so the additions certainly got his attention.
First and foremost, Williams has options now.
“I’m really impressed with E’Twaun from afar … has an ability to play in catch-and-shoot situations and facilitate [to] make plays for other people,” Williams said Sunday, also touting the scoring talents of both Moore and Galloway.
“Jevon and Cam gave everybody an example of what we believe they’re gonna get into even more this year hopefully: putting pressure on other teams and playing fast. Aggressive on defense, fast on offense and they both can make shots.”
When it comes to a specific guard coming off the bench, Williams focused on the concept of that guard often spending time playing alongside one of Paul or Booker. Who fits that role starts to lean more in the favor of someone like Moore, given what Williams said above.
It alludes to the possibility of Williams “staggering” his lead guards more often, meaning the coach is attempting to keep at least one of his two key players on the court at all times.
Williams tried as best as he could to do this with Booker, Rubio and a short bench last season, but Williams said heading into the offseason he’s going to look to deploy Point Book more. Even when Booker played with more of an off-ball guard like Carter in the past, it was still Carter initiating the offense.
Williams logically didn’t want to put too much of the load on Booker so early on in his tenure, and now with better options and more time with this group, he could be more confident in allowing Booker to play some point guard. That’s something Booker has done in the past, and is more than capable of, which would also make staggering him with Paul much more effective.
Here’s more from Williams on the bench guards’ role.
“You want to be able to see who can play with the first unit,” Williams said. “I always look at it in terms of who makes Devin’s job easier, who makes (Deandre Ayton’s) job easier, who can get Mikal the ball when he’s cutting to the basket and coming off screens. Or playing in pick-and-roll, if you can hit Mikal coming off a shakeup — those are the kinds of concepts that I’m looking for from guys that are going to be in those role positions.”
Sunday was the Suns’ first opportunity to go 4-on-4 and 5-on-5, which are the types of specific drills where Williams will lock in on what those guards are capable of.
“Those guys are versatile guys who can do different things,” he said.
Depth also brings out competitive practices, a consistent theme of the earliest sessions at the lab.
“The competition level has been through the roof these first couple of days,” Galloway said Sunday. “They’ve been really gnawing at the bone trying to say, ‘Hey look, let’s get back to it and really get this thing going and put it on the right track.’”
CARTER FEELS LIKE FAMILY
Carter spoke on Sunday for the first time since signing a new three-year deal with the Suns.
Williams on Saturday referred to Carter and Dario Saric, who were both restricted free agents, as “culture drivers.”
Carter, the third-year guard out of West Virginia, clearly meant a lot to Williams when you saw the coach’s reaction to Carter officially signing his contract.
“It just felt like family here,” Carter said. “It felt like I was wanted here. Even when I went through them stretches when I wasn’t playing, it never felt like they didn’t want me here. It was just that’s what they were trying to do for our team … Even through all that, I always felt like I was wanted.”
That shines quite the positive light on the job Williams has done in only a short amount of time.
Best of all, the Suns get someone who is absolutely going to take advantage of the shiny, brand new practice facility.
Carter is one of the hardest workers that has come through the organization, and getting extra work in through the team was assumingly an occasional inconvenience at the arena. I can personally attest to that as a media member who would often go to a practice the day of a concert event, winding through equipment on the way to the practice court. Could Carter get onto the court the night the Jonas Brothers were in town?
Now, with COVID-19 restrictions still holding back the ease of getting work in, it’s as simple as Carter passing a few security points and stepping right on the court.
“It’s been sweet,” he said. “You get to come in here whenever. There’s two courts, there’s so much space — there’s so much here that we can do to get better.
“We got the top of the line everything here, so it’s like being a kid walking in a candy store. You can just pick out whatever you need.”