The Phoenix Suns traded DeAndre to pay Paul in the three-team deal that sent Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks. If you didn’t catch the turn of phrase, or are confused, allow me to explain why the Suns merely shifted problems instead of solving them. Yes, they shored up much-needed depth, but now have a center who’s arguably the worst among NBA starters, if not in general.
Jusuf Nurkic can’t play defense, misses a ton of bunnies around the rim, and doesn’t really space the floor. Other than that, he’s a hell of a player. Why it took the Blazers getting rid of Lillard to finally uncuff themselves from Nurkic, I have no idea, but even Deandre Ayton is a marked upgrade for Portland (should they choose to keep him, which they shouldn’t).
It was smart of Phoenix to go all wings in the trade because their stars are used to having the ball, so a point guard is useless. After the transaction, they’re a versatile group at every position but the five, and if they can find or acquire one, that’ll allow them to be amorphous on defense, and play any style they want.
Grayson Allen gives them a guy to chase around smaller perimeter players without sacrificing length, and with a consistent role, Nassir Little could be the best asset Phoenix received in the deal. He’ll also be one of many 3-and-D wings when Frank Vogel wants to play Kevin Durant at power forward.
For a team with as much top-end talent as the Suns, they have an embarrassment of depth behind their big three, with Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe, and Josh Okogie as well. My money is on Watanabe nabbing the open starting spot, because he’s a great role player, and an even better fit. After that, hold tryouts, Joker style, to see who merits minutes.
We know Devin Booker and Durant are above average defensively, and without the entire offensive burden on his back, Bradley Beal now has zero excuses not to expend energy on both sides of the court.
The issue is interior defense. Bismack Biyombo is the only other center on the team with extensive playing experience, but he’s on the other side of 30 and isn’t the sturdiest either. The other big is Bol Bol, and he seems to only be good in theory and in 2K.
While teams obviously need bigs to compete with Nikola Jokić and Anthony Davis (when healthy) out West, large bodies alone will not suffice. They don’t have to do much more than Kevon Looney or Nic Claxton, but if fans in the desert thought Ayton was a scapegoat, wait until they get 20 games of Nurkic.
He’s big enough to wrestle with Jokić, and sees his former teammate as a rival, but switches and pick-and-roll defense have been an Achilles heel for the Bosnian since that gruesome leg injury years ago sapped him of his mobility. And at his price tag — roughly $54 million over the next three years — it’ll likely take a draft pick (that the Suns don’t have) to motivate another franchise to take him on.
You know an NBA deal is really juicy when it sparks another trade cycle, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Suns are done tinkering.
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