Welcome to 'Matchups,' a brand new Nuggets.com series previewing the opponents the Denver Nuggets will face as defending champions.
Up first, we'll be looking at the Phoenix Suns, who had a ridiculously busy offseason bolstering their roster from top-to-bottom.
Departures: Chris Paul, Jock Landale, Torrey Craig, Landry Shamet, Bismack Biyombo, Darius Bazley, Cameron Payne, Terrence Ross, and T.J. Warren
Re-signs: Damion Lee, Saben Lee, and Josh Okogie
Additions: Bradley Beal, Yuta Watanabe, Keita Bates-Diop, Eric Gordon, Chimezie Metu, Drew Eubanks, Jordan Goodwin, Bol Bol, Udoka Azubuike, and Toumani Camara
Let's get the obvious out of the way.
Phoenix pulled off by far the biggest blockbuster move of the offseason, routing Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, and multiple picks to Washington for Bradley Beal and Jordan Goodwin.
Beal is a three-time All-Star who averaged 31.3 points per game just two seasons ago. He gives the Suns a legitimate third star alongside Devin Booker and Kevin Durant to form one of the most lethal Big 3's in the league.
The three stars can score from every level of the floor—near the rim, in the midrange, and from behind the arc—and can run the offense capably as passers. Finding a balance in their shot profile will be key for the Suns, who ranked dead last in three-point rate in the 2023 postseason, but all three of Beal, Durant, and Booker shot at least 40 percent on catch-and-shoot looks in the 2022-23 regular season, per Second Spectrum.
The Beal deal is Phoenix's main act of the offseason, but don't sleep on the ancillary moves general manager James Jones made in free agency.
The Suns strengthened their wing depth across the board and added Keita Bates-Diop, Eric Gordon, and Yuta Watanabe. Each player brings different skills to the table.
Bates-Diop is a three-and-D wing. He's a full 6'8 and is more than capable of sliding between multiple positions on defense, and he made 39.4 percent of his three-pointers. However, 'KBD' has a little extra to his game. He can post up smaller players with 90th-percentile efficiency, per Synergy Statistics, a skill that's especially valuable when opponents hide their weakest defenders on him.
Watanabe similarly fits the three-and-D archetype. He shot a blistering 52 percent from the corners last season, the third-best corner three-point percentage in the NBA with a minimum of 50 attempts according to Cleaning the Glass. He's also just a grinder, the type of guy who hustles nonstop and dives to the floor for loose balls willingly. As a Raptor in 2021-22, Watanabe graded out as one of the best shot-blockers and rebounders at his position, the wing, per Cleaning The Glass.
Gordon, meanwhile, fits a different role. The 15-year veteran is experienced as they come with north of 2,000 total playoff minutes under his belt. He gives the Suns a proper scoring punch off the bench, a spark the team was missing in the 2023 postseason, mainly when Booker and/or Durant sat.
Phoenix's periphery moves are intriguing, as well. Drew Eubanks has consistently performed as a top-end finisher in the pick-and-roll, and he held up quite well while switching between positions on defense. Chimezie Metu is a high-flyer that should give the Suns ample vertical spacing while elevating high for lob dunks. Bol Bol is an interesting flyer who showed serious flashes in Orlando.
Even someone like Jordan Goodwin, who was a late addition to the Beal blockbuster trade, offers more than your prototypical third or fourth guard. Goodwin's a defense-minded point guard with excellent size at his position at 6'3 and 200 pounds, and he shot a very solid 45 percent from the field last season as a Wizard. He might be the most underrated part of Phoenix's offseason.
Nikola Jokić → Deandre Ayton
Aaron Gordon → Kevin Durant
Michael Porter Jr. → Keita Bates-Diop
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope → Devin Booker
Jamal Murray → Bradley Beal
It's been indicated in multiple reports that the Suns plan to start Beal at point guard. That may sound surprising given that Beal has spent an estimated 82 percent of his total career minutes at shooting guard. But he's improved his playmaking skills considerably at the tail end of his 20s by averaging 6 assists per game over his last two seasons.
Denver knocked Phoenix out of the 2023 playoffs in 6 games, so many of these matchups should look similar to the last time these two teams faced off.
Nikola Jokić guarding Ayton and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope defending Booker is nothing new. Neither is Aaron Gordon taking on the Durant assignment, a task he fared quite well at by holding the all-world scorer to just 38.2 percent shooting in the second-round series, per NBA matchup stats.
That leaves Jamal Murray guarding Beal.
Michael Porter Jr. makes sense on Keita Bates-Diop, given that he can stray from Phoenix's least-threatening offensive starting option as a secondary rim protector. MPJ was quite effective in this roaming defensive role last postseason while "guarding" Josh Okogie and Torrey Craig.
Deandre Ayton → Nikola Jokić
Kevin Durant → Aaron Gordon
Keita Bates-Diop → Michael Porter Jr.
Bradley Beal → Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Devin Booker → Jamal Murray
Ayton will have his hands full with Jokić, as usual, in these projected matchups. Jokić averaged a ridiculous 19 points per game on 55.7 percent shooting and 42.9 percent from three-point range when defended by Ayton in the 2023 postseason, per NBA matchup stats.
Booker is the better defender between him and Beal, making him Phoenix's best option for attempting to contain the scoring inferno that is Jamal Murray. Booker was matched up with Murray more than any other Suns starter in the 2023 postseason, and Murray had little trouble scoring the basketball against Booker by connecting on 52.2 percent of his field goals and 66.7 percent of his threes, per NBA matchup stats.
That leaves Beal guarding his former Washington teammate, Caldwell-Pope.
Durant guarding the bruising Gordon may surprise some people, but he took on the assignment more than any other Sun in the 2023 postseason. If Phoenix wanted to ease the physical load on Durant, one of its main scoring options, it could slide Bates-Diop over to Gordon.
Regular Season Games
- December 1, 8:00 p.m. MT: Nuggets @ Suns; Foot Print Center, Phoenix; ESPN
- March 5, 8:00 p.m. MT: Nuggets vs. Suns; Ball Arena, Denver; TNT
- March 27, 8:00 p.m. MT: Nuggets vs. Suns; Ball Arena, Denver; ESPN