By Trevor Booth
PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns will start some of their taller options at power forward, like Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric, moving forward, coach Monty Williams said after their 109-92 win over the Detroit Pistons Friday night.
After starting Cameron Johnson at the position during a nine-game span from Jan. 18 to Feb. 3, Williams replaced him with Kaminsky against Detroit, enabling more size in the post with center Deandre Ayton. The Suns won the points in the paint battle versus the Pistons, 52-42, something they wanted to improve after allowing 56 points in that area during their 123-101 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.
“I think that’s going to be the way we’re going to do this going forward,” Williams said. “Because we’re seeing all these teams who are big and they’re playing big power forwards. And points in the paint and production in the paint has been something that we’ve wanted to nullify as it relates to playing against teams like that.”
In his first start of the year, Kaminsky finished with 15 points and five rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. He started 13 of his first 32 games played last season before he missed time with a right patella stress fracture, sidelining him until the NBA restarted its season in July.
After averaging 9.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 14.0 minutes per game over his last four contests off the bench, Kaminsky said his mindset to be a playmaker did not change, but he felt his size benefited his team.
“It’s no secret that we really struggled to keep New Orleans out of the paint,” Kaminsky said. “We’ve had some games this year where we’ve struggled either offensive rebounding, keeping people out of the paint. So I think we did a lot better job of it tonight and obviously, we still got a ways to go in that department. But obviously when you go big like that, it kind of dissuades people.”
With Kaminsky in the starting five, Johnson returned to the bench and performed well with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, 10 of which came in the first half. After making just 33.3 percent of his shot attempts in his last three games as a starter, Johnson shot 6 of 10 against the Pistons in 20 minutes, a type of output that Williams prefers from him moving forward.
“Just felt like we needed more size,” Williams said. “Also felt like I put Cam in a tough spot, playing against guys like (New Orleans Pelicans forward) Zion (Williamson) and (Denver Nuggets forward) Paul Millsap and all these teams that go big. So we were just trying to match size for size.
“The minute total where he is is where I’d like to keep him. Twenty to 24. So I think if we can keep him there, it really helps him be more productive.”
Phoenix was without two of its main options at power forward against the Pistons, Saric and Jae Crowder, who did not play due to a left ankle sprain and right foot soreness, respectively. Crowder started the Suns’ first 11 games at power forward while Saric has not played since Jan. 11 due to time in the NBA’s health and safety protocols and his recent injury.
When both players return, Crowder can provide versatility as a defender and 3-point shooter while Saric can stretch the floor and play inside, similar to Kaminsky. It’s a style that the Suns will continue to work with.
“Frank is a stretch big who can really shoot the ball and shot the ball well tonight, which is huge for us,” Suns guard Chris Paul said. “We’ve had a number of different lineups this year. With this season, with all the games going on, you sort of expect that there’s going to be different guys in the lineup night in and night out. But you figure it out, and I think we did a really good job tonight of figuring it out.”
With their win over the Pistons, the Suns improved to 12-9, good for fifth in the Western Conference standings. They are next scheduled to face the Boston Celtics on Sunday, when they will allow healthcare workers and families to attend games for the first time this season.
Phoenix has six straight home games from Feb. 7 to Feb. 16, a big opportunity for it to improve its standing. In that span, Williams said he plans to continue to look for the best rotations possible.
“We got a ton of games in a certain amount of days,” Williams said. “But you’re just looking for a group that can be productive, and you’re also looking at the matchups with the other team. And so there may be some lineups out there on the floor that may not look like something we’ve done before but the idea is try to match up well against a group that could beat you if you don’t make the right decisions.”
Chris Paul on All-Star Game
On Thursday, the NBA announced an agreement with its Players’ Association that the league’s All-Star Game will take place in Atlanta on March 7.
Since that decision, some of the league’s stars, like Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, have voiced their displeasure with the game taking place. Paul, the president of the NBA Player’s Association, offered his thoughts about the game on Friday.
“Guys are entitled to their feelings, decisions, everything,” Paul said. “I think the job for the union has been to try to make sure our players are healthy and safe. This was something that was a decision by the league and we are definitely day in and day out trying to figure it out. But we got 450 players that we’re always trying to get insight from and it’s tough, so we all trying to figure it out right now.
“It’s tough. You try to over-communicate as much as possible. I talked to (LeBron) maybe a week or two ago, talked to (Golden State Warriors guard) Steph (Curry), a few guys. Our executive committee, we get on calls and try to figure it out. There’s different situations, guys who’ve been playing a lot of games who haven’t really had much breaks. I’m sure I’m not the only guy in the league who lives without their family, so guys look at that break as an opportunity to see their families. It’s a lot of different things going on right now but you just hope that guys understand that decisions that are being made, especially as far as the union, has always got the full body of players in mind.”