How much better does Bradley Beal make Suns? What star’s injury return means for Devin Booker, Kevin Durant

Coming into the season, the Suns were expected to have serious championship equity.

That hasn’t happened quite yet.

After a little over a quarter of the regular season, Phoenix sits at a meandering 12-10. The team’s offense, which was predicted to be unstoppable, is right inside the top 10

The easy explanation for the Suns’ good-not-great play is that Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal still haven’t logged a single minute together. That should change soon. Durant is day-to-day with a minor ankle injury and Beal is expected to return on Tuesday from a back injury that has limited him to only three games thus far.

What does Beal’s return mean for the Suns?

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Bradley Beal can add some serious scoring punch to the Suns

Beal did not shoot the ball well in his three games, but it was clear to anyone watching that his back issues were still bothering him. He sat for a month after trying to give it a go earlier in the year. 

When he is the healthy version of himself, Beal is still a great three-level scorer who can add some playmaking and keep defenses honest with his off-ball shooting. He’s a legit bucket-getting who has a good handle and a nice bag to get to his spots on the floor. 

Beal was also a top 10 player in the league last year at putting pressure on the rim. He showed how useful that could be during the preseason. 

Beal could add some clutch shooting to the Suns, who are just 6-8 in close games this year. Teams loaded up on him at the end of games last year, but he still shot 59.7 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3 in those situations.

Bradley Beal can take some of the weight off Kevin Durant and Devin Booker

Durant and Booker have both played a lot of minutes this season — they are No. 5 and 30, respectively, in minutes per game. They have had to carry far too heavy of a load early on. 

The Suns have been great with those two on the floor and atrocious with both sitting. Head coach Frank Vogel has tried to stagger their minutes so that one is playing at all times. They’re both good enough to keep the boat afloat during those stretches, but the Suns’ role players simply aren’t dynamic enough to handily win those minutes. 

Suns with and without KD & Booker (PBPStats)
Players on Players off Minutes Net Rating
Durant, Booker 229 8.5
Booker Durant 221 5.9
Durant Booker 468 3.6
Durant, Booker 153 -19.9

Beal should immediately solve this problem. Phoenix can now stagger its three stars more easily, giving all units a lot more offensive punch. 

Beal is very capable of taking on-ball reps. Keep in mind that he is just three years removed from averaging 31.3 points per game for the Wizards as their No. 1 option. 

Even when the ball isn’t in his hands, Beal’s shooting effects should trickle downstream to the Suns’ role players. Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen have been on fire from 3, but other bench players such as Keita Bates-Diop, Josh Okogie, Nassir Little and Yuta Watanabe have all shot below expectations. Beal will get those guys much better looks and make their jobs easier. 

When all three of the stars finally share the floor, their minutes are going to be easier, too. They will get breathers on offense, sitting in the corner more than they ever have in their careers. 

We already saw in spurts last season that putting Durant in that role as a spot-up shooter forced teams into impossible binds. Booker and Beal can do that as well. Defenses won’t be able to shrink the floor, or they will have the easiest practice shots that they’ve ever had.

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Bradley Beal is not fixing the Suns’ defensive issues

Beal can take the Suns’ offense from good to elite. They will probably be a top-five offense with him once they get some time to work together. The Suns’ bigger issue this season has been on defense, where they rank 19th in the league. They never turn teams over and are a poor rebounding team. 

Beal has been average in those two areas over the past few years of his career, so he probably won’t help address those particular issues. And his overall defense, once a strength earlier in his career, had fallen off a cliff on bad Wizards teams. 

Even if Beal can regain his form and get back to an average level of defense, the Suns still don’t have a clear pathway into cracking the top 10. Their best bet is to be so dominant offensively that an average defense is enough to carry them through the playoffs. That is a very realistic outcome if all three stars can stay healthy, and a similar formula to the one that the Nuggets used en route to a title.

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