Hard as it may be to believe, the answer to some of the Phoenix Suns’ recent struggles could actually be the currently injured Bol Bol.
The Phoenix Suns have gone a disappointing 1-3 across their last four games, dropping a pair of games to the L.A. Clippers, as well as an even more dispiriting loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Their lone win has come against the Miami Heat in this time – but as we examined earlier in the week – that too has come with its share of fourth-quarter woes.
Right now it feels like the Suns are short a body who can come in and make a difference in the spot minutes they are given. Missing Kevin Durant for several games during this span definitely didn’t help, but the franchise already knows what it has in Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.
Which is why – hard as it may be to believe – the Suns could have done with Bol Bol recently, and his stock may just have risen in his absence.
Bol is suffering from an ankle issue which has caused him to miss the last two games, although he is expected to return sooner rather than later. Which is a shame, because in the two contests prior to that, the big man was finally starting to get some sort of consistent run under head coach Frank Vogel.
Yet this isn’t the setback that it may otherwise have been for the player, as the Suns have looked painfully shy of offensive options in the last two games. They scored 18 and 20 points in the fourth-quarters of both of those games – and while Bol isn’t going to be playing down the stretch of games like that – it is the lift he has given the group when he is on the court which has been lacking.
This was most notable against the Clippers the first time out, when the Suns scored 122 points (their highest in this woeful four-game run), and when Bol played a season high 19 minutes and had 14 points and five rebounds. The Clippers in many ways are the perfect opponent for Bol to face, because their own flock of superstars aren’t going to be preoccupied with chasing him around.
His long frame was missing in the return game in Los Angeles to start the week, and the first three players the Suns had off the bench were Eric Gordon (25 minutes, 12 points), Josh Okogie (18 minutes, 4 points) and Drew Eubanks (16 minutes, 0 points). Bol isn’t going to jump Gordon in the rotation, and he shouldn’t either.
But on a night when Eubanks was giving literally nothing offensively and Okogie wasn’t firing either, a healthy 10-12 minute dose of a player who had put up 14 against the same opponent only five days previously would have been a help to the Suns. Which was the best case scenario when the team took a flyer on him during the offseason.
It is clear coach Vogel is missing that player off the bench who can give you 20 points on any given night. In an ideal world that role would belong to Grayson Allen, while Okogie or Keita Bates-Diop rounded out the starting five with their defensive chops next to three elite scorers. But Allen has proven to be much too good for that, and has to start for the Suns to be successful
Gordon too can sometimes fill that need, but the length and sheer randomness of Bol has been missed in these last two games. Quite the development for a player who many thought would be the first to be cut if the Suns were to add a buyout player around the trade deadline, and who has averaged a paltry 6.3 minutes in only 11 games played this season.
It feels like coach Vogel is beginning to figure out how to get the best out of the player, and the inability to score at an elite rate has forced his hand with the matter as well. Bol is an awful defender – and that doesn’t look like it is going to change even while being coached by somebody Paul George loves – but at this point his scoring abilities are hard to ignore.
Still raw beyond belief at times, but Bol is somehow shooting 60 percent from 3-point range this season, albeit on a tiny sample size. That is legitimate floor spacing though, which allows the stars to get to work inside the paint. Over the last four games, the Suns have had an offensive rating of 117.6, good for the 14th spot in the league.
A splash of Bol in the last two contests surely would have helped some – and with the Suns never going to be a top defensive team anyway – perhaps coach Vogel knows this group really has to lean into their offensive indentity now. Surprising as this development is, not having Bol to come off the bench when others haven’t had it has been missing for the Suns recently. They need it back.