Why Yuta Watanabe is — and isn’t — Suns’ best starter option next to Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal

Four of the five starters for the Suns are set. Who joins them is the big unknown.

Suns head coach Frank Vogel didn’t reveal which way he’s leaning ahead of the 2023-24 season. In an interview with Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin, Vogel said that he expects “several guys” to get an opportunity.

One of the players who should be in the running to start alongside Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Jusuf Nurkic is Yuta Watanabe, who the Suns signed to a two-year contract in the offseason. He will likely be competing with the likes of Eric Gordon, Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop for a starting opportunity.

They each bring different skill sets to the table. Here’s why Watanabe is — and isn’t — the answer.

MORE: Yuta Watanabe shows he has more to his game in FIBA Basketball World Cup

Why Yuta Watanabe should start for Suns

Watanabe checks a couple of boxes for the Suns.

First and foremost, he isn’t someone who needs the ball in his hands to be effective, an important quality on a team built around three stars. He’s been a low-usage player for his entire NBA career and does most of his damage as a spot-up shooter on the perimeter.

Watanabe wasn’t much of a shooter when he first entered the NBA, but he’s become a good one. In 58 games with the Nets last season, he connected on 44.4 percent of his 3-point attempts, making him one of the most efficient shooters in the league. He had a legitimate case to be in the All-Star Weekend’s 3-point contest.

An added bonus: Watanabe already has chemistry with Durant.

Durant assisted Watanabe on nine 3-pointers last season, which might not sound like much but the two appeared in only 25 games together. Royce O’Neale (10) was the only player on the Nets to set Watanabe up for more triples and they appeared in almost twice as many games together (44).

Watanabe’s time playing off of Durant and Kyrie Irving bodes well for his fit with Beal, Booker and Durant. Whether he starts or not, he should have a big opportunity on the strength of his shooting alone because of the spacing it will provide for three of the best scorers in the NBA today.

In addition to his shooting, Watanabe has proven himself to be an active, fearless and versatile defender, more important qualities considering Beal, Booker and Durant are each offensive-minded players.

Okogie is better suited to defend guards, but Watanabe gives the Suns more size, standing at 6-8 with a 6-10 wingspan. That would make him a more natural fit against most teams as long as Beal and Booker are bought in on that end of the court because it would allow him to spend more time defending his position.

MORE: How much of a difference will Bol Bol make on the Suns?

Why Yuta Watanabe should come off the bench for Suns

Watanabe relies on his teammates to create offense for him. That shouldn’t be a problem on this Suns team if he can shoot at the same sort of level he did last season.

In his stops with the Grizzlies and Raptors, Watanabe shot 35.2 percent from 3-point range. There’s reason to believe in the changes he made to his form last season, but he’s still somewhat of a limited shooter.

Watanabe is mostly a spot-up threat from the corners — he wasn’t nearly as accurate from above the break and rarely shoots off the dribble — and he’s still not a particularly high-volume 3-point shooter. He took 5.2 3-pointers per 36 minutes last season, which put him on the same page as Dejounte Murray, Ricky Rubio and Isaiah Stewart, none of whom are exactly known for their shooting ability.

If Watanabe can’t provide the 3-point shooting the Suns need, Vogel could turn to Gordon or Damion Lee. Bates-Diop could also eat into Watanabe’s minutes if he picked up from where he left off last season. He went from shooting 30.4 percent from deep in his first four seasons to 39.4 percent last year.

Impactful of a defender as Watanabe has shown he can be, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Vogel did lean more toward someone like Okogie, even if he is a more limited offensive player. The Suns should have more than enough playmaking and Okogie’s experience guarding the likes of Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic and Paul George would take some of the pressure off of Beal and Booker to chase around those sorts of players.

Helping Okogie’s case is that he started 26 regular season games and five playoff games last season. He might enter the season with the inside track.

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