2023 Orlando Magic Playoff Lessons: Phoenix Suns’ Playoff failure puts emphasis on depth

May 11, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) slap hands during the first half of game six of the 2023 NBA playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
May 11, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) slap hands during the first half of game six of the 2023 NBA playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

In the NBA, stars will win games in the playoffs. In today’s game, teams need a star — probably at least two — on the road to win a championship.

Well normally, in these past playoffs, the Phoenix Suns led by Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul seemed lined up to win a championship. Injuries though slowed them down as this new team did not have enough time to come together.

They fell to the more cohesive Denver Nuggets in six games, leaving the Suns to pick up the pieces and figure out their path forward this offseason — one that included shipping out Chris Paul for Bradley Beal.

Yes, the Nuggets had their own star in Nikola Jokic. But the Nuggets won that series because their depth far exceeded the Suns.

The Phoenix Suns have amassed the star power to put themselves in the championship conversation. But despite all that top-heavy power, it is their lack of depth which cost them and could continue to do so.

On the road to winning a championship, stars matter to get a team into the conversation. But it is often the depth and the resilience of the roster that will determine whether they get over the hump. The Suns did not have a Bruce Brown or Aaron Gordon or Christian Braun to make those little plays to get them over the hump.

In the playoffs series against the Nuggets, Booker averaged 30.8 points per game on 56.9-percent shooting and 54.8-percent from three. He also averaged 7.8 assists per game in the series. No one would question that Booker did his part to win in that series.

Booker was sensational and was arguably the best player on the floor throughout the series. Kevin Durant also averaged 29.5 points per game but was not enough to compete with the stars of the Nuggets and their role players.

Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic both had great series averaging 24.8 points per game and 6.5 assists per game while Jokic averaged a 34.5-point-per-game triple-double in the series.

Both team’s stars showed up in the series but as Deandre Ayton and the Suns’ role players struggled, players such as Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and others played well and within their roles.

Now during the summer, the Suns have added Beal and have completely revamped their bench in order to fit next to their stars. Additions such as Drew Eubanks, Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe are very good fits next to their stars.

Still, the concern in Phoenix is whether this top-down approach will work. The Suns are so heavily invested in their stars it does not feel like there is room for much else. And the oft-injured Durant and Beal could easily derail their title hopes if they have to miss extended time.

To that point, Beal has not played more than 60 games since the 2019 season and Durant has not played more than 60 games since tearing his Achilles in the 2019 season.

Phoenix had to cobble together a roster using minimum contracts and did well to find value. But they will go as far as their stars will take them. And there is still a fair question whether that alone could be far enough.

Someone is going to have to step up and fill in with that depth.

This is always a tricky balance between banking on star power and building up depth. Often a team has to trade one for the other. There is no perfect formula for this.

The Orlando Magic are seemingly sitting and waiting to figure out which direction they will go, amassing a bunch of young talent as they hope to build around Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. For now, the Magic are sitting and waiting and plan to lean on their depth to try to help them break through into the postseason.

The Magic currently have depth in their backcourt after adding Anthony Black. The team will have to mix-and-match lineups with Anthony Black, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs and Gary Harris all demanding time.

The Magic also added to the wing position with Jett Howard and Joe Ingles to their front court along with Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Jonathan Isaac.

Internal competition is a good problem to have for a young roster. But everyone senses a consolidation trade is coming, especially as the Magic continue their ascent.

But they should look at the Suns and be cautious before making any moves for stars. No one will debate having an elite player like Durant is a good thing. But the Suns appear to be walking a tight rope to stay in contention. A very expensive one at that which leaves them little flexibility and only one satisfactory outcome.

The Magic currently have depth throughout the roster and it is a good thing.

There is going to be a time when the front office is going to have to make decisions on their roster. But it is going to be important that Orlando does not make any haste decision to shallow the roster.

Next. Playoff Lessons: Clippers' depth means nothing without stars. dark

The Magic are going to take this season to make decisions and the Suns’ failures should be the telling point that depth is important and cohesion is important for a developing team.