Hey, at least it wasn’t a 48-point blowout loss, right? In the Phoenix Suns second contest of the season, they participated in more of a track meet rather than a basketball game. Even though both Phoenix and the Lakers love to get up-and-down anyways, the defense was completely punted away in Friday night’s 132-130 loss.
Many times throughout did we notice that the Suns’ defensive effort was almost nonexistent. Los Angeles shot 51.1% (48-94) from the field, including 46.2% (12-26) from deep. Including Wednesday’s embarrassing season-opening performance against Portland, Phoenix has allowed 256 points and over half of the opponents shots are falling.
After Lonzo Ball’s debut against Patrick Beverley, I expected to see either Eric Bledsoe and or Josh Jackson hounding him all night. However, we saw anything but that. Suns guards were going way under screens on the perimeter allowing wide-open three-point attempts, while Tyson Chandler would show simply a lack of effort trying to contain Ball from getting easy layup-line type shots at the rim.
After the game, head coach Earl Watson mentioned that they allowed Ball to shoot those uncontested shots off the dribble due to his previous low percentages.
Many times, Bledsoe would go so far underneath a Brook Lopez screen from beyond the arc, Ball would have a good five feet or so to get off a clean look. Watson believes Ball could already be a difficult guard as far as stopping him on offense goes.
“Honestly, they just shot the ball well. They have really unique players. I thought Kuzma stands out for himself and Lonzo. You know Lonzo is tricky,” Watson said. “You go over the top, he’s quick enough to make plays in the paint. You go under, today he shot the ball well from three. Before coming into tonight, he shot 20 percent, 25 percent, or maybe even 23 percent from the three. So he made three-point shots off the dribble, so if he masters that, he’s going to be a very difficult guard for the future, if not now.”
Devin Booker, who led the Suns with a stat line of 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists noticed a spark compared to Wednesday. They came out with energy, but they are still trying to find their way as far as learning Watson’s schemes goes.
“We just came out and had energy [and] fought. We still have a lot to work on," Booker said. “Once, we slow things down, figure out our schemes and execute it, I think we’ll be right on track.”
Booker once again was the primary initiator for Phoenix’s sets on offense. It was more evenly shared Friday, but Booker continues to get the lion’s share of reps as far as bringing the ball up in halfcourt goes. And thus far, he has shown to be a better playmaker compared to Bledsoe.
Through two games, Booker has 10 assists compared to 6 turnovers but he’s showing new wrinkles in his game, as far as seeing the floor better.
With Watson and general manager Ryan McDonough both looking towards positionless basketball as the next NBA wave, Booker could be transforming into the team’s long-term point guard if he’s able to continue to show consistent flashes throughout the first half of this season.
Booker told me after Friday’s loss that it will come with time but he has seen progress in that area. A more well-rounded Booker is in the cards and that metamorphosis will happen throughout his third season.
“I think I have,” Booker said of making progressions in his game as a facilitator. “Everything comes with time. I’m getting that experience and getting the time out there. Just trying to be a complete player, be able to do a little bit of everything. Showing bits and pieces of that is my goal.”
When it comes to the Suns, who have advertised that they want to play even faster after last year’s second-place finish as far as total pace, they seem to be following through with it.
When I asked Watson after the game if this type of game is what we should expect, as far as tempo goes on both ends, he agreed, but Phoenix might be in a position on most nights where 110-120 points scored might not be enough.
The Suns' offense bounced back after Wednesday’s embarrassment, but their defense might be in need of a complete overhaul if Watson and Co. want to see close contests more often during their current stretch.
“Yeah, it’s the kind of pace we want to play at. I think our guys did a great job of staying in the game,” Watson said. “I think the Lakers did a great job of jumping out early, we fought back. We had chances to extend it, and that’s when you have to over-execute. The pace is good, but you don’t want to attack at that pace for a shot. You can push it at that pace, and then swing the ball, move the ball, get a great shot or get to the free-throw line.”
“I thought in the fourth quarter we got into the bonus early and we knew that and we kept emphasizing get to the free-throw line to stop the clock and lengthen out the game so we have a chance to come back,” Watson continued. “Players down the stretch, the guys did a great job of paying attention to the huddle, executing the plays down the stretch, especially for the three (Devin Booker’s three at the end of the game). I thought they did a great job of executing that on the fly. And then actually to get to the free-throw line. ‘Quese had a great look, he lost it, TJ picked it up, got to the foul line.”