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Stephen’s Study: Multiple Efforts, DominAyton, Washington Jr., and Wing Play Lead the Suns in Memphis

The Suns see their Standard Upheld in a Gritty Win

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

After a chippy and antic-filled 125-100 loss against the Memphis Grizzlies that took place at the Footprint Center last week, the Phoenix Suns would have not a “get back” game in terms of revenge, but a “get right” outing that was rooted in building upon the foundation laid on Christmas. Connected competing would be their driving force, en route to a 125-108 win on the road.

1.) Multiple Efforts

In the context of individual outputs and production, as well as in rotations and on the glass, the Suns were absolutely swarming last night.

The Suns saw six players finish with four or more rebounds, efforts that saw them finish +7 in that department.

Speaking of things in control of the team, there are multiple instances in mind where the Suns had three to four bodies in the paint to crash the glass, and doing so athletically and ferociously in pursuit of the ball. So much that they drew multiple loose ball fouls solely off wanting the ball more.

These see the “tick tack” type of fouls they succumb to over this stretch where they’ve left more to be desired. So seeing the role reversal here, regardless of opponent, is reassuring that they are turning a corner.

Even while being undermanned, having the extra efforts compiled in this manner, and in defensive rotations as well, is what has been at the foundation of this team's successes since 2020.

The glass was surely a point of emphasis tonight, and it was refreshing to see that weight shared collectively, rather than falling solely on the shoulders of Deandre Ayton, who is often wrongfully scapegoated as the root of the Suns rebounding issues.

This game is the blueprint for the requisite efforts that align with their standard.

2.) Opportunity Seized

Duane Washington Jr. has seen spotty minutes as earning trust from Monty Williams has been tough to attain over this first third of the season.

However, a unique opportunity, with Booker, Payne, and Shamet, all out for varying injuries, presented Washington Jr. with a surefire opportunity as he was the only remaining guard to spell Chris Paul, and was also one of just three remaining Suns able to create with the ball in their hands in the perimeter.

As a person in pursuit of more, in any context, the most you can ask for is the opportunity to prove yourself. Then, through your preparation, update the powers that be with information as to where you are with your progress.

Washington Jr. was locked and loaded, coming in and playing with a ton of energy and bringing a splash in scoring that the team needed amidst some stifling defensive efforts on the other end.

He would pour in a prolific 26 points to lead the Suns in scoring, via five hits from deep.

The Grizzlies were conceding unders to him in pick-and-roll initially, then progressed to switching, both coverages he absolutely torched off the dribble.

They’d then go to more activity at the level of screens but by that time in the fourth, the game was well out of reach.

His method of operation in this one truly exemplified the potential he has in a microwave form from the lead guard spot. A change of pace for both Paul and Payne.

One thing he’s going to do upon checking in is score the ball, and oftentimes a player with that mindset can help swing games.

Great time on task-ability displayed from “Wash” last night, on the road. Should help to make Williams at least slightly less hesitant to use Washington Jr. for the shot-creating weapon that he is.

He was also good at hitting the roller (specifically Ayton in the third) against switches in pick-and-roll, while also connecting on well-timed kicks off the drive, with eight assists to show in the boxscore.

An excellent floor game from Washington Jr.

3.) DominAyton Resurfaces

Deandre Ayton had nine points, eight rebounds, and a block in the third quarter.

He operated extremely well against the switching of the Grizzlies and was consistently in position defensively to protect the rim + crash the glass.

That was one of his better stretches of the season, and it happened amidst a solid run that brought the Grizzlies within nine.

He remained disciplined and composed through the physicality, and met it with some of his own in multiple instances. For him, it was a playoff-adjacent match-up with Adams, Jackson Jr., and Clarke.

That trio is as versatile as it gets across the NBA, and Ayton held his own, and then some.

4.) Wing Warriors

I mentioned the ancillary efforts of Craig, Okogie, and Wainright a week ago, LINK.

These three, as mentioned in that post, nailed the little things with great consistency: Ball containment kept the Suns defensive shell intact and kept them out of rotation, allowed for Ayton to stay both attached to his man and in position to crash the glass (or at the very least, put his body on someone to allow other Suns to pursuit the ball), and they all brought the all-needed “physicality to the legal limit” that Monty Williams harps on.

It all started with Torrey Craig’s interaction early with Dillon Brooks, to which Craig met with his own energy, which was a microcosm for the game.

That then spilled into some gritty and impressive defensive displays from Craig, frenetic and timely efforts from Okogie, and strong (lol) displays of athleticism from Wainright.

These efforts were on repeat as they laid it all out there for a gritty road win, against a team that bullied the Suns less than a week ago.

This win isn’t garnered without these ancillary efforts from their wing group, and they were the bearers of the standard and identity as they blended their blue-collar dynamics with the top-end dynamics, creating one of their most impressive wins.

Up Next: The tail end of a dreaded road back-to-back with the Washington Wizards, who’ve gone 2-1 since their meeting with the Suns last Monday. They’re coming off of wins against the Sacramento Kings, as well as the Philadelphia 76ers.

It will be the latter end of a back-to-back for them as well.

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