The 2023-24 season is officially here for the Phoenix Suns.
There’s plenty of intrigue around this team, matched with expectations, that will have eyes on the team for the entire season.
Preseason play kicked off Sunday for the Suns, in Detroit. Let’s dive into some of what caught my eye.
1.) Drives, Drives, and More Drives
In 2021-22, the Phoenix Suns were bottom third (21st, to be exact) in drives, at 42.0 per game. Last season, they averaged 42.4 a night, the fourth least (per Second Spectrum).
Specifically, regarding last season, it truly felt as though they were lacking the paint pressure dynamic that serves as the greatest compliment to their beautiful movement offense in the half-court. When teams would get into switching or heavy gap help (playoff-style defenses), it would leave the Suns searching after retreat dribbles and working late in the shot clock.
James Jones and company have now both complemented and supplemented Booker and Durant with a nearly fully revamped roster, littered with players possessing complementary dynamics at their foundations, to bring to the table. Of those, are the skillsets of Beal, Gordon, and Allen via their abilities to penetrate a defense from a standstill, and even more so being skilled enough to do so in a ton of the offensive contexts the Suns already frequented.
Beal averaged 15.9 per game last season, accountable for 10.0 points per. In that, came 499 points, as well as 71 assists.
His 98 free throw attempts stemming from those would’ve ranked second on the Suns, while his points per game (and total) via them would’ve ranked first.
He was also at 1.22 PPS (points per shot) at the rim, with a 61.2 field goal percentage.
The Suns have a *plethora* of Spain (& general 3 player action) trios they can toggle through over 48 minutes— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) October 9, 2023
Was fun to see Booker nail the back screen (again), with Beal initiating into an impressive finish, & Nurkic forcing guys to navigate
This'll be a ton of fun to track pic.twitter.com/kN9CuS3moQ
Eric Gordon’s 7.5 drives per game would’ve tied for fourth (with Cam Payne).
However, unlike Payne, Gordon is also efficient via his, with a 50.6% field goal percentage when he goes, and the effect in attention and reaction from the defense is more thorough.
Grayson Allen averaged 5.5 drives per game in 2022-23.
Notice his absorbing of contact, deceleration, and change of direction on display, before the poise into a soft touch finish over the top — off the wrong foot no-less.
Here, it’s the handle combined with a change of pace, and deception — completed with sensational footwork.
These are moves that you don't just “stumble” into.
This one was very impressive, as his feel was again on display. Gets into the re-screen following an initial under on the hand-off. Then, does an excellent job with using a pump fake to simply freeze the defense, and ultimately lure the roll defender into reacting as Eubanks got back into the fold, then got up another shot off a pause.
To cap off the drives, look at how he navigates the initial Pistons switch after the DHO. Almost like a wide receiver releasing against press coverage, he fakes out then breaks leverage inside, on the backdoor cut. Then, evades hand help with an in-and-out dribble, before getting into yet another cagey shot off the pivot.
That brow-raising “hands up” dribble had enough allure to convince everyone in the arena he was shooting it, which ultimately bought him time for yet another finish at the cup.
He was 59.7% at the rim on an average points-per-shot rating last season, and with the driving lanes, spacing, and shooting talent surrounding him this season, that number could very well — at a minimum — sustain.
Spacing has been a hot word for the Suns since 2020-21, and even more so headed into this season. It is only as good as the teams ability to manipulate it and force the defense to cover (and recover) in it — putting them in rotation. Having players that can do so, in varying ways, and across multiple offensive contexts, is invaluable in optimizing the spacing.
These three players all do different things via their drives: Beal is elusive but can also stop on a dime and pull up with the best in the mid-range, Gordon embraces contact and draws plenty of fouls, Allen also embraces contact but is crafty with deceleration and his footwork to get up soft-touch finishes.
Those dynamics, in addition to what Booker and Durant can do via their drives (as well as Okogie and his ability to get to the basket), will give this offense a completely different feel.
2.) Free Throws
The Suns shot 36 free throws in regulation yesterday, which would’ve ranked as their second-highest mark on the season last year.
Yes, it is the preseason, but also, to have this at the foundation is unique.
The Suns were bottom third of the league in attempts the last three seasons: 27th in 2022-23 (21.7), 27th again in 2021-22 (19.9), and 29th in 2020-21 (18.7).
Amidst all else, they’ll be able to dictate offensively, and having the added dynamic of the whistle and trips to the line will further weaponize this group.
It won’t just be Devin Booker drives and Chris Paul’s witty rip-throughs that get them there and also won’t be solely tasked to the starting lineup to generate those opportunities either.
That’ll allow for their offensive ceiling to be close to met far more frequently, and in a much more sustainable manner — which will also play directly in compliment to the pace emphasis they’re playing with as well.
3.) Grayson Allen Gives New Push
Allen is a player with plenty of non-basketball things that precede him. Independent of those things, he is a very skilled player to have in the mix of a four-guard rotation. Having one of his rough and rugged approaches, staggered with the likes of Booker/Beal/Gordon — as a reserve — will pay dividends.
Allen won’t be tasked with shouldering too much of a scoring load (or the defensive attention that comes with it, which has revealed his limitations in the past), or too much of a defensive load either.
Those entities, plus the pace and space the Suns will be playing in in this rendition, all seem to align with the deemed ecosystem Allen should be able to thrive in. He’s a scrappy, hard-nosed, blue-collar piece that has a motor to compliment the likes of Josh Okogie — players that will be first to the floor and quick to dictate with bringing physicality to the party.
When you have a group of talents compiled that are as skilled as the Suns are at the top, having players that bridge that gap in appropriate dynamics between the top and bottom of the roster can quickly carve out their niche and role.
Allen brings skill within that dynamic though, which, with how he’ll be insulated as a Sun, should bring out the best in him. You need a few players willing to embrace a villain role, and as a former Duke Blue Devil, he certainly has no problem doing so.
Though he competes and can fluster guards and wings with his physicality and activity, his stature wingspan-wise works against his efforts at times — opposing guards shot 47.4% against him last season on 5.9 attempts (including 38% from 3), while forwards shot 50.2% on 3.5 attempts.
He’s solid with his activity levels as stated, but they will need his discipline in screen navigation to hold up, in particular.
Here, was a solid rep where he chases in trailing around the wide pin-down in the Pistons “Zoom” action. He gets re-connected to the hip, then back in front, to impact the gather and eventually also get a decent contest on the release.
Here, at the point of attack with Cade Cunningham, he navigates the screen against empty corner Spain pick-and-roll so well, that the Suns don't need to switch nor concede extra help. By way of Phoenix being able to stay solid at the possessions inception, the action’s blown up and they’re forced to re-establish pace.
Here we see him against Zoom action again, navigating screens to attach back to Cunningham’s hip, to get up a sound rearview contest, to impact the jumper release — without fouling.
He will certainly be a piece to develop, but at his baseline and foundation, is already a key cog in the main rotation of this team — one that will likely impress in a few different facets as he ingratiates himself with a new team and fanbase.
Yes, the defense as a team still has cleaning up to do, naturally. However, some of the overreaction seen online is not warranted. There was great pace played with, combined with optimized spacing, and movement within the offense that is sure to keep defenders in conflict-galore. The ball also moved extremely well, and there were some fun lineups used that could certainly be featured in the main rotation.
The Suns had a solid showing, one that displayed plenty of evolution in their process offensively, and even more shooting prowess than anticipated.
Some fun moments were compiled on the film.
Looking forward to seeing how things progress into game two of the preseason, but a solid foundation has been laid in regards to their first “real” action, in live action against an opponent