We’re only two games into the preseason, but we’re learning plenty about the Phoenix Suns. Right now it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s about members of the team learning to be comfortable. Comfortable on the court. Comfortable with each other. Comfortable with their positioning, both on offense and defense. If you want to be great at something, you need repetition.
I’m not going to get all Allen Iverson on you, but the preseason is for practice. For a team with so many new components, practice is important. It’s vital. It’s what is needed to grow. In the preseason we are witnessing in real time the Suns practicing who and what they are.
The second game of the preseason, which took place against the defending NBA Champion Denver Nuggets, was initially met with a little bit of disappointment. No Durant. No Booker. No Beal. Insert that, “whomp, whomp, whompppp” music, right?
My dad used to always say that “people are looking for the bigger, better deal”. The “BBD”, as he used to call it.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) October 11, 2023
Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps people were just looking for Booker, Beal, and Durant. ♂️
After the offensive onslaught that those three combined for in their first preseason game against the Detroit Pistons, we are filled with anticipation. We’re chomping at the bit. Inject it right into my veins!
The practice that needs to occur, however, is repetitions for the rest of the roster…at least in Frank Vogel‘s eyes. Get the rest in now, the NBA will penalize you for it later. Ultimately it’s the right move; meaningless games in October isn’t what is needed to see how those three will mesh on the court. Phoenix still has three more preseason games before the season opener against the Golden State Warriors on October 24.
I haven’t come up with a new flashy name for this segment, so we will stick with our fingers, shall we?
Thumbs Up: Nurk’s Passing
Through two games this is one of my favorite things to watch. Regardless of the outcome this season brings, we will be comparing Nurkic to Deandre Ayton. His positioning, engagement, physicality, availability, drive, fit, shooting. And passing. They will be forever linked in Suns’ lore.
One aspect of his game that he clearly has an upper hand on is his passing. He has an ability to see a play develop and hit his teammate in stride with the ball, something we didn’t always see with Deandre Ayton. Here is an example from two games ago, but we saw more of it on Tuesday night.
Can't wait to see how Vogel utilizes Nurkic's passing this #Suns season.— Suns Video Breakdown (@SunsVideo) October 10, 2023
Here's an example:
1) Booker/Allen/Beal stretch the floor so the D can't clog the paint.
2) This leaves room for KD. He fakes & dives.
3) Nurkic throws a nice entry pass and the D can't recover.
I can’t tell you how many times we witnessed DA receive the ball above the break and have a terrified look tattooed on his face. That basketball was a hot potato and he couldn’t wait to get rid of it. Nurk? He calmly takes a look around and waits for a teammate to cut. He then accurately delivers the ball and a positive possession ensues.
The chemistry still needs to develop between him and his teammates; they’re not always ready for his passes. But his ability to pinpoint weaknesses in the defense is another wrinkle that helps define his fit with the team.
Thumbs Down: Point Allen
With Booker and Beal sitting, Grayson Allen received the start at the two guard. What did we learn? That he shouldn’t be a primary playmaker. His offensive skill set includes sniper-like accuracy from behind the arc and an ability to attack the cylinder in a physical fashion and finish through contact. Numerous times on Tuesday night Allen penetrated in an attempt to play make. It didn’t go so well.
He ended the night with seven assists. That’s good! He also had five turnovers. That’s bad.
Someone who won’t be relied on to be a primary playmaker, it doesn’t overly worry me. It’s not often, at least we hope, that he will be in this role. But it wasn’t the best night from a play making standpoint for the dude from Duke.
Thumbs Down: No Thrilling Three
I’m still trying to come up with a good nickname for Booker, Beall, and Durant. Thrilling three? Troublesome trio? I’ll probably stick with BBD. Unfortunately, we did not see them on Tuesday night. As I mentioned above, that’s fine. This is practice, after all. But still, the fan of me just wants to see them every chance we can.
Perhaps they’re taking a rest day to prepare themselves for the ‘ole buddy Deandre Ayton as they make their trip to Portland to play him on Thursday.
Thumbs Up: Getting to the Line
The Phoenix Suns were 27th in the league last season when it came to free throw attempts. Clearly a finesse team last season, the ability to not get to the line it’s something that needs to be fixed.
I’m sure you’ve heard my theory on this before, but if you want to be an effective team come playoff time, you want those free points from the line. You want to slow the game down and, in such high leverage situations, give yourself an opportunity to breathe while scoring.
The Suns shot 28 free throws on Tuesday. Without the BBD, they were attacking the cylinder and getting the calls at will. When you force the issue, you force the hand of the officials. Not doing so in a reckless fashion, they were quality takes by numerous players on the team.
Jusuf Nurkic went to the line 8 times, hitting all 8. Saben Lee shot 6, and Yuta Watanabe was good for 5 attempts. Clearly this is a focal point for Frank Vogel, Kevin Young, and David Fizdale.
Asked Vogel pregame if the Suns are going to free throw line. He said of course they want to attack, but then gave me the look/shrug and reminded me they have 3 of the best midrange shooters in the game sooooo....— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) October 11, 2023
Still, the news guys appear aggressive to the rim
This is a point of focus for Phoenix and is a low-key major adjustment for this team. You couple their lethal offensive output with the ability to get to the line? Good luck stopping that.
What are your thumbs up? What are your thumbs down? Are there any middle fingers out there?
Overall, despite grabbing a loss against the Nuggets, we learned plenty about the Suns in this last game. We learned that there is still some opportunity and, although the lineups put forth by Frank Vogel most likely won’t occur during the regular season — or at least we hope — players just need more reps. It’s as plain and simple as that. And that’s what preseason is for.