The long breath that we’ve been holding in this entire off-season can finally be released as the Phoenix Suns played their season opener on a wild Tuesday night in the Valley of the Sun. Hat tip to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who downed the Philadelphia Phillies and are en route to their second-ever World Series appearance. The last time they did so, I was a 19-year-old kid working at Avis Lub on 36th and Indian School. Here I am at 41, Avis Lube is now a bar called UnderTow, and I am enjoying their success at the end of their season while simultaneously enjoying the success of the Suns at the beginning of theirs.
What a night.
Going on the road to open the season in Golden State at the Chase Center is no easy task. The Warriors were 33- 8 at home last season and have some of the best crowds in the NBA. Add to the fact that Bradley Beal was not available for the game, and you figured it would be an uphill climb. The Suns have been preparing to have him in their lineups, practicing their sets with Beal present. Frank Vogel would forced to make roster adjustments in the first game of the season.
Looking at the starting lineups from the last game of the season of the 2022-23 season to the first game of the season of 2023-24, three starters remained: Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Josh Okogie. Rather than having Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, the Suns started Jusuf Nurkic and Grayson Allen. You might not call that an “upgrade”.
Phoenix persevered, however, winning 108-104 and moving to 1-0 on the young season. They did so behind the efforts of Devin Booker and his 32 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds, which brings me to our first thumb that we must race upward:
Thumbs Up: Playmaking Book
So much was made of how the Phoenix Suns did not have a traditional point guard after trading away one of the league’s all-time greats in Chris Paul. How would they ever be able to execute an offense? Surely it couldn’t be done!
Have no fear, leveled up Book is here.
Devin Booker opened the season looking fantastic. He ended with 13-of-21 shooting, and only 3 of his points came from the line. He shouldered the offensive load throughout the game and did so for the most part in a highly efficient manner. 3-of-8 from beyond the arc, Frank Vogel has granted the green light for Book, but it’s the other aspects of his scoring that continue to be elite. Slight hesitations on his jumpers to create space, in-traffic runners, and Kobe-esque turnaround jumpers. He has it all in his bag.
You know who he is. He’s Devin Booker. pic.twitter.com/d98YFSm2Qw— John Voita (@DarthVoita) October 25, 2023
But it was his playmaking that won the game for Phoenix. Those clutch numbers look pretty good to start for Devin, as he went 2-of-4 from the field, 1-of-2 from deep, and had 3 assists. You could see him setting up the defenders, who began to throw double teams and shade weak side help his way. He would expertly manipulate them and set up his teammates.
Josh Okogie was the recipient of a cross-court Booker pass and found himself wide open for the three-point shot, which he promptly deposited. Eric Gordon converted a Booker pass into another dagger three-point shot. The play that clinched the game saw Booker go right and draw two defenders, which created a wide-open lane for Jusuf Nurkic. All Booker had to do was hit him in stride for the easy two points. Booker did just that.
Does that answer your question as to who the primary playmaker for the Phoenix Suns is, national media? P.S.: Those Book 1’s looked nice. Or fleek. Whatever the 19-year-old’s are saying these days.
Thumbs Down: Second Team Rebounding
Jusuf Nurkic had his way on the boards early in the game, and there was obvious regression when he departed. Drew Eubanks was forced to play tentatively due to two moving screen violations against him. The aggressiveness that we hope we will continue to see – what we witnessed in the preseason – negated his aggressiveness during the first half. Phoenix is going to have to take a team rebounding approach to their second team unit, and on Tuesday night that approach was not working.
When Dario Saric gets 4 offensive rebounds against you, creating secondary possessions for his team, you know it is a point of emphasis.
The Suns have numerous long wing players. Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe, Jordan Goodwin, Drew Eubanks. Yet none of them, outside of Eubanks are historically great rebounders. This will be a point of emphasis for Vogel and how to productively negate offensive possessions through the art of defensive team rebounding.
You can sprinkle into this thumbs down the fact that the second team unit was also very loose with the ball, looking like Derek Carr trying to hit Chris Olave on a wheel route. They were just throwing it out of bounds. Of the Suns’ 19 turnovers (yikes!), which led to 22 Warrior points, the second team unit accounted for 7 of them.
Thumbs Down: Grayson Allen the Starter
Allen received the start in Bradley Beal‘s place, and it makes sense as to why. Eric Gordon is a fireballer off the bench and someone who will be closing games. Allen started 70 games with the Bucks last season. The keep his rotations as manageable as possible, Frank went with GA.
Alas, it was a rather rough performance.
Yuta needs to finish this game instead of Grayson Allen for vibes reasons and also for basketball reasons— sreekar (@sreekyshooter) October 25, 2023
0-of-6 overall, and 0-of-5 from beyond the arc, Allen’s shot was clearly off. The spacing was there as Booker and Durant drew the gravity, but his stroke was not. Is it the end of the world? No. His role is that of an irritant who comes off the bench, hopefully not a starter consistently. Bench players typically will play better at home versus on the road which is another factor to consider here, but we have to call it like we see it. That was a rough game for Grayson Allen.
Thumbs Up: Nurk-a-licious
The duality of Jusuf Nurkic was on full display against the Warriors as his size and rebounding acumen were clear positives. Scoring 14 points, it was his 14 rebounds that stood out, especially when juxtaposed with the second team unit. He plays like he cares, which is a nice change, right?
This is what happens when Nurk plays against somebody like a Kevon Looney.
Judy’s Nurkic a +23 in the first half.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) October 25, 2023
Note to self: my phone auto-corrects “Jusuf” to “Judy’s”.
Nurk’s first official game as a member of the Suns displayed his fit with the team. It is an observation we’ve noted during the preseason, how his connectivity is an upgrade at the center position as is his basketball IQ. It was Nurk-a-licious who made the game-clinching basket, and his 5-of-8 efficiency was much needed.
We will see quite the opposite on Thursday when the Suns have to play the Lakers as an athletic big in Anthony Davis presents a clear and present danger for the big man. There will be nights in which he looks amazing and grabs 14 rebounds, and there will be nights where he gets played off the court.
It was a win on opening night against a talented Warriors team. That gets two thumbs up for me, I might even put a big toe up as well. On the road down Bradley Beal they made a statement on Tuesday night. That statement?#ComingInHot.