What appears to be a weakness one night can be a strength the next. Welcome to regular season basketball. The ebbs and flows of the 82-game schedule can force overreactions, maniacal assumptions, and puzzling responses. Like the games themselves, which are in constant motion and have their own ups and downs, the season is a constant reminder that every team is working on something at every moment and growing pains will occur.
This is no different for the Phoenix Suns.
A team that has heard the naysayers all summer long question their health and depth, Phoenix exits the first week of the regular season with a 2-1 record after navigating both. Their only loss? A 100-95 defeat at the hands of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, both of whom trailed by 12 points at the start of the fourth quarter and had both play all 12 minutes to squeak out the victory, despite the Suns being without Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.
The fact that the Suns have missed a total of 5 games between Booker and Beal combined (Booker has missed the last two, Beal all three), the team has been forced to adjust the manner in which they want to execute, and they’ve had to do it with a roster that has been together less than Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift. It’s been a blank space baby, and they’re learning each other’s names.
Through the first three games, which I understand is a very short sample size to pull upon, here are some statistics that put metrics to how Phoenix has performed. Some are due to the lack of cohesion, others fortify the Frank Vogel system at work. All are subject to change when the Big Three walk onto the court together.
17.6 Turnover Percentage
Chemistry is more than a class I struggled with in high school, it is a relationship between players on the court and is a term utilized to describe their instinctive connectivity. Due to the lack of playing time together, players aren’t in their spots or do not know where those spots even are. We’ve witnessed the errand passes, the unforced turnovers, and the miscommunication.
The Suns’ turnover percentage is 17.6%, which is the ratio of possessions that result in a turnover. Phoenix is currently the third-highest in the NBA in turnover percentage as they have amassed 54 in their first three games. For context, last year’s Suns had a turnover percentage of 13.6%, which was the 10th-best in the league.
Suns' assist-to-turnover ratio is gonna be a lil' ugly to start the year. Growing pains, more pace etc. etc.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) October 27, 2023
The why? Point to no Booker and Beal on this one, which in turn makes Kevin Durant and Jusuf Nurkic turn into your primary playmakers on offense. Durant has as many assists (12) as turnovers (12) and Big Nurk has 12 assists to 7 turnovers. The team’s assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.3, 27th in the league.
Insert Booker and Beal and, in theory, the assists increase and the turnovers decrease. When they come back and roles are restored, there still will be connectivity issues as everyone learns their spots. Thankfully for Phoenix, their offense will be potent enough to absorb some of that learning curve, as is their...
Defensive Rating: 100.7
Frank Vogel stated prior to the season that he wanted the Suns to be, “scrappy” on the defensive end. They have been just that. They are holding opposing offensives to 40.6% shooting (7th), 24.8% from three (2nd), and 102.7 points (7th). They may be committing 18 turnovers a game, but they are forcing the opposition into 15.3 turnovers themselves.
The defensive strategy deployed by the Suns is evident and noticeable. Phoenix is attacking isolations with double teams, flustering opposing bigs who want to post up by throwing an extra defender their way, and recovering to defend the perimeter. How? With the length and athleticism that James Jones acquired during the offseason.
Jordan Goodwin has played 69 minutes this season (giggity) and leads the team with an 86.4 defensive rating. He is averaging 3.3 deflections, an area of his game he knows is important.
Jordan Goodwin has played the sixth most minutes thus far this season for the Suns. He leads the team with a 86.4 defensive rating. pic.twitter.com/C9XDoTzLQt— John Voita (@DarthVoita) October 30, 2023
Drew Eubanks, who has played 56 minutes, is second on the team with a 90.3 defensive rating. The acquisitions brought in by James Jones were designed to complement Frank Vogel’s defensive schemes, and early in the season, the returns have been positive.
+13: KD, Yuta, Drewbanks, Nas, and Great-win
Nickname City, eh?
The best lineup thus far for the Suns has been the 30 minutes played together by Eric Gordon, Grayson Allen, Josh Okogie, Kevin Durant, and Jusuf Nurkic. The squad that started the blowout victory over the Utah Jazz have gone 28-of-56 from the field, assisting on 19 of those field goal attempts, made 10-of-27 three-pointers, grabbed 27 rebounds, and created 10 steals.
Knowing that is something that Frank Vogel can use when Booker and Beal both return, adding this lineup to his substitution patterns. Book and Beal can rest and the team can still hum.
With both All-Star guards being out, however, Vogel has had to dig deep and create lineups that you may not get to see and/or develop, especially this early in the season. It might just be for 12 minutes, which equates to one of the 12 quarters the Suns have played thus far, but the combination of Kevin Durant, Yuta Watanabe, Drew Eubanks, Nassir Little, and Jordan Goodwin has been effective. You have shooting in KD and Yuta, rebounding and interior scoring in Eubanks, and athletic disrupting guards in Goodwin and Little.
Combined, the unit has made 55% of their field goals (11-of-20, 4-of-9 from deep), generated 10 free throw attempts (a sign that this unit likes to attack), and had 4 steals. Another lineup combination for Vogel to deposit into his memory bank and deploy when the situation suggests.
These numbers will surely change.
Last season the Cleveland Cavaliers had the best defensive rating in the league. It was 109.9, a full 9.2 points worse than what Phoenix has posted through their first three. But we are starting to see and understand what Vogel’s vision is, even if it is without a former league scoring champion and a guy who was a top-five MVP vote getter two seasons ago.
We are not at the point of the season which we can call anything that anyone has done a “trend”. In the same breath, you can’t begin a trend without a starting point. Perhaps this is that starting point.