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Two Up, Two Down: Winners and losers from the Suns first preseason game

The 2023-24 Suns have taken the court. What worked and what needs work?

Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Perhaps this is the start of a new series here on Bright Side, and perhaps you can give me a better name for it. I don’t know if it’s something I’ll be able to do after every game, or even often enough to give it its own segment. Perhaps I’m just so darn excited after seeing the Suns play basketball yesterday afternoon that I had to put something together to talk about this team.

There’s so much that we don’t know and there’s so much opportunity for the development of chemistry. The preseason isn’t just an opportunity to get back into game shape, with a new coaching staff, system, and roster of players, it’s a chance to learn who and what you are as a team.

So let’s give this a go. This isn’t baseball, so I’m avoiding the ‘three up, three down’ moniker. This isn’t an inning. I guess for now I’ll stick with phalanges, most notably what sets us apart from other mammals. Our opposable thumbs.

Thumbs Up: The Suns’ First Team Offense

That first quarter was fun, wasn’t it? The team shot 17-of-20 from the field. 85%. 46 points on the board to start the preseason! I know the game doesn’t count, but it’s enough to get you so excited that when your wife asks you to take out the trash, you do so with the s***-eating grin draped upon your face.

No point guard? No problem.

The Phoenix Suns ran their sets without the use of a traditional point guard and did so while pushing the pace. It’s funny, isn’t it? After three seasons with Chris Paul at the point, we’ve become accustomed to a slow half court-based offensive attack. The Suns were 22nd in pace last season. CP3 was last on the team with a 97.76 pace, which placed him 359th amongst those who started. The ball would slowly roll up the hardwood, he would pick it up, and we would wait 14 seconds until the offense initiated.

That’s not how it was last night yesterday.

Phoenix was actively looking to get the ball out and utilize their elite scorers to finish at all three levels. The Booker/Durant/Beal trio combined for 35 points in 42 combined minutes.

“A peek of what we can be offensively,” Vogel stated after the game. “It looks great on paper, with the firepower that we have, but those guys were all really clicking and comfortable”.

Frank Vogel’s move to have Josh Okogie start was the right one, and it may be because…

Thumbs Down: Unsure Keita Bates-Diop Struggled

KBD is who I believed should be the fifth starter for the Suns, and who knows? Maybe in time that will be correct. But after less than a week of training camp, you can see that Bates-Diop has some opportunity to grow.

His final stat line isn’t necessarily what I’m focused on here. You could look at his 1-of-5 shooting for 3 total points and say that he was bad. But I’m talking about the eye test here. That thing that we rely on that is not necessarily unquantifiable but can be fortified by statistics.

Bates-Diop just couldn’t find him the right spots on the floor and that’s where adjustment will occur. He played in lineups with Eric Gordon, Grayson Allen, Yuta Watanabe, and Jusuf Nurkic. It was a challenge for him finding where he needed to be. Was he a perimeter player? Was he needed on the interior? You could feel him thinking.

Thumbs down: Bol Bol is Stuck in the Middle

I’ll give credit to Brandon Duenas who wrote the piece earlier this week on how Bol Bol can have a breakout season for the Phoenix Suns. Unfortunately, I have somebody who disagrees with this assessment and does not think that he will be a successful player with this team. I hope I am wrong, but I just don’t see it.

Harsh? Probably. I know I need to give them more of a chance. But what I witnessed on Sunday fortified all of my concerns with him as a player. Too slow to be effective as a perimeter player and too light to be effective on the interior.

He started out well. His first points came off a lengthy offensive-rebound-turned-putback and he followed it with a transition 19-foot jumper. Outside of that, however, he struggled. He was hit with two “Bol-tendings”, which is a new phrase I guess we need to learn. Essentially it means that he blocked the shot on the way down. You might call it goaltending, but when he does it, it’s Bol-tending. What that tells you is that his timing is off defensively.

Again, I know it’s game one of the preseason, but when I saw him from the offense end wasn’t great either. He played in only 9 minutes and went 2-of-5 from the field. He just doesn’t know what he wants to be. He said on Suns Media Day, when asked if he is a guard or a big, “I’d say both”. No, Bol. Decide! Pick your lane! When you don’t know who you are, that is when confidence can become an issue. When confidence becomes an issue, well, the “we’ll play anyone” Orlando Magic bench you.

He had a wide-open three, but decided to attack the cylinder. You know, like a guard. As he began his attack, however, he saw Marvin Bagley rotate to his path, so he opted for an awkward 10-foot floater. Miss. That play was a microcosm of who Bol Bol is right now.

Thumbs Up: Yuta the Shoota

Watanabe played 30 minutes, and his effectiveness mostly waned due to the time on the court. It’s a total he’s surpassed only four times total in his five-year career. In his first 20 minutes of play, which is a total we can expect during the regular season, he was 3-of-4 from the field for 7 points. This included 2-of-3 from deep, where we expect him to thrive this season.

Unlike Bol and KBD, Yuta carried himself with a confidence that translated to results on the court. Watanabe’s role is far less complex than that of Bates-Diop, which is why it was much easier for him to succeed.

He ended 4-of-9 with 10 points, adding 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 steals. Yuta’s 5-foot running shot in overtime all but put the Detroit Pistons away and iced the game. “He was great. Gave us a good lift in overtime,” Frank Vogel said of Yuta. “The first half, he really played better defensively than he did offensively and he played pretty well offensively. But he really has a knack for being in the right spots, understanding schemes and played a good two-way game tonight.”

I was pleased to see his quick fire ability, coupled with his accuracy. He is somebody who has the stamp of approval from Kevin Durant that it gives him the confidence to be the player that he needs to be for this team.

You might wonder where Grayson Allen is. Have no fear, Bright Side, I have an article coming out later today all about him.

Overall what we witnessed on Sunday was a fantastic start for this team. The confidence, the swagger, the fact that the staters were in street clothes by the third quarter. It’s the pre-season. And it was a proper introduction to the 2023-24 Suns. It was glorious to see this team back out on the court.

The depth that so many were worried about really seems to be deep. It is the ultimate x-factor this season, outside of health. Although, if you are deep, health isn’t an issue. So again, it’s the ultimate x-factor. Thumbs up?

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