The Phoenix Suns have a serious problem, and that is outside just the overall health of the team. Their execution in the fourth quarter has been severely lacking, costing the outcomes of games with the most recent example being a loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Within this game against the youngest team in the league (at a staggering average of 23.14 years old per player), the Suns allowed the Thunder to score a game-high 31 points shooting a blazing 60% from the field.
Yes, that was just in the 4th quarter.
This simply cannot be the recipe for success, with the Suns having issues taking care of the ball being 3rd in the league with the most turnovers per game, and continuing this trend by adding four to their fourth-quarter total in Sunday’s matchup. Considering not only the frequency of their turnovers combined with the fact that teams are taking advantage of these mistakes and poor shot-making, it is amazing that the Suns even were able to squeak out a win including last Wednesday’s OT win in Chicago.
"I credit the Bulls. There was some careless possessions like their always is in a 48-minute game. The way they defend, they gamble."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) November 9, 2023
Frank Vogel as Suns 22 turnovers led to 30 Chicago points. but Phoenix punished Bulls defense by hitting backside 3.
19-of-48 from deep. #Suns pic.twitter.com/ZjP9zUB2si
Another facet of the Suns’ struggles is their inability to make shots altogether, especially after defenses send doubles/triples at Kevin Durant who has a massive usage rate of 39% in every 4th quarter played so far this season. This does not even account for the two games that the Suns actually had their go-to closer in Devin Booker. The Suns are shooting an abysmal 36.5 % from the field in the 4th which lands them at the very bottom of the league in that regard.
Simply put, the Suns need more production, especially from those who are on the floor for their spacing prowess strictly or not. With above-average three-point shooters such as Yuta Watanabe, Eric Gordon, Grayson Allen, and even Keita Bates Diop surrounding Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant, there is no reason they should be shooting under 25% from beyond the arc. Now understandably, there will be regression to the true mean at some point this season, but it is clear that the lack of efficiency is a key contributor to the Suns’ recent losses.
The worst-case scenario out of this recent stretch of games is either the coaching/training staff rushing Devin Booker back or him feeling obligated to rush through the rehabilitation process. Therefore, Phoenix is going to have to figure out ways to approach their downfall in the fourth especially since Bradley Beal is still fighting off back issues as reported by AZCentral’s Duane Rankin:
Frank Vogel said Bradley Beal tweaked his back in the first half and battled through it in the 2nd half.— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) November 13, 2023
"He's a warrior." #Suns
The first place the Suns can start is minute management, ensuring that there is not a lineup that does not include two elite three-point shooters to place in either corner. This way when the doubles are sent (which they have and will be) at Kevin Durant, he has an outlet to dish to either side when the defense helps.
There should also be an attempt to limit KD’s minutes until the final six minutes or so in the 4th to maximize his energy output as the primary closer on the team at the moment. The Suns started the 4th with KD in the lineup, but it was clear that although this gave a momentary spark ultimately resulted in the same outcome just with a more gassed Durant.
In terms of rotation, another adjustment that can result in dividends for the Suns is reallocating the minutes spent on Josh Okogie into Jordan Goodwin, who can provide comparable perimeter and POA defense while being a legitimate threat from the three-point line and especially from the corners.
Goodwin just came off a game where he was 3/5 from deep before the dreaded 4th quarter hit, whereas Okogie was 0-2 and seemingly left open the entire game forcing him to drive in order to score. Although he was getting to the line and shot perfectly from the stripe, spacing continues to be a major priority for how the Suns are constructed especially with the stars operating majorly from the free throw line extended.
However, outside of a personnel standpoint, the Suns also have to be able to play more team-oriented basketball down the stretch. The amount of isolation ball is too inefficient even from a strictly mathematical standpoint especially considering the points allowed off turnovers. This requires shooters to be able to make their open looks however, as Phoenix seems to lean on spacing and find their most success when they are able to apply rim pressure and convert at the free throw line.
And of course although out of the Suns’ control, having a fully healthy team will also give the Suns more weapons to work with and defenses around the NBA a migraine trying to figure out how to guard the three-headed monster of Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant. Fans got a glimpse at how lethal this can be with the limited minutes in the preseason, but the anticipation is even more pressing with more games falling in the loss column and picturing the fluidity of the offensive firepower between the three stars.
Not to mention Eric Gordon was out against the Thunder due to left shoulder soreness, who is a key cog in opening the floor with his seemingly unlimited range. However, in the 8 games Gordon has played he has only hit 30% of his threes in the fourth quarter which feeds into the premise that the Suns simply are not hitting shots in the month of November.
It is easy to chalk all of this up as anomalies, but plain and simple this is the reality and the Suns need to continue to win games during Booker’s full recovery to float around the .500 mark.
The Wolves are in town to play Phoenix on Wednesday, where hopefully the Suns are able to make the necessary adjustments to end the streak of negative fourth-quarter performances.