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Two Up, Two Down: The Suns have some things to improve on after being swept at home by the Spurs

The Phoenix suns were throttled by the San Antonio Spurs we leaves more questions than answers.

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns have a long way to go

Time and talent are on their side, but after being swept at home against the San Antonio Spurs this past week, they are going to need both to improve in fulfilling the expectations resting upon their shoulders. Early in the season, you say? Yes. But early returns are numerous spokes in the tire aren’t working in cohesion yet.

The 132-121 loss on Thursday to the San Antonio Spurs was deflating. After a gut punch in their first matchup on Halloween, this was more of a kick in the derriere. Boat raced from the beginning, the Suns looked lost on the defensive end. Open three after open three allowed the Spurs to gain confidence. When the Suns charged back in the fourth in front of their home crowd, the #1 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, a player who has the potential to be a generational player, put together his first complete NBA performance.

Of course, it was against the Suns.

Here we are. 2-3. The same record as the Portland Trail Blazers. The 11th seed. This isn’t where we envisioned the Suns through a week of basketball. No need to overact, but there is a need to put our thumbs either up or down on things we saw against San Antonio. For most of the game, I just wanted to put my thumbs in my eyes

Thumbs Up: Devin Booker is Back!

Kevin Durant has needed help, and the beginning of the fourth quarter is when he has needed it. The 35-year-old hasn’t had much rest this season. Frank Vogel’s substitution patterns have Durant sitting on the bench to start the fourth. Without Booker, any lead that existed would be erased in a short fashion due to this. In turn, Frank would reluctantly substitute Durant back in simply to allow the Suns to put a number on the scoreboard.

With Booker back in the lineup, the pressure for KD to carry the Suns was minimized. In three games without Booker, Durant averaged 19.3 field goal attempts. He shot the ball 15 times on Thursday, and in true KD fashion, he made 10 of them (66 FG%).

Having Book back not only relieved some of the pressure, but it gave you an energy that this team needs. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, is a renowned trash talker, and has an attitude about him. Just ask Jeremy Sochan.

Booker nearly posted a triple-double, which would be the first in his career, with 31 points, 13 assists, and 9 rebounds in his return. He is the alpha and it was nice having him back on the court.

Thumbs Down: Vogel is a defensive coach, right?

You could’ve fooled me. The Suns allowed the Spurs to score 75 first-half points and 132 points overall. The Spurs. This team scored 83 points in a 40-point loss prior to two wins in Phoenix. Yes, Wemby went nuclear, but it was his cohorts in crime that stabbed the Suns in the back a la Brute.

The defense was, quite simply, putrid. While the Suns played with energy, they looked like the team that earned a lottery pick last season with the way they rotated and collapsed on the defensive end. Time and again the Spurs whipped the ball around and the result was a Phoenix defender out of position.

The Spurs shot 18-of-37 (48.6%) from beyond the arc. Very few were contested. After surrendering 19 wide open three-pointers to the Spurs on Tuesday night, they followed it up by permitting Pop’s team to shoot 24 wide open three’s on Thursday.

After posting a defensive rating of 100.7 in their first three games, the Suns have surrendered 123.5 points to the Spurs and have a defensive rating of 122.3. Frank Vogel has some work to do to right the ship and coach the team into a cohesive defensive unit.

Jusuf Nurkic was rough. He has the worst defensive rating (116.5) on the team for anyone who has played in all five games. His inability to close out on three-point shooters equated to many of those open threes by the Spurs and it is something that early this season we are seeing: teams attacking him.

Thumbs Down: Wemby is, like, really good

Damn it! The Spurs did it again. This is a thumbs down for Phoenix because Wemby is coming. Heck, on Thursday you might say he arrived. The NBA believes so.

You have Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, and Amare Stoudemire? Cool. The Spurs will have quite possibly the greatest power forward of all-time rostered with selfless talent around him in a system specifically designed to destroy your hope. You have Devin Booker in his prime, KD, and Bradley Beal (in theory…he’s technically not a Sun until he plays a game)? Cool. We’ll draft Victor Wembanyama.

Wemby is so good, man. His game as a 19-year-old is incredibly hard to defend, his length is unlike anything we’ve seen when coupled with his handles and shot-making ability, and his defensive gravitational pull has every player driving shook. We witnessed it over the past two games. He is indeed an alien.

Did you notice that, after Devin Booker led the game off attacking Wemby only to be blocked, and the Spurs opened the game on a 13-0 run, every Suns player who drove to the paint hesitated ever so slightly? Before any shot was taken on the interior, they were looking for Wemby. If he was by the free-throw line, they passed out.

In their first three games, the Suns averaged 45% of their points in the paint. With Wemby lurking, that number dropped to 35.7%. The Wemby Effect.

It’ll be interesting to see how much he’s developed when the Suns play them again on March 23.

Thumbs Up: Confident KBD

Keita Bates-Diop was one of the first Suns to be signed in free agency this past summer, but entering Thursday night he had only played 6 minutes. A player who some thought, myself included, would be a fifth starter has been warming the bench all season.

San Antonio played Josh Okogie off the floor by ignoring him on offense. With Wemby guarding him it allowed the rookie 7’4” alien to sag off defensively and shade into the paint. After seeing this in the first game, the Spurs did it in the second game and Okogie started 0-of-2 from the field. Vogel pulled him played him only 12 minutes, and messed up a parlay I had on DraftKings.

Yuta was his response. And Yuta looked bad (he was going to be my thumbs down, but I didn’t want to call this thing “one up, three down”). Due to Yuta’s complete deer-in-the-headlights approach to defense, KBD was given an opportunity. He took advantage of it and played well.

Bates-Diop scored 13 points off the bench in 18 minutes played, including a quality take on Victor Wembanyama to the cylinder.

The minutes Bates-Diop occupied generally would go to Nassir Little, so this may be one of the first adjustments Vogel is making to his rotations. KBD rewarded the decision by providing quality minutes on a frustrating night, doing so on both ends of the floor. He did not fall out of position on defense and reminded us that he is a very solid addition who should get some run.

“Adjusting to each other is one thing, but the effort has to always be there,” Eddie Johnson stated on the Arizona Family broadcast. Effort needs to be put in on the defensive side of the ball. Playing someone like Wemby is an anomaly, but the road ahead doesn’t get easier. The reigning NBA MVP is waiting for the Suns on Saturday and they will be a tough out.

This three-game homestand could’ve been a scheduling break against the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs. It wasn’t. They went 1-2 in front of their home faithful and now head out on a three-game east coast swing, fractured and lost as it pertains to their defensive identity.

What did Monty Williams use to say? Something about “hard” and “want”? Eh, we’ll ask him on Sunday in Detroit.

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