Nobody with the Phoenix Suns is panicking over a 2-3 start to the season, so why should the fans?
I was on the Suns JAM Session postgame pod yesterday and I can tell you for sure that the fans in the chat were ready to make wholesale changes to everything because of this distressing start.
I get it. I really do.
It’s frustrating to watch the Suns botch these fourth quarters, especially in the clutch, since Devin Booker joined Bradley Beal on the sidelines after game 1. In the last four games, fourth quarters are their enemy with only one star (Kevin Durant) in the lineup. They are shooting only 38% in the 4ths, and that % goes down as the clock goes down. They’re taking and missing a ton of threes in the 4th they’d been making the first three quarters. And they’re second-to-last, getting outscored by 36 in fourths. Replacement scorers Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen can’t find the bottom of the hoop in 4ths either, and the offense appears to be ‘try something, but when it fails, just release it out to triple-teamed Durant outside the three-point line and watch him try to work.
Coach Frank Vogel is frustrated. He at least wants the defense to keep up or increase their intensity when the shots don’t fall, but that’s been come and go too. But he still ends every postgame mini-rant with some version of ‘we need time’ to figure this out. He’s instilling all new schemes and the players running those schemes have never taken the floor together in a competitive game until now. They’re not just going to get it. Not yet anyway.
He’s frustrated with the losses, but he understands there’s a process.
It’s frustrating for the fans to watch this unfold. I get it.
However, remember it’s ONLY SIX GAMES IN. Even ten games isn’t enough. We need 20+. The Suns have a new coach, new offensive schemes, new defensive schemes, and 13 new players, the majority of whom are basically the same level of (not) game-changing talent.
It’s gonna take some time to figure out which players fit together in live competitive basketball. For a week, it was Josh Okogie and Nassir Little going for that big-wing-stopper-and-take-the-open-three, with very little Keita Bates-Diop. Now it’s KBD and more of Yuta Watanabe getting a chance and those guys are taking the back seat. None of these four are perfect, but hopefully one of them passes the chemistry test.
Which brings me to chemistry. Booker and Beal have been out. Once those guys are back as mainstays, all this changes AGAIN.
Jusuf Nurkic has not looked good yet, but he was brought in to be an offensive fit with the Big Three. Defensively, he’s got his limitations that Vogel needs to SEE for a bit to decide how to cover for that all season. He can cover for Nurk, but needs the eye test. MORE THAN SIX GAMES.
The Suns have flaws that time won’t fix. That health in Book and Beal won’t fix. I realize that. 1. They DON’T really have a big wing stopper who can let Durant NOT do it all year. Nobody on the current roster can be prime Nic Batum, or OG Anunoby, or thick guys like that. You want me to mention Mikal and Cam (and I want to) but those guy were bowling pins against the big guys.
2. Nobody can make a layup apparently, and that’s a career-long problem do it’s not gonna get better. Can the Suns handle 5-10 missed layups again all year? Nope.
3. Nurk cannot defend the perimeter AND keep up on the blow-by. The Suns don’t have a weakside rim protector to cover for those blow-bys.
4. Jordan Goodwin and Josh Okogie are great individually, and absolute wrecking balls on defense, but you can’t really play them at the same time because neither of them can make the open three so they get left open. Spacing becomes impossible.
5. There’s really no floor marshal on the roster behind Book and (hopefully) Beal. KD gets too many turnovers initiating outside the three-point line because he’s immediately triple-teamed by shorter guys whose hands are closer to the ball on the bounce.
So there are flaws, even when the KBB Big Three are back. The Suns know this. Which is why that Ayton trade was SO important. Because now they have various tradable salaries to get someone(s) closer to the trade deadline after the holidays who will fix the biggest problems.
BUT you don’t do that now. Not after six games. Not in November. You do that in January or February with an eye toward the playoffs.
And I am sure the Suns will. You’re talking about an owner who was the first to blow past the second tax apron on purpose to get Bradley Beal in JUNE, as soon as the season ended. An owner who was so eager to fill out the roster with the guys who his front office wanted, he broke the moratorium rules to convince Drew Eubanks to come here. An owner who signed off on changing 14 of the 15 roster spots since the day he bought the team.
Don’t worry now folks. Give Frank Vogel and the team time to figure out which of these parts are keepers, which are great trade bait, and who they can get in trade to fill in the gaps they know can’t be filled here.
More time is needed. A week ago, Keita Bates-Diop was a bust. This week he looks good. But will he look good in two more weeks of use? We don’t know yet. Josh Okogie and Jordan Goodwin looked like guys on the rise a few days ago, who could be those rags to riches guys, but suddenly it's like ‘omg they can’t make a shot, bench them!’. A week from now, they might rise again.
Breathe. Appreciate the evaluation process. Knowing that the Suns won’t sit on their hands if it’s not working as planned.