We are just about a third of the way through the 2023-24 NBA season. The Phoenix Suns currently sit at 14-13, which is barely good for a play-in spot in the Western Conference.
All things considered, that is disappointing. Bradley Beal has missed 21 games, Devin Booker has missed 9 games, and Kevin Durant has missed 4 games.
The “Big 3” combining to miss 34 games is rough, but there is enough talent for this team to win games if just two of the three are playing.
#1) Point of attack defense
STAY IN FRONT OF YOUR MAN!
The Suns’ inability to stay in front of their man has been brutal at times this season. They may partially lack the personnel to be elite in this regard, but the effort is something they can control, and it has wavered.
The lack of resistance up front creates a domino effect on the backline of the defense. This puts the Phoenix bigs in unfavorable positions as the back line of defense.
I’ve seen Nurkic get blamed for certain coverages where he’s doing his job but gets put out of place covering the tracks of a mistake in front of him. While that’s what’s expected of defensive anchors, the resistance must be stronger.
Vogel’s system will take time to implement, and with the massive roster turnover, it certainly will not happen overnight.
“Coaches have heard some of what we’ve been saying. Simplifying things.”
"I'm excited."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) December 19, 2023
No Kevin Durant, Devin Booker but talked with Drew Eubanks on return, #Suns changes.
"Coaches have heard some of what we've been saying. Simplifying things."
Eubanks from Troutdale, played at Oregon State, for Blazers.
Saben Lee incoming. https://t.co/NBxz6yuiZw pic.twitter.com/yu9U06iCQh
The best two point-of-attack (on-ball) defenders on the roster are Josh Okogie followed by Jordan Goodwin. Phoenix has felt Okogie’s absence when defending shiftier guards, as his screen navigation on that side of the ball is second to none.
I’ll throw effort into this category due to the lackadaisical effort both on the defensive end and boxing out. The possessions when the Suns defend their butts off for 20+ seconds then fail to box out which leads to another possession and shot attempt for their opponent have been killer as well.
The Suns do not need to be an elite defense, just competent. They have the personnel for that, and the baby steps toward reaching that goal may be happening in short spurts before our eyes.
There have certainly been some positives to take away, and our own Stephen PridGeon-Garner dives into this in more detail below.
#2 Turnovers + Carelessness
This is the one area that bothers me the most. The careless passes that lead to easy buckets for the opponent. These are completely avoidable. It’s not coaching, it’s just attention to detail.
Here are three turnovers from Booker and Durant that directly led to six points for the Wizards on Sunday night. Tyus Jones was involved in all three.
These are the types of careless turnovers that have killed Phoenix all season.— Zona (@AZSportsZone) December 19, 2023
Six easy points for Washington generated by Tyus Jones courtesy of the Suns. pic.twitter.com/8ASN7IG1PW
Unfortunately, this has been a common theme this season from this team. The pace of play can become lifeless at times, and that is when these mistakes tend to happen.
It feels counterproductive to sit there and say “play faster” to avoid turnovers like this. Playing at a quicker pace can certainly cause a turnover spike, but the easy looks this team could benefit from by getting out in transition more frequently could provide more of an offensive balance to what has been a mostly slow team (compared to the rest of the association).
#3 Pace + Shot Creation
I’m not asking for ‘7 Seconds or Less’
Phoenix currently ranks in the bottom half of the league in pace at 97.98, which is 26th in the NBA. The Suns aren’t going to push the pace every chance they get, but occasionally making a point to pick up the pace in pockets during the game could reap instant rewards.
The half-court offense can become stagnant or predictable at times during the game, and in those moments where things sputter, it would be wise to play faster and snap out of those ruts.
The lineup that comes to mind specifically when envisioning pushing the tempo would be none other than the Booker-Allen-Gordon-Durant-Nurkic lineup, which has been stellar this season.
After last night's games the Suns 5-man lineup of Booker, Allen, Gordon, Durant and Nurk has:— Brendon Kleen (@BrendonKleen14) December 18, 2023
= +23.9 net rating
In 101 minutes together
Generating easy buckets in transition — whether at the rim or via clean looks from deep — would be a welcome sight for the offense. This group above has the dynamic shooters to space the floor and enough rim pressure to attack downhill as well.
They could use some more diversity in their offensive attack, and this is strictly speaking from the eye test (which aligns with the numbers).