They seem to always love making things more interesting than they need to in closing moments — displaying a flair for the dramatic — that needs to be addressed, nonetheless, they were able to close the door.
Let’s dive into some of what caught my attention…
1.) Starting Lineup Dominance
With news that Eric Gordon was questionable, then ultimately out, Vogel elected to start Josh Okogie. The lineup of Booker/Allen/Okogie/Durant/Nurkic had compiled a net rating of -21.8 before last night.
It was a lineup that had appeared in just three games, but even in that small window, they were -6 in the box score. It was a perfect opportunity for that group to compile much-needed reps together, and they would seize the opportunity.
After a -1 start in the first half, they’d finish +15 with a 60.9 true shooting percentage in 13:54 of play — very, very, very, good. They’d outscore the Grizzlies 40-25 in their minutes spent together and held them to 50% from the field and 2-10 from three.
Dictating with their most used lineup on a per-game basis is indicative of offensive firepower, but when it takes on its peak effectiveness, the two-way dominance is what can position them to win games against anybody.
That was not the case in the first half, as I mentioned earlier this group was –1.
The Suns were about even on metrics statistically across the board, but on the floor, they were beaten to the punch too often, and the Grizzlies could play the game at their pace and on their terms.
The second half saw an interesting turn of events and served as the perfect transition point.
2.) An Impressive Third Quarter Run
Following a sequence where the Suns were solid on defense, they’d get out on the break and Booker hit Durant with one of these renditions hunted out and patented cross-court passes, for an in-rhythm catch-and-shoot three.
What followed, is what got Frank Vogel off the bench to call a timeout.
This ultimately would serve as a very astute time-out, showing Vogel's knowledge of his team. Following this, the Suns would go on a 16-2 run, including a 14-0 one that spanned across just over three minutes.
Let’s dive into some of exactly what was going on.
Sound On— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) December 3, 2023
The Suns went on a 16-2 run early in Q3 that flipped the game on its head vs MEM
It saw things like:
☀️ Pace + pressure counters
☀️ Nurkic connecting
☀️ Booker-Durant as screeners (!)
☀️ Durant-Nurkic PnR
☀️Nurkic & Okogie defensive activity
Let's speak on it ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/a7Ydt7f9Gh
Finding these pockets in games to dictate with, and do so allowing the defense to set the tone, and the offense to then play with pace into hit ahead and early offense quick hitters (Quick, Wide Action, Pistol with the smalls, Pistol-5 with Nurkic) allows them to dictate terms.
It also allows them to put pressure on defenses that often aren’t set (for free throws) or don’t have their preferred matchups, enabling manipulation-galore + opportunity to keep their defense set. There should be multiple pockets where their starting lineup variations should be able to do so, enabling their reserve or reserve-adjacent lineups to play with a sizable lead.
Watching for when, and how they can tie together these pockets like this will be a great barometer for how the team is meshing.
3.) Streaks Coming to an End
Coming into last night’s game, Kevin Durant had a few streaks running. He would see both his free throw streak (which climbed to 68) come to an end, making for the franchise record.
Durant would also see his seven consecutive games at 30+ PPG come to an end, as he finished with “just” 27 points on Saturday. In that seven-game stretch, he averaged a league-leading 33.0 PPG on 51.3/55.6/100 shooting. He’d do so on 154 total shots, which details his insane efficiency, and 36 three-point attempts, as well as 53 free throws.
That seven-game stretch ties Devin Booker’s franchise record for consecutive games north of 30 points.
Durant, however, did extend his franchise record of games north of 25, to 17 consecutive. His greatness as a scorer cannot be overstated and should not be taken for granted. For players compiling at least 300 offensive possessions this season, his points per possession mark of 1.106 ranks eighth in the league.
Shrink that to solely in the half-court, and his points per possession + assists mark (1.312) ranks third – behind Embiid and Jokic.
4.) Okogie Offensive Rebounds
Among many other things Josh Okogie brings to the fold, something I’ll be zooming in further on in the coming days, is his offensive rebounding. He’s presently on a nine-game streak with at least one offensive rebound. In this stretch, he’s averaging 1.8 per game, and over the last three (all of which he’s finished with 2+), he’s averaging 3.0 per game.
Giving a team with as prolific of an offense as this Suns’ rendition extra possessions is a tough proposition to any defense.
At 6’4” and rightfully considered a “wing,” Okogie is grabbing 7.7% of Suns misses. That mark ranks 96th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass, and is 4th among players also deemed as “wings.”
The 7.7% mark is right where he finished through 68 games played last season (98th percentile), and is a trademark of his game, seeing that he’s finished 75th percentile or better in each of the last four seasons of his now six-year career (which only excludes his rookie season).
As a team, the Suns rank effectively as a 92nd percentile team in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing 33.3% of their misses, when Okogie is on the floor.
This is one of many invaluable marginal efforts that the Suns “others” compile. He combines athleticism with elite-level effort and elite-level anticipatory skill as well.
Notice his chosen routes to the 50/50 ball opportunities, how he “steals” offensive rebounds, and how he also bullies like-sized or smaller players — moving furniture — to garner possession and often draw a foul as well.
He’s an extra possession earned, and I feel that down the line, he’ll be used in a small ball iteration, and help to bring elements that a traditional center would in screening/rolling/rebounding that will give the Suns lifts in waning moments.
The link to Saturday’s 16-2 run session is below:
A link to my Suns Film playlist is below, feel free to subscribe to my YouTube page and see these film sessions as they’re updated live!
Up Next: The Suns head to Los Angeles for their In-Season Tournament match-up with Lakers, on Tuesday.