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Stephen’s Study: Suns see pieces to the long-term surface in win vs Pacers

Remnants of what’ll be needed moving forward are rising in the new rendition

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After a solid start from the opening tip to the first timeout, in their final road game of a 5-game trip the Phoenix Suns would begin to see big-time pieces come into focus, even while missing a few important new pieces.

They are going to need role players to solidify their contributions over the next 25 games and this final road game is the last audition before new role players like Terrence Ross, T.J. Warren and Darius Bazley join them in the fight for playoff rotation spots.

They’re laying a new foundation for their newly structured rendition, and beginning to prepare for what is sure to be a special run, concluding the five-game road trip by garnering their fourth win of the trip and 31st of the year.

1.) Okogie’s Process

When losing pieces the likes of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, it is *beyond* important and truthfully imperative to have pieces in place that can replicate some of what those high-end youthful talents brought to the fold.

For Josh Okogie, those points being emphasized are his defense at the point of attack as well as on the wings and making the requisite dynamic closeouts the Suns defense tasks them with, in addition to rebounding, cutting, and being ready to shoot off the extra attention the top-end playmakers are sure to garner from opposing defenses.

All of that with even more emphasis on general energy and activity levels, while remaining prepared to adapt on the fly, around the aforementioned pieces.

Over the last two games, Okogie has provided all of this, in multiple contexts, in the manner that this rendition needs him to.

Specifically, against the Pacers, he was ever-active on the offensive end (17 points on 10 shots) - via timely cuts, sprinting the lanes in transition, and being ready to shoot or attack closeouts off of an unbalanced defense - while remaining in attack mode.

The Pacers were more than willing to help off of him to pre-help or load up on strong-side actions, affording him the opportunities to attack closeouts in multiple ways. This is a staple in their defensive base but is a dynamic in coverage that Okogie is sure to see as we trek forward and the team grows whole.

Defensively in this one, he compiled three steals and five deflections, which induced the event-causing scenarios that will need to be a staple for the new Durant-led Suns, and allows for him to also be his most effective, playing in the open floor.

For players defending in pick-and-roll as frequently as him, his turnover forced percentage of 19.0% is second to only Matisse Thybulle (25.2%) and Davion Mitchell (20.0%), emphasizing the volume of events caused when he’s at the point of attack and dictating terms with rhythm-breaking physicality and activity.

Even more, for players defending isolations as frequently as he does, he ranks first in forced turnover percentage, at 30%.

He’s an event-causing machine.

If he continues down this path in a sustainable manner, I can see how he could be best suited as the fifth starter or a key role player off the bench.

It’ll be some critical thinking from Williams and company regarding just who gets that starting role, however, after some initial thoughts being lenient towards expecting Craig to be the initial pick (based on what we’ve seen most of this season from the coaching staff), I’ve settled on my personal opinion residing with Okogie - for the time being, that is.

I have thoughts regarding the exuberant Darius Bazley after seeing his time spent in Oklahoma City with Chris Paul, but we will let him compile some games under his belt in the Suns system before revisiting that thought, stay tuned.

2.) Paul-Ayton pick-and-rolls

This tandem is one that will be a staple as well and has had some juice to it over the last few weeks as well.

Whether they’ve gone against drop coverage or drop adjacent coverages (weak or ice) and Chris Paul has maneuvered the midrange via snake dribbles - deceptively buying time for Ayton to set up shop in the paint or to stretch the mesh point of the defense for a midrange pull-up - or they’ve gone up against switching, to which they’ve used Ayton with a high volume for his paint touch value to then play out of, their two-man game has had that signature “pop” to it of late.

It was a staple again in this one, helping to both settle the offense as well as create advantages to then play out of.

Whether it was from the middle third or the outer thirds, Paul and Ayton were carving up the Pacers defense and generating high shot quality as a byproduct of their diligence with it.

They were able to isolate tags, force dynamic closeouts, and enable the ability for their cutters to beat rotations from the 45sop and spot up on the second side.

They’ve really ironed out the kinks that did exist, and have re-established that feel there.

With Devin Booker as well as Kevin Durant on the floor, and the litany of coverages they’re sure to see, it will be imperative that the Paul-Ayton two-man game resurfaces as one of the best in the NBA.

The way they will be able to manipulate space around it, dupe taggers, and exploit help will be abundant with the likes of either Durant or Booker on a single side. So the space they grew accustomed to working within the previous rendition is likely to be expanded upon, making for the blend of Paul’s prolific pull-up prowess and Aytons dominant roll gravity to be an offense in and of itself.

Tip of the cap:

Ish Wainright (13 points on 8 shots): Ish continues to impress of late, with the increased leash presented by Williams within the rotation. He’s remained confident and has let that thing fly from deep, and though the efficiency hasn’t been there recently, the confidence has been. He’s also been really good defensively with positioning and rotations, helping to fortify the bench’s presence in holding down the fort.

Torrey Craig (11 points, 12 rebounds): Craig has started a ton more than the Suns planned to because of injury, and it turns out those reps may prove fruitful even more so with the roster changes we’ve seen of late. He is operating well mostly, aside from those head scratch-inducing moments in decision-making with the ball or falling asleep at the wheel defensively.

Up Next:

The Suns return home after winning four of the five on the road, to take on the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.

The Kings, as of February 12th, are 5-3 over the last two weeks and pair the 13th offense (117.7) with the 22nd defense (118.1).

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