They’d compile one of their absolute best showings defensively, and plenty would stem from the tone set by their starting lineup of Booker, Beal, Allen, Durant, Nurkic — who were +24 with a true shooting percentage of 74.3.
The defense was the driving force in this one, as they held the Lakers to an offensive rating of 108.0, on 47.9% from the field, with 15 turnovers.
Where better to start, than on that end of the floor?
1.) Tone setting defense
The Suns won the race to the first timeout, forcing Darvin Ham and company to use one as a result of their sharp start.
Notice how well Durant and Nurkic work against James and Davis in pick-and-roll, especially Durant. Solid in navigation, playing with length.
Notice also Booker peeled in early and engaged Davis to take away his roll, as well as Beal and Allen on the block and elbow and disciplined in not over-helping — all little things they’ve struggled with in stretches. This is good, on good.
Then, they run out and play in space. Durant has all the gravity in the world, as Allen and Beal sprint to the deep corners — optimized spacing in transition, and high shot quality sees Beal knock it down.
Durant was a key piece in the tone set, given the matchup he took on, obviously with LeBron James and all the allure that comes with it.
On the other hand, Jusuf Nurkic had himself a premier matchup he was tasked with as well, in the ever-dynamic Anthony Davis.
I spoke to plenty of that, as well as the team's attention to detail, in succession, in this pieces film session — located at the bottom.
These compiled efforts, in a sustained manner, saw the Suns operating in a manner that gives a glimpse of where they can be in the process, even while ironing out kinks and establishing chemistry.
Shades of what their identity can be surfaced in this one, and it came in the form of multiple stretches like the one shown above — stringing together stop-score sequences that enabled them to dictate the pace of the game and play more in the open floor/early in the shot clock.
2.) Beal in Movement
Bradley Beal in a lot of the movement sets that Devin Booker has thrived in, for years now, adds an embarrassment of riches to the attack of the Suns.
Getting him on the move early and often is a great piece to their process.
Exhibit A is the opening set from the Suns.
Notice the pace of play, in Zoom/Chicago (a screen that flows into a handoff) then ultimately how the defensive dominos fall, into help on Beal, and extremely high shot quality for Grayson Allen.
Later on, we see them flow into it, out of “Elbow.” Notice again, his pace, the reaction it gets from the defense — with an emergency switch — and the shot quality stemming from it as it boomerangs back to him to reset against the switch.
Having this on the floor while Booker rests, is such a weapon.
At work thinking about positives from the Suns win— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) January 13, 2024
Can't stress enough how much of a luxury/asset/weapon Beal is, providing another piece to can run all the Booker movement actions both with him on & when he rests
Also, relieving Booker of initiating at times when sharing mins
The more time Beal spends on the floor, the more diverse and impactful these instances occur, and the more both he and any other Sun on the floor will benefit.
3) Booker's defense
I really enjoyed Devin Booker’s defensive activity, attention to detail, and decision-making.
Teams are always receptive to the intensity and attention to detail emanating from their best players.
I spoke to Durant earlier, and even Booker as well in the session above, and the full-length version of it below, but here are a few other examples that didn’t occur in that opening quarter run.
This was a really good game from him in his lowman reps. Look at him assess the situation, react to it, and how his doing so from the lowman position with this kickout switch, flattens out the Lakers attack.
An action that hurt them ad nauseam earlier this season, sees them well prepared and prompt in neutralizing.
He’s the lowman again here, and notice the attention to detail and scouting report sharpness.
Anthony Davis is great with waltzing into these short pop pockets (like Tim Duncan, Kevin, Garnett, LaMarcus Aldridge were) in the mid-range — a great counter to have when opposing bigs are in drop and engaging the guard.
Booker’s on high alert, and got up a timely closeout to impact the release—little things.
We see him again taking the pop pass to Davis away, this time from the nail, flying in on a well-timed undercut.
Lastly, we see the Lakers try to use movement around pick-and-roll, to both clear the side of the floor as well as force defenses to toggle responsibilities within their principles.
Booker is again up to the task and detailed with his decision-making. Which nets him yet another opportunity to flatten out action, with Davis’ pop.
Though he hasn’t been at this level of disruption and sharpness every game this season, we have seen him turn it up a few different notches, especially in last season’s playoffs. A different team context and their need for collective activity may task him with doing so more often than the previous rendition needed in the regular season.
It’s all about sustaining now. There’s a clear path to this team establishing identity, and a large portion of it is simply compiling reps together against a multitude of opponent types.
As mentioned previously, grant them grace to work through the lows. Also, don’t be too reactionary to the highs at the moment either, as they’re finding themselves in this window.
Of note: The Suns spent just 75.5% of their possessions in the halfcourt in this one, which would both be good for a 81st percentile rank if sustained for the season's entirety, ranks as their fourth-best mark in that this season, and exemplifies the dire need for this team to dictate more with pace, which will often also double as an indicator of how well they're playing at defensively.
If they compile stops with a semblance of regularity, that enables pace. They enable themselves to pace, their attack grows that much more diverse and hard to guard. The dominos fall further in their favor.
Sound On— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) January 12, 2024
The Suns had a Q1 Drtg of 100 in yesterday's opening frame vs the Lakers — in which, they saw a mid/late 15-2 run, setting a tone in urgency that lasted the rest of the way
Let's talk about what was going on defensively, & how it enabled plenty pace into offense pic.twitter.com/U6iNdGFd7g