No point to it: Suns see Jusuf Nurkic, pace replacing traditional lead guard
Oct 3, 2023, 7:08 AM
PHOENIX — It became clear with the trade of point guard Chris Paul for Bradley Beal that the Phoenix Suns wouldn’t require a play-initiating maestro.
There will be three perimeter players who need touches and all three have high-level creation abilities. Two of them, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, are shooting guards who have manned the point for significant portions of seasons and in high-leverage situations.
The philosophical change goes beyond the point guard position.
It had something — but probably not everything — to do with the Suns trading Deandre Ayton in the Damian Lillard blockbuster for a package that brought back center Jusuf Nurkic, guard Grayson Allen and forward Nassir Little. Sure, that was a haul of potential rotation options, but the Suns didn’t duck the big question during Monday’s media day.
Ayton for Nurkic without considering the other two players changes the look of things.
Ayton, as his last postseason showed, was reliant on Paul’s pick-and-roll game to be efficient. Nurkic, interestingly, brings offensive wrinkles more than he adds to the defensive side of the ball.
“To be transparent, I feel like the offense will be the easiest part,” Nurkic said Monday.
Vogel, likewise, deflected away a question about Nurkic being a defensive anchor and turned the answer to the offense. He said the big man brings a more dynamic skillset, taking the Suns away from pick-and-roll-heavy looks and isolations.
“Whether we’re throwing it to him in the post and splitting or cutting, or throwing it to him at the top the key, we really want to get those guys in space, get bodies off our elite scorers on the perimeter,” the first-year Suns coach said.
Nurkic is a specialist in dribble-handoffs and using his 280-pound frame to free perimeter players, something he got plenty of work with in Portland alongside Lillard.
“The reason I’m here, they really believe I’m a great fit,” Nurkic said. “I’m not coming in to replace someone. (We) have three scorers, 30 points per game. … Like Book said, I’m a point guard now. It’ll be fun for me to enjoy. Fresh start, superteam.”
Obviously, Nurkic also is a defensive rebounding presence for a squad that hopes to get stops and then run. And that’s where the other change in team identity comes with the departure of Paul and Cam Payne. Along with Paul’s departure, it said something that a quality backup point guard was moved for the relatively small return of a second-round pick.
Payne was the sixth gear to Paul’s third.
Booker showed himself to be an elite transition player and lead guard in the playoffs when Paul went down last postseason especially. He isn’t worried about workloads considering he’s done just fine as Point Book during the Igor Kokoskov era.
“I have a lot of help around me to take a lot of pressure off. I’ve been in different situations before where there was a lot more on my shoulders,” he said.
Jordan Goodwin, a defensive specialist, deserves mention here, too. Should he win Vogel over with his defensive capabilities, he does have underrated play-initiating chops, although last season’s breakthrough year is about all the NBA evidence there is on those.
At the end of the day, the common understanding is Booker and Beal will take on most of the traditional point guard duties. Nurkic can trigger the start of possessions with his boarding and keep things humming in the half court. In between, it’s just going to be a different feel than the last few years under the apprehensive, control-the-pawns-on-the-chess-board style of Paul.
Even if there was a traditional point still remaining on the roster, the roster’s current structure might make that a little, well, pointless.
“Whoever’s outletting the ball, whoever’s closer to the rebound, we’re all free to push and get our offense initiated,” Beal said. “I think that’s the biggest thing: Like, if we had a traditional point guard, he’s not going to be slowing our offense down, holding it. No.
“Get the ball to Kevin, get the ball to D-Book and let’s get that thing going.”