EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns bring space, pace era to life in preseason win vs. Pistons

Oct 8, 2023, 2:53 PM | Updated: 3:08 pm

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns poses for a portrait during NBA media day on October 02, 2023 i...

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns poses for a portrait during NBA media day on October 02, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The NBA is all about pace and space these days, a style the Phoenix Suns leaned into heavily during their preseason opener, a 130-126 overtime win against the Detroit Pistons.

Off makes or misses by Detroit, Phoenix wanted the Big 3 of Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant attacking a defense that wasn’t set yet.

The results were quite good.

In the first quarter, Phoenix shot 85% (17-for-20) from the floor with 11 assists on 17 baskets for 46 points. All nine players that got on the court scored.

A huge positive of this is teams aren’t going to be able to match up in time, creating what are known as “cross-matching” situations. There was one run-out Phoenix got off a Pistons make, and Durant was driving toward the basket with only Pistons guard Alec Burks left to protect the rim.

It is some deja vu to only see four seconds go off the clock there.

Our first peek at head coach Frank Vogel’s rotations tipped the scale overwhelmingly in favor of offense to bring that aforementioned spacing.

Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon got on the floor together as a duo for the first subs, while the first wing off the bench was sharpshooter Yuta Watnaabe over 3-and-D candidates like Keita Bates-Diop and Nassir Little. Drew Eubanks got the expected nod at the backup 5.

Vogel kept it to nine guys in the first 17 minutes, allowing the group to develop some continuity over a quarter and a half of good run. Bates-Diop got in for the back-half of the second quarter.

When Okogie wasn’t on the floor, Allen was the guy defending Pistons star Cade Cunningham. Booker did it in spots as well.

Allen was one of the notable contributors, filling in the gaps across the floor in loose ball and spacing situations. Watanabe in the first half nailed a corner 3 and also hit a comfortable pull-up jumper in the midrange for an action designed to get him downhill.

Gordon, Allen, Beal, Booker and fifth starter Josh Okogie were among the ball-handlers to create rim pressure as well, forcing defenders to make impossible choices.

As an example through what was bad team defense by Detroit, guard Killian Hayes was covering Watanabe in the corner and had one foot in the key to deny a Booker drive. Teams are not going to be able to do that anymore against Phoenix if its rotation prioritizes shooting to this degree.

During half-court possessions, the pace was prioritized there too, similarly to how former head coach Monty Williams wanted things to go. The Suns cannot let defenses off the hook by plodding through one-action sets and most of what they were running challenged the Pistons defense with multiple big-time threats to account for each time down. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic was a key cog in this as a screener.

For what it’s worth, Booker was the “point guard” when he was in, as expected. He played the most minutes of anyone in the Big 3 across the first half, 15. The trio was all in double figures and combined to shoot 12-for-23 (52.2%).

Nurkic’s limitations as a defender showed in the first half, although I encourage everyone to not use 15 minutes of the preseason opener as a way to generate worry on how functionable the defense will be with him in there. The quickness in space will have to be made up for by exact positioning and the attention to detail wasn’t as on point as needed on Sunday.

All of the starters were absent for the second half, where Allen and Watanabe continued to shine. Allen’s only been here a week but those two showed a good feel for playing off each other in the second unit.

Allen produced a team-high 18 points in 20 minutes on 7-of-11 shooting with three rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. Watanabe added eight points, three rebounds and an assist.

Even with injuries keeping Jordan Goodwin (right hamstring tightness), Ish Wainright (right calf strain) and Damion Lee (right meniscus) inactive, there is still going to be an odd man out of the rotation. Little was that guy on Sunday, as he didn’t check in until the late third quarter.

Phoenix led by as many as 26 but Detroit clawed back in the second half without nearly every key Suns contributor off the floor. Detroit hit a game-tying 3 with under 10 seconds left to force overtime, where the Suns took care of business.

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