Josh Okogie, Grayson Allen impress in Suns’ preseason loss to Nuggets

Oct 10, 2023, 10:39 PM | Updated: Oct 11, 2023, 8:57 am

Josh Okogie...

Josh Okogie #2 of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a three-point shot against the Denver Nuggets during the NBA game at Footprint Center on October 10, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Nuggets defeated the Suns 115-107. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — We aren’t going to learn much when Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant are all out. The Phoenix Suns will plan on having at least one of them on the floor at all times, and probably two in the playoffs. The roster was designed this way, so contests like Tuesday’s preseason 115-107 loss to the Denver Nuggets not featuring them at all won’t present us much to go off.

Let’s find a few things anyway.

Head coach Frank Vogel went with Saben Lee, Grayson Allen, Josh Okogie, Chimezie Metu and Jusuf Nurkic in the starting lineup. This group, as expected, struggled with offensive rhythm and messed up some rotations defensively. That’s fair given the guys the squad is built around aren’t on the floor, Lee’s experience level running an offense and that it’s the second preseason game.

Vogel had some specific rules in place for covering the Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic two-man game the Suns went over in shootaround but the consistency wasn’t there in abiding by them. On offense, Phoenix had 10 turnovers across the first 15 minutes and change.

Denver, meanwhile, was only without Michael Porter Jr. (left ankle sprain) in its starting five. The Nuggets core guys were intent on feeling out their movements on both ends instead of going hard if that makes sense, trying to use this time as effectively good practice reps. You don’t need me to tell you Jokic could have had 30 in the first half if he and the Nuggets wanted him to.

Jokic, Murray, Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did not play in the second half. Ditto for Nurkic.

Through what the Suns were doing and the turnover problems, the space on the floor was evident. Lineups featuring Allen, Eric Gordon and Yuta Watanabe really stretched the floor and let Phoenix get up 3s. Again, early indications are Vogel is valuing shooting above all else for the pieces around the starting lineup, with that trio figuring to play a huge role in bench scoring for the opening portion of the season. It’s a good way to go about it.

The two guys that were still able to play within themselves in the right temperament were Okogie and Allen. Okogie was 7-of-13 from the field for 17 points with six rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. Allen contributed 10 points, three rebounds, six assists, two steals, a block and five turnovers on 4-for-7 shooting.

Okogie made some nice drives to the basket and looks even more confident in his 3-point shot, which are both the biggest keys for him on that end of the floor. Okogie’s decision-making as a slasher can be problematic at times but he was much better about it last year and picked his spots well on Tuesday. He didn’t come to mind as one of the beneficiaries of all the space from the offensive threats but his driving game will see far more room. Okogie’s lightning quick so all he needs is a quarter-step advantage and he’s gone.

“When you have shooters like that around you, guys are going to be hesitant to help off them,” Okogie said. “For me, it’s not really about the man guarding me but seeing where the help is coming from. So when there’s no help it makes it easier to attack the basket but when there is help it’s easy to kick out for a knockdown 3-pointer.”

The biggest trait for any supplementary piece on this team to have is finding a way to impact the game in a role that doesn’t guarantee more than a few shots a game. Some nights players 4-15 are going to take seven shots and some nights it will drop to two or one. But they can still help the team win, and that’s where Allen has impressed the most.

I know it’s cliché to say the guy that plays hard has a nose for the ball but he really does. It’s evident, even in settings like this. The dribble drives with more opportunities have been encouraging since the Suns need rim pressure anywhere they can get it. He’s got a good feel for the extra pass too and the shooting speaks for itself.

There was no Jordan Goodwin (right hamstring tightness), Ish Wainright (right calf strain) and Damion Lee (right meniscus) for the second straight game.

The Suns went nine deep in the first half without Nassir Little reaching the floor. It’s worth noting because Little, based on his flashes and potential in Portland, is someone who seemed to have a real good shoot at being the most reliable wing in the supporting cast. But with two disclaimers on how it’s preseason and he just got traded here two weeks ago, it’s not a good sign for his chances in the early part of the season.

Something to monitor for the reigning champion Nuggets is them having some depth questions to answer this year.

The Nuggets have the best starting lineup in the league and were borderline unstoppable in the postseason thanks to the three extra, vital contributions off the bench from guard Christian Braun, wing Bruce Brown and forward/center Jeff Green. Braun was a plug-and-play rookie that proved reliable in a real role, Brown served as the sixth starter and was invaluable while Green struggled in the regular season before the disastrous minutes without Jokic were solved thanks partially to Green.

Brown and Green got paid in free agency elsewhere, leaving the Nuggets with two spots to fill and it’s probably fair to add a third given how many minutes Brown played.

They made no significant trade or signing outside of veteran wing Justin Holiday (who is on his fifth team in three years), betting on their scouting department and development of youth.

Rookies Jalen Pickett, Julian Strawther and Hunter Tyson were selections in this year’s draft from the 29-37 range while previous first rounders in Zeke Nnaji (Year 4) and Peyton Watson (Year 2) could emerge as well.

Strawther, a sharpshooter out of Gonzaga, was the standout with a game-high 20 points in 21 minutes. Think a lesser version of Cam Johnson as a good outcome for him in the NBA. Kid can shoot that thing and can make the right play attacking closeouts. Keep an eye on how him and the other youngins in Denver develop (or don’t).

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