Phoenix Suns flash offensive power again in preseason win vs. Blazers

Oct 12, 2023, 9:36 PM

Jusuf Nurkic, Kevin Durant in Suns vs. Trail Blazers...

Jerami Grant #9 of the Portland Trail Blazers, Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns and Jusuf Nurkic #20 in action during the first quarter of the preseason game at Moda Center on October 12, 2023 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

We are three preseason games into the Phoenix Suns’ campaign and the results offensively have been rather encouraging, the latest in a 122-111 win on Thursday over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Most of the reason why is the trio of fixtures have all featured different variations of a Suns rotation, and yet all of them saw the offense show some real positives. Sunday’s opener with the Big 3 was a 46-point first quarter in which the Suns shot 85%. Those guys sat in Tuesday’s loss but what Phoenix was still able to achieve in regards to good spacing around elite shooting stood out.

And on Thursday, it was some great balance across a starting lineup without Bradley Beal (low back tightness) and Josh Okogie (rest) that played just the first half.

Eric Gordon was money all night, shooting 8-of-10 for 20 points in 18 minutes. Jusuf Nurkic stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, eight rebounds,  five assists, two blocks and a steal while Devin Booker (18 points) and Kevin Durant (16) were prolific through 15 field goal attempts apiece and 11 total assists.

We are going to have to come up with a nickname for these offensive explosions over small spurts that will soon become a signature of this Suns team. They scored 18 points over the final 3:28 of the second quarter, shooting 7-of-8 across an 18-2 run to lead by 21 at the half. Nurkic was +27 for the game.

Since I know why many of you are reading this story, yes, Deandre Ayton indeed suited up against his former squad for the first time since he was traded. With a recommendation from yours truly to not really feel any type of way about it, the night was your typical below average Ayton performance. The aloof energy was there (it’s preseason after all), along with a few nice buckets and plays at the rim defensively.

On one more note before harping on the negatives for Ayton too much, I will say there were some Blazers turnovers where you saw how his teammates have to still get used to his movement and how Ayton sometimes is not going to explode into the space. That’s a part of Ayton’s game the Suns struggled mightily with figuring out over the years, partially resulting in his uneven amount of touches.

Ayton had seven points, six rebounds, three assists and a block on 3-of-6 shooting in 23 minutes. Portland comes back to Phoenix for preseason play on Monday, and expect Ayton to bounce back.

To that point on Ayton, it wasn’t all positive for Nurkic. The first quarter was another preseason stretch where his defensive weaknesses were on display. Sometimes it’s just too much ground for Nurkic to cover and quicker guards are finding a way to get into a good finishing spot around the rim before Nurkic really impedes them.

Head coach Frank Vogel has done a great job through three games of giving everyone an opportunity. Grayson Allen also rested on Thursday, allowing Jordan Goodwin in his preseason debut to find some spot minutes in the first half rotation before getting more extended run in the second half. Nassir Little started in place of Okogie after mostly playing in the second half for the first two preseason games.

On the injury front, two-way center Udoka Azubuike was also able to be the first center off the bench with Drew Eubanks (right ankle sprain) out after Bol Bol played ahead of him on Tuesday.

Goodwin looked great. He’s got tremendous hands defensively. In the ways we talk about a defensive back in football having an uncanny ability to make plays on the ball, he’s got the NBA version of that. Goodwin got credited with two steals in the first half but it should have been three.

Offensively, he was able to show off the point guard skills he has developed over the last two years and the 3-point shot he continues to work at.

Goodwin ended up with nine points, two rebounds, two assists, a block and those two steals in 15 minutes. The guard was on a minutes restriction after coming back from a hamstring issue.

Yuta Watanabe didn’t play in the first half but again impressed in the second half with 10 points.

Those two guys play winning basketball and can contribute. Vogel’s got a tall task ahead of him to pick out the right nine or 10 guys. Presumably, Josh Okogie is in position to keep the starting spot on opening night alongside the other four names. Gordon’s surely gotta get in there, as does Allen. Eubanks is the backup 5. So it’s only one spot really, maybe two.

A good problem to have, as Vogel joked himself on Wednesday.

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