36 unbothered: Multiple ways Phoenix Suns benefit from elite spacing

Oct 19, 2023, 8:04 PM

Grayson Allen #8 Phoenix Suns passes the ball during the first half against the Portland Trail Blaz...

Grayson Allen #8 Phoenix Suns passes the ball during the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers at Footprint Center on October 16, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Devin Booker left the Phoenix Suns’ second elimination game blowout loss in the conference semifinals without saying a word. At least to the media.

He went into the offseason without addressing what happened, both after the game and at exit interviews the next day, only posting a vague social media post “36 unbothered” afterward, two days following the firing of head coach Monty Williams. What was first speculated by fans as a reference to his and Kevin Durant’s added-up jersey numbers was later corrected by Booker: He was just cruising through 36 holes of golf.

Regardless, he unknowingly created a nickname for the Suns’ superstar duo in the process.

To keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is five days away from Thursday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will round out the last 12 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season after being joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby for the first 24.

Previously –

Day 36: Devin Booker enters his prime
Day 35: The Suns have put in the work this summer
Day 34: Suns do have some continuity with returning bench players
Day 33: Kevin Durant gets integrated
Day 32: Bradley Beal proving something
Day 31: How the Big 3 develop chemistry

Day 30: Mat Ishbia’s first full season as owner
Day 29: How does Suns’ place of play change without Chris Paul
Day 28: Suns can maximize Yuta Watanabe in proper role
Day 27: Deandre Ayton finally is traded
Day 26: Who is Suns’ biggest threat in Western Conference?
Day 25: Matrix and STAT in Ring of Honor
Day 24: Phoenix Suns’ most appetizing lineups combinations
Day 23: The importance of Kevin Young’s return to the Suns
Day 22: The revamped Suns sunburst jerseys

Day 21: TV antennas and Phoenix Suns basketball for all
Day 20: Is there room on the Suns to unlock Bol Bol?
Day 19: What Grayson Allen brings to Suns
Day 18: Suns’ championship expectations
Day 17: Drew Eubanks could bring pop to Suns’ center group
Day 16: Olympic implications
Day 15: Jusuf Nurkic changes the Suns in the middle
Day 14: Jon Bloom takes over for Al McCoy on the airwaves
Day 13: Eric Gordon was the Suns’ biggest offseason signing
Day 12: Do the Suns need to trade for a point guard?
Day 11: The Suns need Josh Okogie

Day 10: How Phoenix Suns can build a championship defense
Day 9: How Suns can lose the Deandre Ayton trade
Day 8: Who is the Suns’ most important player outside Big 3?
Day 7: Is there a way for the Chris Paul trade to come back to bite the Suns?
Day 6: Do the Suns still have the best star duo in the NBA?

Day 5: What changes the most for the Suns with all the extra spacing?

Kevin Zimmerman: This possibly will be the last time before the season begins that I will bring up how strategically the Suns appear to have added to their rosters with spacing in mind.

Damion Lee and Yuta Watanabe were two of the most accurate corner-three specialists in the NBA last year. Being a stationary weakside spot-up guy obviously has become an important role in the NBA, and it’s only heightened in importance when the Suns will be forcing defenses to debate sending doubles to Durant in the high post or Booker or Beal in ball screens.

The floor is 50 feet wide, but the spacing extends vertically, too; maybe out to 40 feet with Eric Gordon with his base locking and loading. Vertical spacing has to do with transition play as well, an emphasis for Phoenix. What if Gordon or Grayson Allen are trailing? Even Jusuf Nurkic could fling a three in semi-transition.

Durant can copyright pull-up threes in transition. In his early days on Team USA, he made that his shot. Booker has made a point to work on the pull-up game in the preseason, a sign that he sees room for more aggression in those scenarios.

All that’s without getting to the rim-rolling on this team, which might end after backup big man Drew Eubanks. We’ll see if Nurkic is any better than Ayton in terms of rim gravity. He’s slower and not as great of a finisher (it’s true). Beal’s underrated driving notably helps here. The Suns should have ways to get creative in how they put pressure in the paint. But from the outside, they appear set.

Kellan Olson: What I’ll add is the Suns have the drivers to capitalize off all this room. Beal is much more of a slasher than you would think while Booker’s rim pressure will be at a new level this season, a part of his game continuing to get better. Durant’s not shooting at the rim much anymore but that’s OK since the likes of Allen and Gordon want to and Durant will still be able to get to his spots off it anyway.

Okogie and Watanabe are two-dribble guys, where they can make the right play off the bounce in one or two dribbles. We’ll see if some of the other wings are worth adding to this list as the season goes on. And that’s what is most important. Along with Nurkic’s decision-making, that’s eight guys who will prevent the gears of the offense from slowing down. They’ll keep ’em spinning. Things won’t stagnate when a few ball rotations are forced by really good defenses. That, right alongside the elite offensive ability of the Big 3, is what will make this a lethal scoring unit the most.


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