36 unbothered: What Suns have to get right in 1st 10 games

Oct 22, 2023, 8:41 AM

Frank Vogel, Phoenix Suns...

Head coach Frank Vogel of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the first half of the NBA game against the Denver Nuggets at Footprint Center on October 10, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/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 two days away from Sunday, 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: Multiple ways Suns benefit from elite spacing
Day 4: Preseason takeaways
Day 3: Will Suns miss Chris Paul or Deandre Ayton more?

Day 2: What Suns have to get right in the first 10 games

Kellan Olson: Based on what we’ve seen from the offense, particularly the supporting cast fitting into the free-flowing style of movement, I don’t think there’s much to keep an eye on there besides how the Big 3 mesh everything together in terms of balancing out the touches. I don’t anticipate that to be an issue at all but I think we’re all expecting Booker and Durant to be 1A and 1B, interchangeable night to night on who is leading the charge, while Beal is definitively the No. 3.

Don’t get me wrong, Beal will be Phoenix’s best player in a whole lot of games. But that’s how the pecking order should shake out and I’m curious how it looks in bunches. All three of them don’t care how many shots they take as long as they are winning. And they will do a lot of that this year.

All of the focus for us onlookers should be on the defense. The first two months of the regular season will be about flawless execution on the base objectives. What Vogel wants his defenders to do in hyper-specific situations that occur anywhere from a handful of times a game to every possession is pivotal to him expanding his philosophies and schemes. Once this group gets those down, that’s when Vogel can really go into his “bag” as he’s called it.

If you remember how good the Monty Williams teams were with implementing unique defensive game plans at shootaround the morning of the game and winning because of how well those plans worked. Imagine that but far more complex and consistent.

If the Suns can get to that level of confidence and comfort with what they want to do defensively by mid-December, they should be in the top-half of the defense rankings. That’s all they need, and could be even better.

Kevin Zimmerman: Not to steal Kellan’s answer, but I couldn’t honestly care less about the offense. We’ve learned that the postseason offense drastically changes, and maybe it helped that a Point God was dictating things then to help the Suns navigate just fine on that end the past several offseasons.

The Suns should want to see see longer spurts of what we saw in the preseason: Booker hawking some decent offensive weapons. Durant and Nurkic helping on pick-and-rolls actions or from the weakside, the latter of whom being unafraid to use his frame and his fouls to enforce the paint. The Suns’ role players like Okogie and Eubanks and Goodwin bodying guys, maybe getting into fights and treating their brief shifts like sprints instead of marathons in terms of being unafraid to expend efforts.

It’s not very nuanced to think that setting a tone and an identity for this team is crucial. But for one super talented, I think the Xs and Os worry me less by the 10th game in. Phoenix needs to be trying to fight everyone.

How rare is it that we think of a superteam as a tough one? Even for title contenders, it’s rare.

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36 unbothered: What Suns have to get right in 1st 10 games