EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker: ‘It’s time to pick it up’

Dec 21, 2023, 3:23 PM

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns are behind.

A third of the way through the season, the Suns still have to establish a base of the building blocks that make teams great. While Bradley Beal (right ankle sprain) remains out, and even though it has been through lots of other injuries, Phoenix has more than enough talent at its disposal to be better than a 14-13 record. The on-court product has been far more telling than the record as well.

The embodiment of all this has been Phoenix’s last four games, three losses and one comeback win over the 4-21 Washington Wizards. It’s clear the Suns still are in a feeling-out process on both ends of the floor, and that is a step a good chunk of the league has already figured out.

Sometimes, it takes a while. Phoenix in 2020-21 started 8-8 before an NBA Finals run. The Boston Celtics made it there the next year despite a 25-25 open to the regular season. Teams can make up the lost time. It’s what the Suns have to do, and guard Devin Booker was asked after practice on Thursday what goes into building cohesion.

“Just keep learning each other, keep talking, don’t be scared to hold each other accountable,” Booker said. “We’re all on the same path and we all have the same goal and that’s to win basketball games and we understand it’s not going to be easy. It’s not an easy league.

“We have enough guys on this team that have been around the block and understand that so it’s time to pick it up.”

The last bit really sums it up. This is too experienced of a team to be going through some serious road bumps in finding that flow.

The most recent Suns loss in Portland showed at least what they can be capable of in the first quarter, when the offense had real pace that was aided by the defense staying connected and generating stops. Both of those things faded back to inconsistency in the remaining three quarters.

How do the Suns keep up the pace offensively?

“That we keep defending,” Booker said. “Being active on the defensive end and securing the rebound first and then just getting out in transition, playing fast.”

How do you play fast still while the defense is struggling?

“It’s always tough to keep up the pace if you’re grabbing the ball out the net every time but there’s still a way to be dynamic in the half-court offense even on made baskets,” he said. “We’ve been working on it.”

That was the most noticeable change in a 38-20 Blazers third quarter. While it was tougher to run off makes, Phoenix’s pace in its half-court offense was woeful. When there was movement, it lacked zip. And a few times, there wasn’t much movement at all.

The Suns weren’t making up for it defensively.

Booker’s response on his No. 1 point of emphasis for the defense the last couple of weeks goes back to the foundational aspect that has to be set still.

“Starting with communication and effort and it goes from there,” Booker said. “It’s a domino effect once people are talking and we’re all engaged. We’ve showed really good spurts of it and now it’s just to do it out there for the full 48 minutes.”

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