EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns’ New Year’s resolutions to take away from bounce-back win vs. Rockets

Dec 28, 2023, 12:13 PM

The Phoenix Suns bench reacts after Udoka Azubuike #27 of the Phoenix Suns scores during the second...

The Phoenix Suns bench reacts after Udoka Azubuike #27 of the Phoenix Suns scores during the second quarter of the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on December 27, 2023 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)

Through a month that had the Phoenix Suns trending the wrong way in a hurry, they found success on Wednesday in Houston against the Rockets in a 129-113 win that showed their capability to get back on the right track.

The game showcased a few big takeaways to stay focused on over the next couple of weeks as they attempt to continue trying to rebound.

In the spirit of the new year coming up, a quick look at three of those areas to serve as resolutions through some video from the victory.

Pace

The 73-point first half was a great example of the different ways in which Phoenix can play at a higher pace.

Yes, there is the pace we know of getting that thing down the court in a hurry.

Then there is semi-transition, which isn’t quite an all-out sprint but attacking the defense immediately, either before its set or right away into the action after the ball crosses half-court.

Once this was established, Durant used it to get his own offense going. Booker followed suit.

Peep the shot clock in all four instances. Booker and Durant are attacking with seven seconds or less (aha!) ticked off. Regardless of the chances of an attack that early resulting in a good shot, if the possession doesn’t go anywhere and has to reset, there’s still going to be a decent amount of time left.

It is a delicate balance and not a simple “go fast and good stuff will happen.” Lost in these stretches is when Booker or Durant are doing this and then the shots just don’t go in, leading to the opponent’s own pace opportunities.

But when that rhythm gets established, it ups the scales of how lethal Phoenix’s offense can be.

Finding energy on the bench

Thirty games in, it changes by the week which reserve will provide the spark the Suns need. But continuing to find it, even whether it’s guys out of the rotation right now like Keita Bates-Diop or Jordan Goodwin, is imperative. Those two names, for example, were doing that earlier in the season.

But in the last week of 2023, it has been the two-way signings.

Center Udoka Azubuike is a giant, strong man. He’s got a great second jump with incredibly long arms and that has helped him be an excellent finisher over his collegiate and professional career. Phoenix has done a really good job finding him the ball within five feet and has the threats elsewhere to make that happen with space more often than not.

And when the defense is still there, Azubuike is battling. Look at the bench react after both of these.

I hope that chair is OK after Bradley Beal’s smack.

That’s what this team needs above all else, and you can tell by the way he and his teammates reacted to the juice Azubuike provided on Wednesday. That is the most valuable thing to head coach Frank Vogel, regardless of where it comes from. Kudos to him for continuing to look for solutions to that.

Unforced errors on turnovers

This is not going to be an overnight process for the Suns and is one of the many reasons why they have to steer their ship back in the right direction sooner rather than later. The team we saw for most of December won’t just instantaneously disappear, and it’s instead going to take a longer period of time for Phoenix to fix the problems, even when it plays extremely well in a winning effort on the road.

The Suns had 19 turnovers and the percentage of them that were either a miscommunication or unforced error continues to be a worrisome amount.

Playing a perfect game isn’t going to happen. There will be mistakes. But these are correctible and resemble giveaways from the NFL world as opposed to turnovers.

Then there are the passes on the ball movement and rotations where repetition will be Phoenix’s best friend the next couple of months. Chimezie Metu has been terrific this month and the three of these involving him is just about that, getting more acclimated and used to the aforementioned pace of the ball zipping like it has to against the aggressive defenses to deny the stars.

Phoenix produced 28 assists to help offset that number. That balance is sometimes a byproduct of growing as an offensive team, which the Suns will take at this point in the season.

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