EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

It’s on the Suns’ players to clean up their turnover rate

Mar 4, 2024, 10:24 AM

Kevin Durant faces a Thunder double-team...

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns looks to pass against Jalen Williams #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on March 03, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

To say it’s time for the Phoenix Suns to stop turning the ball over would be an understatement.

It’s a few months past that point. The Suns are tied for second in highest turnover rate, tied for fourth in turnovers per game and are third in the year’s total.

Is it as simple as saying “stop doing that!” if Phoenix, which is very conscious of its miscues, keeps doing it? Probably not.

But are there a handful of turnovers per game that simply should not be happening? Absolutely. The majority are coming from Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Jusuf Nurkic and Bradley Beal.

Durant is eight in the NBA with 179 total turnovers, right with LeBron James (174).

Booker (129) and Nurkic (125) are in the top-40, though the latter is more concerning considering usage, position, etc.

Generally speaking, the most frustrating turnovers — the two to three per game — aren’t scheme-based for you who believe Frank Vogel doesn’t know what he’s doing. Nor are they skill-based for the fans still stuck on the Suns’ need for a point guard.

Each of Phoenix’s losses to Houston (19 turnovers for 19 Rockets points) and Oklahoma City (22 turnovers for 31 Thunder points) included stretches of mind-bogglingly poor passing.

It was the Suns’ third turnover Sunday that shows what happens when bad decisions, a lack of continuity and unexplainable execution collide.

Here, Nurkic cleanly catches a pass on the roll and sees the rotating defense in front of him that leaves Bol Bol open in the corner for a second.

Eric Gordon’s man leaves the Phoenix guard atop the left wing to stop the obvious corner pass, and it seems Nurkic is aware when he slings a pass to the left wing. But it’s in a space occupied by Thunder coach Mark Daigneault and not even in the same continent as Gordon.

Is it possible Gordon could have relocated? Maybe! Should Nurkic have thrown a pass without looking when there was not a threat of a charge being taken? No.

About a third of the turnovers from the Sunday loss could be categorized as some combination of overthinking, being slow to react and not considering where defenders or teammates are physically standing in their plane of reality.

The Rockets and Thunder threw heavy double teams at the Suns’ stars over the weekend. And they got good results when those stars were slow to react, aggressive when they shouldn’t have been or just blindly not seeing defenders ready to jump any dangerous swings.

Durant has been doubled in high-post situations dating back to last season, and the Suns still struggle to get the ball out of that double cleanly.

Here, he reacts way too late and takes too many dribbles with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander taking a risk and finding himself in the corner defending nobody.

A quick swing-swing through Royce O’Neale and Bradley Beal may not get to Grayson Allen on time for an open three. But you have to bet it might have — or gotten him an easy rim attack against a rotating defender. Durant is slow to trust others to work the ball to open teammates, instead making a risky cross-court pass that gets picked.

Then again, is O’Neale that open with Jalen Williams’ length trying to deny both he and Beal?

This next example shows the nuance to these a little more, and why it’s not as simple as asking Durant to hit the eject button.

And it’s where maybe you can blame the coaching and cite continuity with so many new faces.

Again, Durant is hesitating when the double comes. But his teammates, especially Bol, are doing him no favors, allowing a floating Aaron Holiday to cover both him and Grayson Allen.

There is no release value, no obvious check-down — if we want to use football terms — for Durant to just get out of it and make Houston leave free safety mode and enter recovery mode.

How do the Phoenix Suns fix their turnover issues?

Could coaches put players in better spots to help teammates in traps, making them more available? For sure.

Would a point guard matter? Chris Paul could have fixed some of these things on the fly, maybe. A Gabe Vincent-level, reasonably priced addition in any reality probably would not have.

Ultimately, there are individual questions the Suns must grapple with regarding the turnover problems, which are playing a big part in Phoenix ranking in the bottom five of total field goal attempts this season.

Nurkic must reel in his loose passing, harnessing the ultimate freedom he’s been given in the offense with a few rules to protect the ball better.

Durant can press less in the high post and be more trusting by just getting rid of the ball on double-teams. But the Suns need to support him with better relocations to help him out.

Here is where we end the criticizing of Durant and Nurkic and put some onus on Booker and Beal as the lead guards:

Booker’s absence will allow Beal to work out some of the kinks after the latter had seven turnovers as lead guard against the Thunder. It looked like at least two turnovers on Sunday were straight miscues with Nurkic in pick-and-rolls, something that Durant and the center dealt with earlier in the year and have shored up.

Beal also had a couple of cough-ups that could be categorized as losing his legs late or the speed of the game being a little ahead of him. Not to discount those, because the continuity and injury-history criticisms are at the heart of that discussion. Still, it is fixable in a vacuum.

He must gain continuity quickly, and Beal has got more of a chance to do that in a silver lining of Booker’s injury absence over the next week or so.

When Booker returns, can he do the unthinkable again and be that lead guard who seamlessly flips between 20-point-a-quarter scorer and playmaker? He’s going to be asked to do all that, and then be the voice who keeps his teammates accountable.

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