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The fourth Phoenix Suns preseason matchup failed to deliver Deandre Ayton’s first game in the Valley since being traded away, but even with the Portland Trail Blazers resting almost all of their notable players, there was still plenty to take away from Monday’s action.
Unlike their first preseason game at home, the Suns played their Big 3 of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal this time around. And while Jusuf Nurkic, Yuta Watanabe and Eric Gordon (hip tightness) all rested for Phoenix, coach Frank Vogel got to try out a few different lineups, including Grayson Allen with the Big 3, Drew Eubanks with the starters, and Chimezie Metu at the 5.
Plus, who doesn’t love a wicked Bradley Beal hesitation move and dish?
Here are the three main observations from the latest Suns preseason game.
1. Devin Booker: still that dude, even in Suns preseason
After an offseason of change, where the Suns went from Monty Williams to Frank Vogel, added Bradley Beal, and made a number of trades and free-agency signings to fill out a fundamentally-changed roster, it’d be easy to overlook the foundation of it all. Hell, even the prospect of a healthy Kevin Durant with a full training camp and regular season under his belt threatened to do that.
But after hearing the roar of a preseason crowd for the guy being introduced last on a team with KD and Beal, and then watching him scorch the nets yet again during limited minutes, it’s unavoidable: Devin Booker is still that dude.
Book and the rest of the Big 3 didn’t play in the second half, but for the third time this preseason, he didn’t really need to. Vogel had seen enough after his 18 minutes, during which Booker tallied 19 points, 4 assists and 2 steals, while shooting 6-for-11 overall and 4-for-6 from long range.
In contrast to Durant quietly filling up the stat sheet, Book did so loudly, with his 17-point barrage to open the game offering a reminder of why he’s one of the league’s most potent first-quarter scorers.
Booker has picked up right where his red-hot postseason left off. He’s put up 49 points and 11 assists in 54 preseason minutes, shooting 18-for-35 overall (51.4 percent) and 9-for-16 from deep (56.3 percent). He hasn’t been out there for long, and his three games came against the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers, but it’s pretty clear how much he’s chomping at the bit for games that actually matter.
The most alarming component is how potent Booker’s pull-up 3-point shot has looked. It’s been a steady progression in his game for years now, but being able to comfortably hit 3s off the dribble would be downright unfair for defenses trying to contend with Jusuf Nurkic screens while shooters like Durant, Beal, Allen, Gordon and Watanabe space the floor.
“Make or miss, I think it puts pressure on the defense,” Booker said of his pull-up 3s. “A lot of the coverages in the NBA are drop coverage, and I think that’s gonna be tough to do against us with some marksmen out there, some people that can shoot the ball. Whenever we can get one up, the bigs are doing an incredible job of not letting guys shoot under the screens.”
Vogel said he’s been in Booker’s ear since the summer about letting those 3s fly off the dribble.
“I personally am winding him up to shoot that shot,” Vogel said. “First of all, he’s beyond capable. You saw tonight. I mean, he’s lethal with that. And I think he’s been a little bit hesitant — just talking to some people that have been here the last couple of years — to take that shot in a high volume.
“One of the things we talked this summer is that that’s a shot that I really want to encourage and to extra ‘green light’ for him. Because when he’s knocking down that shot, the big’s gotta come up. And when the bigs come up, that just opens up even more stuff. So it’s a hell of a weapon, and it’s something I’m encouraging him to take.”
Booker becoming a knockdown 3-point shooter off the dribble wcould be the next evolution in his game (reminder: he’s still only 26), and it’d be an absolute game-changer for the Suns. Preseason is preseason, but it’s something to keep an eye on once the real games get underway.
2. Grayson Allen fits right in with the Big 3
In the Suns’ first preseason game with the Big 3, Josh Okogie got the nod as the fifth starter. In their third preseason game with Booker and Durant active, Eric Gordon started in that spot. And in Monday’s rematch with the Blazers, it was Grayson Allen’s turn to share the court with the Big 3 as a starter.
Allen performed well once again, notching 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting in his 20 minutes. For a fair portion of the preseason, Allen’s functioned more so as a lead ball-handler, but sharing the court with Booker, Beal and Durant, he got a few more catch-and-shoot opportunities:
And he was able to attack hasty closeouts off the dribble too:
In terms of what he’s evaluating for that fifth starting spot and that person’s fit with the Big 3, Vogel is trying to keep it simple.
“See what it looks like,” he said simply. “Not everything’s analytics. It’s just a feel. I see what those guys look like together, what type of events transpire that happen naturally just by putting groups together.”
Vogel has consistently promised to tinker with different lineups throughout the preseason, and even through stretches of the regular season. He was coy about who that fifth starter will be on opening night, but no matter who it is, expect the Suns to continue experimenting.
“We’ll have it figured out, and we won’t let anybody know before the regular season, but I do think that it’s not something that’s gonna be static,” Vogel said. “Even if we feel good about who that person is, we may still go stretches of our season having someone else in there, just to see what type of dynamic that gives us. So there is an element of trial and error throughout the course of an 82-game season, and that’ll be part of it.”
3. Jordan Goodwin: steal-y reserve
Everybody (or at least everybody who’s been reading PHNX over the summer) knows Jordan Goodwin brings exceptional hands and defensive instincts to the table. He’s a ball hound in the same vein as Josh Okogie, and that was extremely evident in his second preseason outing on Monday, when he racked up 5 steals in 10 minutes and finished his night with 6 steals total.
“He’s got really good hands,” Vogel said. “We always praise Josh Okogie for being a really good defender, being great with his hands and great with strips and passing lanes and all that stuff. Early signs on Jordan is that he has that type of defensive ability to have a big body, maybe not be the quickest guy out there, but is really good with his hands.”
Whether he was reading the passing lanes, stripping ball-handlers or diving on passes thrown to his man cutting backdoor, Goodwin was all over the intangibles, finishing his night with 8 rebounds, 6 steals and 1 block in 20 minutes. He only scored 4 points on 2-of-6 shooting, but his impact doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet anyway.
“A lot of times, I don’t get steals; I get deflections or I get, like, things that don’t show up in the box scores,” Goodwin explained. “But it’s kind of a forced turnover for me. So just going out there and just trying to help anywhere I can.”
Goodwin wasn’t perfect; he racked up four fouls pretty quickly, and Vogel joked during his postgame comments about how many fouls he committed before saying more seriously: “Fouls are mistakes to me. Be aggressive without fouling.”
In any case, Goodwin is the rare third-year player who studies game and practice film to hone his craft on the defensive end. And although he’s committed to cutting down on the foul problem from Monday night, he’s not going to stop bringing the intensity any time soon.
“Bring a lot of emotion to the game, kind of get lost out there,” Goodwin said. “All the yelling and things like that, you’re gonna be seeing that all year long. And the fans like it. Get everybody excited, my teammates excited.”
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