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7 stats or less: Which Suns early-season trends are real, and which are flukes?

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
November 6, 2023
The Phoenix Suns have played 7 games, so it's time to examine which early-season trends are real and which are flukes

The Phoenix Suns are 3-4 to start the 2023-24 NBA season. Not many were expecting this team to have a losing record at this point, but it’s also not the end of the world considering how many games Devin Booker and Bradley Beal have missed due to injury.

As Kevin Durant shoulders the scoring load and the Suns rely on their “scrappy as hell” identity, a few early-season trends have emerged. The question is, seven games into the season, which are real, and which are flukes?

The Suns aren’t through 10 percent of their season yet, but based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s time to play 7 Stats or Less to determine which numbers will sustain themselves, and which will fail to hold up as the year progresses.

1. Suns committing 16.6 turnovers per game

We covered this thoroughly in a Diehard Newsletter last week, but seven games in, the Suns are struggling with turnovers. They’ve coughed it up 16.6 times per game, which ranks 27th in the NBA. They’re 28th in turnover percentage, and while their transition defense has limited the bleeding, ranking 20th in opponent points off turnovers, all those extra possessions are gifting opponents with extra chances to score.

On average, the Suns are taking six fewer shots than opponents so far this season, ranking 29th in field-goal attempts while giving up the ninth-most shot attempts on the other end.

Some of those turnovers have been the type of early-season miscommunications that one would expect from a team full of new players still learning each other’s games:

“We’re asking ’em to play extra-pass basketball, and a lot of it comes down to that,” coach Frank Vogel said last week. “But for the most part, we’re just being too sloppy with the basketball. I would say for a handful of ’em, we’re being too sloppy, and then for a handful of ’em, our spacing breaks down and puts the guy with the ball in a bad way. So early-season stuff, hopefully it gets corrected.”

As Vogel alluded to, some of those turnovers have been downright ugly:

It’s hard to judge the Suns too harshly for this, however. Booker is their lead point guard, and he’s missed five of the first seven games. Bradley Beal, their other primary ball-handler and playmaker, hasn’t played yet. For the most part, Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon have been their starting backcourt — great players, to be sure, but guys who fall more in the “secondary playmaker, attacking closeouts” mold.

Getting Booker and/or Beal back would take a ton of pressure off Allen, Gordon and Jordan Goodwin to handle the ball as much as they have. They’ll also provide better spacing for Durant, who’s faced more double-teams and defensive attention than he will once he’s flanked by two other superstar-caliber threats.

Booker and Durant have been fairly turnover-prone in recent seasons, so this problem isn’t going away completely. But as the new guys build better chemistry and the Suns actually get their main ball-handlers out there, this turnover issue shouldn’t be as much of a glaring weakness.

Verdict: Fluke (ish)

2. Kevin Durant’s 30-7-4 stat line proves he’s not washed

Shame on anybody who made the mistake of even suggesting that Kevin Durant was washed at any point over the last three weeks. As his 41-point outing reminded everyone, he’s still pretty damn good!

Through seven games, Durant is putting up 29.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.4 blocks per game on 52.1 percent shooting overall and 61.4 percent true shooting. He’s done all this while cracking 37 minutes in four of the first seven games.

There are obvious areas where Durant can improve. He’s only shooting 34.6 percent from 3-point range, he’s devolved to iso-ball down the stretch of close games as he’s progressively gotten more tired, and his 4.0 turnovers per game need to come down. A lot of those just come down to general ball security:

But all three of those problems figure to improve once Booker and Beal can alleviate some of the pressure to carry the offense. Being able to stagger even one of them with Durant will fix the Suns’ massive drop from he’s on the court (team-high +29) to when he rests (team-worst -18).

There’s an understandable level of concern over Durant’s workload so early in the season. He’s taking a ton of shots, playing a ton of minutes and driving more than he has in any season of his career, leading to 33.7 usage percentage that would be a career high if it holds. It’s also been a struggle for the Suns learning to play around him and space the floor properly.

Hopefully Booker and Beal will be back soon to relieve those concerns, but there’s no question this 35-year-old version of Durant is far from washed.

Verdict: Real (duh)

3. Jusuf Nurkic shooting 50 percent at the rim

For those who have been following along since the Deandre Ayton trade, Jusuf Nurkic has never been a great finisher at the rim. Aside from the defensive end, it’s been the biggest cause for concern with starting Nurk at center. The first seven games has been a more extreme sample of that issue.

So far, Nurkic is shooting 37 percent overall, including a dreadful 50 percent at the rim. He’s made just 14 of his 28 attempts from less than five feet away from the basket, and the results have typically been bad whenever he senses he’s at an athletic disadvantage, prompting him to rush just to get it up:

When he’s more composed in the paint, Nurk tries to employ his superior strength, using a nifty pump fake against recovering bigs before sticking his shoulder into the defender’s chest and going up with a hook shot.

But when the big doesn’t bite on the pump fake, the hook shot has left something to be desired. Nurk has only shot 3-for-9 on hook shots so far, per

These numbers shouldn’t be surprising. We knew the Suns were going from Ayton’s exemplary 77.6 percent shooting at the rim to Nurk’s subpar 60.9 percent. We knew they were going from an automatic hook shot machine in DA to a guy who’s only made 50 percent of his hook shots once in nine NBA seasons. And for those who didn’t know, Nurkic’s conversion numbers around the rim have underwhelmed throughout his career:

  • 2022-23: 60.9%
  • 2021-22: 62.1%
  • 2020-21: 56%
  • 2019-20: 62.3%
  • 2018-19: 58.1%
  • 2017-18: 58.6%
  • 2016-17: 55%
  • 2015-16: 44.7%
  • 2014-15: 47.9%

However, 50 percent would be the worst Nurk has shot around the basket since his first two seasons in the NBA, back when he was barely playing 17-18 minutes a night. Even for a guy who’s hovered around 60 percent over the last few seasons, that would be bad.

Nurk isn’t suddenly going to turn back the clock with his mobility on the interior, but out of all the players on the Suns, his offense may be the most adversely affected by the lack of Booker and Beal. Beal hasn’t played a single game yet, but just look at some of the wide open buckets Phoenix has generated for him when he’s shared the court with Booker and Durant:

That will only get better once Booker and Beal return, and Nurk is due for some progression to the mean. It’s an issue that wont go away entirely, but it won’t be this bad all season.

Verdict: Real (but it will get slightly better)

4. Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon home vs. road splits

Sunday’s win over the rebuilding Detroit Pistons was a step in the right direction for both Gordon and Allen, but just look at the stark contrast between Allen’s production in three home games compared to four road games:

  • Grayson Allen at home: 17.3 PPG, 58.6 FG%, 63.2 3P%
  • Grayson Allen on the road: 7.0 PPG, 35.5 FG%, 29.3 3P%

Eric Gordon isn’t too far off, at least in terms of efficiency:

  • Eric Gordon at home: 16.0 PPG, 60.6 FG%, 44.4 3P%
  • Eric Gordon on the road: 14.8 PPG, 39.3 FG%, 30.8 3P%

On the surface, it’s easy to worry about two bench players struggling to perform away from home. In reality, they’re being asked to do a lot more than they normally would, and they’re performing admirably.

There have certainly been highs and lows for both, but at the end of the day, neither is suited as a primary ball-handler or playmaker, yet both are currently occupying that role by necessity. Allen is still averaging 11.4 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting overall and 47.2 percent shooting from 3, all of which would be career highs. The 3-point efficiency might not hold, but Allen has stepped up in a big way as a starter.

As for Gordon, his spacing extends 5-6 feet beyond the 3-point line, and his bully-ball drives to the rim have been a source of relief for a Suns offense missing two of its main drivers. He’s currently the Suns’ third-leading scorer, followed by Allen in fourth. That probably won’t stay that way once Booker and Beal return, just like the disparity between Allen and Gordon’s performances at home and on the road won’t remain so large.

Role players play better at home, but once the Suns are whole again, those guys will have more favorable matchups to attack, in roles that suit them better.

Verdict: Fluke

5. Jordan Goodwin’s brutal shooting numbers

After Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen, you might be surprised to learn Jordan Goodwin is taking the fifth-most shots on the Suns. Considering he’s shooting just 30.9 percent from the floor and 28 percent from downtown, his 7.9 attempts per game feel a bit high.

Like Nurkic, Allen and Gordon, Goodwin will benefit from the return of the Suns’ Big 3. Right now, they’ve been starved for offense at times, especially whenever Durant’s sat — which is when Goodwin has played nearly half his minutes.

Sharing the court with another non-shooter like Josh Okogie hasn’t helped with Phoenix’s spacing, and as a lead ball-handler off the bench, Goodwin has resorted to some questionable shot selection. These aren’t the types of shots Phoenix will want or need him to take once everyone’s back:

Hopefully the Pistons blowout was a get-right game for Goodwin too. After a rough first half, he knocked down two 3s in the second half to finish with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. This Suns team certainly has a place for the type of full-court-harrassing, ball-snatching defense he provides.

But even against Detroit, he still shot 2-for-7 overall. The shot attempts will come down once Booker and Beal return, as will his minutes and his role, but the efficiency has to improve. Considering he shot 44.8 percent overall and 32.2 percent from 3 last year, expect some progression to the mean for Goodwin from the field…but maybe not so much from beyond the arc.

Verdict: Fluke (kinda)

6. Suns giving up 56 points in the paint per game

The Suns are currently giving up 56.0 points in the paint per game, which ranks 29th in the association. Only the Indiana Pacers give up more points in the paint, at 60.6 per game. That’s not great!

We should note that, despite going from Ayton to Nurkic on the interior, despite being billed as an “offense-first” team, and despite the San Antonio Spurs putting up 115 and 132 points on them in back-to-back games, the Suns are still currently a top-10 defense.

They give up a lot of buckets on the interior, but they’ve remained solid on that end because they’re only giving up 45.4 percent shooting overall (a top-10 mark) and 33.1 percent from 3 (a top-5 mark). The onus will fall on Phoenix’s guards and wings to defend, switch and rotate at a high level, because so far, the concerns about the interior defense seem valid.

Through the first seven games, we’ve seen a 38-year-old Chris Paul blow by Nurk off the dribble twice:

We also saw the Los Angeles Lakers close the Suns out by attacking Nurk three different times in the pick-and-roll, all of which resulted in layups for LeBron James:

And those were just the first two games. It’s going to be a recurring theme late in games, where opponents attack Nurkic in pick-and-roll coverages. Frank Vogel and the Suns know this, but there’s only so much they can do to guard against that problem.

That’s not to say they haven’t been tinkering, of course. Drew Eubanks has closed a few games out, and although he’s not exactly a mobile, perimeter big, he challenges every shot that comes his way in the paint. Vogel has also experimented with a few lineups with KD at the 5, but they haven’t played enough minutes to really get a proper feel for them yet.

Most importantly, the Suns have deployed a few different coverages where Nurkic is up to the level of the screen (rather than falling back into his usual drop coverage). It’s at this point that the rest of his teammates need to pre-rotate, anticipating passing lanes or at least causing enough commotion to give Nurk enough time to recover to the rolling big man:

These types of rotations may be essential to keeping Nurk on the floor late in games, when he’ll become a frequent target in the pick-and-roll. The Suns have the coaching, length and defensive IQ to pull these schemes off, but they’ll need a lot more reps together for everyone to be on a string together.

Phoenix will do everything in its power to protect against this issue, but more than likely, it will remain their biggest Achilles heel.

Verdict: Real

7. Keita Bates-Diop as the 5th starter

For the first five games, Josh Okogie was the “fifth starter.” Over the last two, Keita Bates-Diop has gotten the nod, going from “barely in the rotation” to earning the starting job many believed he should’ve had all along.

It’s too early to say whether he deserves to start or simply deserves to play, however.

For one thing, any definitive statements about Bates-Diop, Gordon, Allen or Yuta Watanabe as the fifth starter lack proper context: We still haven’t seen this team at full strength, and the fifth starter’s job will be to complement and amplify the skill-sets of the Big 3.

We’ve seen Okogie in that role for a larger sample size, both this season and the last. Even though he hasn’t played next to Beal yet, we know Okogie’s point-of-attack defense, cutting and offensive rebounding fit well next to Booker and Durant. His 3-point shooting remains his greatest weakness, but that’s mitigated when he’s sharing the court with offensive hubs like Booker, KD and Beal.

The Spurs game, however, provided another reminder of what happens when defenses have the personnel to ignore Okogie entirely — especially on nights where Okogie keeps missing the wide-open looks he needs to knock down in order to keep them honest. It’ll be less of an issue sharing the court with the Big 3, but for certain matchups, KBD could be a sensible alternative.

Bates-Diop is working with a smaller sample size so far, but 3-for-7 from deep (42.9 percent) is a more respectable start than Okogie’s 4-for-15 (26.7 percent). He adds more size and length to lineups, as well as the ability to attack closeouts off the dribble.

With that being said, Vogel has said since day one that the Suns would try different starting lineups and lineup combinations — even if they liked what they saw from a certain player as the fifth starter. The regular season is all about experimentation for a new coaching staff and new roster, and with Booker and Beal already missing a significant number of games, it’s far too early to tell for sure.

Verdict: TBD

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