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Analysis: Biggest Lessons Learned from Suns vs. Pistons

© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns defeated the Detroit Pistons 120-106 today in a very convincing road win to snap a three-game losing streak. Kevin Durant chipped in 41 points without Devin Booker (right calf strain) and Bradley Beal (low back spasms) for another game.

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So how did the Suns get it done tonight? Let’s take a look at some of the biggest lessons learned.

Stop Doubting Kevin Durant

You would think being 35 years old on the second day of a back-to-back would limit a player’s production, but that’s quite the opposite from what we saw from Durant tonight.

He did struggle early shooting 6-of-16 in the first half, but caught fire in the second half, finishing the game shooting 14-of-27 to go along with five assists, four rebounds and two blocks.

This is yet another game where KD has been expected to carry Phoenix, and he has answered the bell in a multitude of ways. He wasn’t the most efficient tonight, but he really got into a rhythm and kept the Suns ahead when he was in the game.

Sometimes, Durant’s best effort has not been enough, but tonight he really operated within the flow of the offense to make everything else work.

Durant can beat teams like the Pistons who don’t really have two established stars, but it is tough to do it all against opponents like the Philadelphia 76ers, who have Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid. That’s what some of these games have really come down to.

The Suns Made their Layups Today and Did a Much Better Job Not Settling for Shots

Things started to go south against the 76ers Saturday partly because the Suns were missing such easy shots. Phoenix shot below 50% in the paint in Philadelphia, connecting on only 21-of-47 (44.7%) shots near the hoop.

Today, they stepped up big time right away. Phoenix connected on 11-of-14 (78.6%) shots in the paint in the first quarter and ended shooting 32-of-52 (61.5%). They tied a season-high with 64 points in the paint compared to 42 yesterday.

The other game they scored 64 points in the paint? The blowout win vs. the Jazz last Saturday. In all of the Suns’ losses, they have scored at least 20 less points in the paint (44 or fewer).

Even though Phoenix’s paint numbers plateaued a little bit after that strong first quarter today, that’s all the Suns needed: to establish that they could get whatever shot they wanted in the paint, opening up opportunities elsewhere. The Suns improved to shooting 50% from the floor in total after just 36% yesterday.

Here are the Suns’ game-by-game scoring stats:

Others Stepped up

Kevin Durant did not just do it by himself today. The Suns actually had a +7 plus/minus in the minutes that Durant did not play for the first time in what seemed like the entire season.

Eric Gordon was a catalyst for this, as he had 11 points in the second quarter alone after Durant got his first rest of the game at the beginning of this quarter.

Gordon finished with his best game yet for the Suns, as he was a +23 alone while scoring 21 points total on 8-of-14 (57%) shooting (3-of-5 from deep). He also had eight assists, five rebounds and only one turnover.

Gordon was far from the only player to step up, as all but one of the Suns’ nine main rotation players had six points. That player was Keita Bates-Diop, who started for the second straight night, and I will get touch on more below.

Here are the full stat leaders from today.

Jusuf Nurkić Needs to Figure out his Role

Jusuf Nurkić seems to look lost at times on the court. It seems as if every time you notice him out on the court he’s doing something bad, but you rarely realize he is out there. We knew coming into the year he would thrive best in his role with Booker and Beal, but he has not been granted that so far.

Nurkić had six points on seven rebounds against the Pistons, however he shot only 1-for-4 from the field. On the year, he’s shooting by far a career-low of 37%, including 24% from three.

Despite fans saying the Suns lost the Ayton trade because of the way Nurkić is performing, I don’t think you can say that until you see him with Beal and Booker. For now, he needs a temporary solution to discovering his role. Nurkić isn’t able to play through the screening action and layers of playmaking, which he will tasked of doing when Booker and Beal do get back. Without the star duo, it is very hard for him to sustain this role other than in short glimpses with Durant and Gordon.

Nurkić probably needs to find a way to create his own shot or shots for others primarily with hard screens. If the pick-and-roll isn’t working, then he should set off-the-ball screens.

His attempts to be playmaker seem to clog spacing more than open opportunities for others. This is a wrinkle of his game that can’t fully be unlocked without all of the Big 3.

For now, Nurkić needs to work on getting his shot to go down with more opportunities to do so, as well as continue to be a force down low defensively.

How do Suns Limit Turnovers without Booker or Beal?

Spacing. That’s the answer to the above question. But how can the Suns do that when they are struggling from range and driving to the hole is working?

That’s a balance they’ll have to figure out, but has really only been opened up by Durant and Gordon without Booker and Beal.

The Suns had 18 turnovers tonight vs. 11 yesterday in a game they lost. It seems as if the turnovers are coming in spurts when the Suns can’t figure out spacing. They’re just fortunate that  today these were mostly earlier in the game rather than later.

Spacing won’t be perfect, especially with players being asked to do more, but it is something they can work through.

The turnovers really haven’t shown to have that big of an impact on winning.

Here are some Suns game-by-game miscellaneous stats:

Keita Bates-Diop Should Be Main Option for Fifth Starter Moving Forward

How could I be saying Keita Bates-Diop should be the Suns starter moving forward after he put up a goose egg – 0 points – in the scoring column?

Yes, this and his decisiveness on offense are two things he needs to work on, but that’s not what he’s out there for. The 6-foot-8 Bates-Diop, who has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, takes so much pressure of Durant defensively because he is built so similar to KD and can guard the best forward on the floor rather than Durant doing that (even though KD still lovea that challenge). This allows Durant to focus more on his offense, which is exactly what the Suns need.

Their length together on the floor several times has clogged up the lane on defense just by the two of them helping out. Defenders can’t pass it over them, so they seem to get a little bit lost when driving and seeing them sliding over.

At the same time, the Suns get almost every rebound because of this length as well. Josh Okogie starting in this spot also givers them rebounding, but he works so hard for it, it just becomes way simpler when Bates-Diop is out there. Bates-Diop had six rebounds today, two of them on the offensive end.

Okogie has a huge wingspan, but he can’t guard some of these taller forwards and is a liability at times on offense, which we have seen already this year. As of now, Bates-Diop gives them exactly what they need in this fifth starter. We know he’s capable of scoring, he had 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in his first real minutes against the Spurs Thursday. However, he hasn’t shown that same confidence since he’s been starting, but it hasn’t mattered as you can see by the result today. It could come into play if teams learn to pick on him, and he doesn’t have the willingness to shoot it.

If the Suns play like the Warriors with a three-guard lineup, then you could throw Okogie out there but against 90% of teams Bates-Diop seems to be the best option for this spot.

The Suns Outrebounded a Very Good Rebounding Team

The Detroit Pistons entered today as a top-5 rebounding team in the NBA. However, the Suns outrebounded them 43-33 thanks in part to starting Bates-Diop.

The Suns were No. 15 in the league going into tonight, despite getting off to a really hot start rebounding the ball to begin the year. They found groove again today. It wasn’t just one player as well, which is the most encouraging sign.

Okogie and Jordan Goodwin led the team with seven each off the bench. Five other players had four or more rebounds for Phoenix (seven total).

In Summary: Play Hard, Be Decisive and Have Good Spacing on Offense

The Phoenix Suns have shown that they play best when they use their length to their advantage, don’t hesitate on shots and keep the floor open for shooters on offense. They also do well when they play aggressively whether that’s on defense, crashing the glass or driving to the hole

They have been really inconsistent in these areas, however. The most glaring stat to me was the points in the paint, so this is definitely something that opens a ton of opportunities for the Suns full arsenal of offense.

This all could very well change when Devin Booker and Bradley Beal are on the floor for Phoenix.

The Suns now have two days of rest and will play next in Chicago against the Bulls Wednesday night.

Kevin Durant Receives High Praise from Fans after Huge Performance vs. Pistons

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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