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5 things we learned from Phoenix Suns' preseason opening OT win over Detroit Pistons

DETROIT — Phoenix Suns erupted for 46 points in the first quarter with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal making their Big 3 debut, but they needed overtime to top the Detroit Pistons, 130-126, under their former head coach, Monty Williams.

With Suns team owner Mat Ishbia present, the Suns had seven players score in double figures.

That’s just the start of their preseason that continues Tuesday against the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets at Footprint Center.

First things first.

Here are five things we learned about the Suns from Sunday’s preseason opener before 15,062 fans at Little Caesars Arena as Booker, Durant and Beal combined for 35 points on 12-of-21 shooting all in the first half.

Downright scary offensively

Grayson Allen didn’t want to jinx it, but he believes the Suns will have quarters like that this season.

The Suns led 46-29 after one quarter.

Not only did Phoenix score 46 points, but only missed three shots from the field (17-of-20), went 4-of-5 from deep and 8-of-10 from the line.

The Suns attempted fewer than 10 free throws in four games last season.

They ran several wing actions with handoffs and movement off Nurkic screens, mixed that with ball movement and the ball found their go-to guys deep in the shot clock.

Pistons center Isaiah Stewart drives against Suns guard Devin Booker, right, during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.
Pistons center Isaiah Stewart drives against Suns guard Devin Booker, right, during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.

Booker pullups. Durant 3. Beal freeze floaters.

Shot takers. Shot makers. Again. Scary.

The Suns played with pace even though they only managed four fast break points.

Booker at the point will have peaks and valleys because he’s had games with a high number of turnovers even without being the primary ball handler, but the Suns shared it in having 11 assists on 17 field goals in the first.

All five starters each had at least one assist and seven total players had at least one in the quarter. That’s solid usage of the whole multi-ball handler attack, but they did have four turnovers in the first quarter.

Josh Okogie was the fifth starter with Jusuf Nurkic getting the obvious nod at center. Neither guy has to score, but Okogie talked about the sea parting like Moses when he drove to the basket due to playing with Big 3.

Communication

Suns coach Frank Vogel said he was more impressed with Phoenix’s attention to detail defensively, but there were times there were either breakdowns or guys not in the right spots.

When those plays happen, there was communication between them on the spot. Noticed Durant talking with Nurkic after a sequence when they gave up a basket plus the foul.

Those conversations are going to happen. It’s the first preseason game and for the majority of the game, Phoenix was solid defensively, but there’s bound to be breakdowns trying to figure out Vogel’s schemes.

There’s some complexity to them.

The Suns are going to score, but they’ve established a defensive mindset in camp. It carried over to a degree in the preseason opener.

Pistons guard Jaden Ivey goes to the basket past Suns center Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.
Pistons guard Jaden Ivey goes to the basket past Suns center Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.

Nurkic at center

All eyes are going to be on him because he’s what the Suns got in return for Deandre Ayton in terms of size in the three-team trade that sent Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 7-footer finished with just five points, five rebounds, committed four fouls, had more assists than Booker (2) and Durant (1), but committed three turnovers in 15 minutes.

His preseason opener was a mixed bag.

Nurkic played nearly six minutes without getting a rebound in the first quarter, was put in pick-and-roll and gave up a bucket — but he was in good position after showing on it.

The Suns don’t need him to score big, but he can’t come up empty with the advantage inside. Nurkic delivered in the first quarter in powering up for two over a small defender.

He’s got to finish those. If Nurkic doesn’t, it's a wasted trip because that could’ve been a shot for Beal, Durant or Booker. The Suns need Nurkic on the boards if the Suns continue to go three-guard as they did when taking out Okogie and Beal and bringing in Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen.

Speaking of Allen

This could work out very well for Allen, who turned 28 years old Sunday.

He’s going from launching a combined 755 shots from 3s in his two seasons in Milwaukee and watching Giannis Antetokounmpo play downhill in the paint to being in an offense in Phoenix which he can mix drive and spot up.

With the highest plus/minus at plus-22 Sunday, Allen scored a team-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, did take six 3s (made half), but he got into the paint and used his size to score.

This is a guy who grew up loving Dwyane Wade and patterned his game after him. Wade was all about getting to that paint early in his career.

Now Allen has developed into a 3-point shooter, but if he can bring back some of his to-the-rim days in this offense that spreads out the defense to create driving opportunities, his role could get interesting.

Suns coach Frank Vogel directs his team during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.
Suns coach Frank Vogel directs his team during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.

1st quarter Rotations

6:12 mark – Beal, Okogie out, Gordon, Allen in.

4:48 mark – Drew Eubanks in, Nurkic out.

3:59 mark – Yuta Watanabe in, Durant out.

That left Booker with Gordon, Allen, Eubanks and Watanabe. The Suns were up 31-19 at the time.

2:29 mark – Booker out, Beal in.

Pistons forward Ausar Thompson goes to the basket against Suns forward Kevin Durant during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.
Pistons forward Ausar Thompson goes to the basket against Suns forward Kevin Durant during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.

The Suns led, 40-23, and Beal hit a 3 right away to push the lead to 17 points. They not only had one of the Big 3 out there, but Durant got a four-minute rest, which is even longer in actual time.

Phoenix opened the second quarter with Booker, Beal, Allen, Durant and Eubanks.

Keita Bates-Diop ended up being the 10th guy if looking at a 10-man rotation.

To sum it up, Vogel is placing value on shooting with Gordon, Allen and Watanabe off the bench to play with Booker and Beal, two guys who will draw the defense.

Let’s see how the rotations looks Tuesday against the Nuggets.

Pistons coach Monty Williams direct his team during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.
Pistons coach Monty Williams direct his team during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at Little Caesars Arena.

Quick final notes

Seven Suns in double figures — Allen 18, Chimezie Metu 14, Durant and Booker 12 each, Saben Lee and Beal 11 each and Watanabe 10. Metu hit two free throws to put away the Pistons in OT.

Keon Johnson helped close the game playing the one. With Jordan Goodwin (hamstring tightness) sidelined, he got an opportunity at the point and came up big down the stretch.

Ish Wainright was also out with a right calf strain as he was wearing a boot. Damion Lee has been down with a right meniscus injury all training camp. The Suns need to get down from 17 players to 15 before the season starts.

Injuries may ultimately decide that number.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Suns offense scary with Booker, Durant and Beal leading way in preseason opener