Even while the Big 3 have yet to share the floor together, we are still learning how the Phoenix Suns will be a titan of an offensive team this season.
Inside the layers of an excellent start to the season for Kevin Durant, concern over the injuries for Bradley Beal and Devin Booker, plus a 3-4 record is how reserve guards Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon are bringing something to the Valley we haven’t seen across the last couple of iterations of the team.
The Suns now have a handful of capable, skilled drivers of the basketball. Once fully healthy, they are going to be able to constantly generate rim pressure from various sources on the floor, a far cry from the Monty Williams teams that solely relied on Booker and Cam Payne to get into the teeth of the defense.
Phoenix remarkably enters play on Tuesday 13th in drives per game this season at 47.9, per NBA.com, doing so without Beal for all seven games and missing Booker in five. That is a slight rise in the Williams era numbers that placed near the bottom-third of the league.
And it should get much, much better.
Beal the last three seasons has ranked 11th (15.7), seventh (17.4) and ninth (15.9) in the category among players. Booker cracked the top-25 last year (12.8) despite the amount of his opportunities from beginning a possession off the ball, and figures to put up career-best numbers in that department this season as the point guard.
Durant has helped keep the team afloat in this category big time, taking on 11.3 a game, more than he has in the past given he is someone — like Booker — who normally marauds around a screen off the ball to start his work. For example, he was at 9.5 last year in Brooklyn and 9.8 the season prior.
But Gordon (9.6 drives per contest) and Allen (8.6) have really aided him in shouldering some of that load too. And although their roles will lessen when the starting backcourt returns, this early-season uptick is a terrific progress point for their individual seasons so their slashing to the basket can continue with far more room.
The duo rightfully gets the “shooter” label but that greatly diminishes what else they can do as offensive players. Both are also scorers and drivers, which we’ve seen on full display this season. Gordon’s averaging 15.3 points a night, still the bucket he’s been for over a decade, and Allen’s chipping in nicely at 11.4. Both, as it turns out, are shooting just about the same percentage from the field, just below 47%.
Gordon, even at 34 years old, still bulldozes perimeter defenders off him through his bowling ball drives that he create separation more from strength instead of quickness. He has a phenomenal feel for embracing contact, finding space via great footwork and still finishing. He can still get a step ahead of guys too in Year 16.
Allen, while on nearly the same amount of volume in attacking downhill but nearly five shots a game less than Gordon, has been focused more on kickstarting the defensive rotations. He’s only attempted 12 shots at the rim through seven games and while you’d initially think his 2.9 assists per game are nothing to rave about, it’s actually rather good as a secondary source on the ball to Durant and Gordon.
Gordon’s 3.3 dimes a night have been particularly good in supplying the big men in the two-man game with the level of help coming his way to deny driving lanes.
And Allen’s got some mojo around the rim too, where it’s more about craftiness within his footwork that he showed in Sunday’s win over Detroit.
All told, these guys are still shooters. Seventeen of Allen’s 28 field goals (60.7%) are 3-pointers and it’s 16 out of 44 (36.4%) for Gordon, percentages that might climb even more once Beal and Booker are back. Allen’s efficiency has been terrific at 47.2% while Gordon’s more than solid at 36.4% considering the range he’s using (seven of those 16 triples are from at least 28 feet).
Their effectiveness as drivers, however, will only increase with the team at full strength. And that goes for just about everyone in all facets of the game as well, where this time has allowed them to explore other parts of their game that might have been more untapped. There is of course a mix of negatives and positives to come across the 3-4 start and how it has pushed the limitations of the supporting cast, but Allen and Gordon have shown they’ll help the offense even more than some might have expected.