One of Alvin Gentry's changes in the starting lineup portends a shift in the Suns offense from where they started - a "corner" offense that relies on every player cutting and screening and curling - to a more straight-forward offense that relies more on spacing and single entry passes.
"Spacing will be better," Gentry said of the change to Markieff Morris from Luis Scola at power forward next to Marcin Gortat. "Kieff is more accustomed to the spacing that we have."
Gortat agrees, and approves of the change. "Markieff can spot up at the 3-point line," he said after the game. "And there's the whole middle open for me and for Goran."
Sounds more like last year's offense than the corner offense to me. It's simpler this way, I guess. More direct lines to the basket. One thing you can say about Alvin Gentry is that he is willing to make adjustments and give people a chance to prove themselves. On Wednesday night, he gave Gortat a chance to shine.
"I'm just glad the coach gave me the opportunity to help the team offensively and I'll try to use that."
Gortat scored mostly on post-ups to the tune of 11 makes in 14 attempts, by far his best offensive showing of the year. Nearly each score was of his own making. Once he got it going, it was easy to keep feeding him (and O'Neal) the ball.
"We have a rule on this team," Gortat said. "If you keep scoring inside, they are going to throw you the ball. Repeat that until they stop. Jermaine was unstoppable. I try to work on it."
Marcin Gortat has been frustrated early this season, getting two fewer shots per game and making a lower percentage on the chances he did get. He is not getting the easy finishes at the basket after the point guard has already drawn his defender away from him, like in the old days. It's not a two-man game anymore with secondary options on the perimeter.
With a new point guard at his best attacking off the screen, the Suns tried to shift to a "corner" offense to get everyone their touches, but only after doing the dirty work and only if the defense ultimately rotated off them versus their teammates.
Randy Hill of Fox Sports Arizona tried to explain to me what wasn't working for these Suns with that new offense. Forgive me, Randy, if I totally botch this analysis. Randy also mentioned some of this in his own article earlier this week.
The corner offense often starts the same way any other offense starts - someone setting a hard screen to force the defense to react. But that's where the similarities should end. While the traditional Suns pick-and-roll offense spaces the floor with three-point shooters, opening the middle for the PG and a single big man to operate a two-man game against a couple of defenders, the corner offense relies on multiple cuts, curls, passes and screens to free a player based on defensive rotations.
Rather than focusing on two defenders, like the pick and roll, a few curls, screens, handoffs and entry passes on one possession can create chaos, leaving a player who originally did some dirty work to get free for an open shot. That open shot might be a layup, a mid-range or a three-pointer.
But the key to the corner offense is trust. A player has to trust that the ball will come back to them enough times throughout the game. This new offense doesn't work with a single pass and finish. It works after multiple passes, cuts and curls resulting in a finish by the guy who happened to get open. An offense like this, when run well, is difficult to defend because the defense is constantly deciding when to rotate and when to fight through the screen. All five guys have to be in unison, and it can still break down with proper offensive execution.
Not all Suns players embraced this scheme. It is easier knowing exactly when you will get the ball. They were used to spacing rather than cutting and screening and making themselves available.
The Suns offense has since transmorgrified to better fit the current personnel's mentality. As Marcin Gortat put it the other day, the ball was "stopping" on one or two players once they got their hands on the ball. Rather than continuing to pass, some players would force the play with a shot or a pretty "scoring" assist after only one or two passes. And we're not talking just about the guy in charge of scoring assists, Goran Dragic.
As Randy Hill put it the other day, players were not enamored with playing the weak side and only getting the ball if their cuts and screens worked. They didn't trust the ball would get to them before someone chucked up a contested perimeter shot, and the coaching staff wasn't forcing the players to stay within the offense.
Maybe the switch to Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown signal a change back to spacing and two-man games surrounded by shooters. For one night, the players appeared more comfortable and it worked like a charm to the tune of winning every quarter and beating Portland by 27 points.
"This is just one game," Gortat said. "But if we distribute the ball, move the ball, look how much fun we got."
Will it continue to work? Sure, as long as players make their shots. The Suns made nearly 60% of their shots from all over the court - the first game of the season they even sniffed 50%.
And, it will work as long as the other team doesn't make as many of theirs. After allowing 50% shooting to their opponents the first 11 games, including an astounding 43% on three-pointers, the Suns would benefit from a few more misses by their opponents like Portland did (40.7% for the game, lowest opponent shooting percentage in weeks).
Which, by the way, makes any offensive scheme look genius.