The Phoenix Suns are struggling this season much more than last season to keep possessions alive after a missed shot. Their overall scoring is down only slightly, but that's mostly because the Suns have picked up the pace (4th in pace this season vs. 8th last year). In actuality, their scoring should be higher this year thanks to a faster pace.
Where the Suns are struggling is quite obvious to most observers - rebounds, second-chance points - but surprisingly is a battle they WON last year.
Nearly all teams miss more than half the shots they take, including the Suns. It's easier to win basketball games when you can extend the possession. Factor in that most offensive rebounds are near the hoop, second-chance points are usually scored at point blank range. You can see why the Suns would want to rebound their missed shots. Last year, the Suns produced a respectable 12.9 points per game on second chance points (18th in the league) despite being smaller than most opponents, but this year they are only creating 11.5 second chance points per game (28th in the league).
Why does this matter?
Second-chance points are crucial to balancing the scales. Coming out even in that department is a "win" for the Suns.
Last year, the Suns were a respectable 16th in total rebound rate (grabbing 50.1% of all available rebounds on either end of the floor), helped by a 15th rated finish in offensive rebound rate (% of rebound chances off Suns missed shots in which the Suns got the rebound) versus a 21st rated finish in defensive rebound rate. The Suns ranked 13th overall in total rebounds partially because they had more chances than most opponents because of their 8th rated pace.
But this year, the entire team has declined in that area - currently ranked 28th in offensive rebound rate (21.5%) and 22nd in second-chance points (11.5 per game). Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Miles Plumlee and P.J. Tucker have seen the biggest drop in production on the offensive glass.
Surprisingly, with almost all the same players back from last year, the Suns have so far flipped the script on rebounding. This year, the Suns are 8th in the league in defensive rebound rate (76.5%) but terrible on the offensive boards. This translates to the opponent getting fewer second chance points (down from 14.2 to 12.9 per game), but the Suns lose that "win" by scoring fewer second chance points themselves.
You might think that the Suns are scheming to improve their transition defense at the expense of crashing the offensive boards, but alas they are not. This year, the Suns are giving up 15.2 fast break points (vs. 14.3 last year), ranking 26th worst in the league in that department.
For those whose eyes have glazed over from all the stats, what does this mean to the Suns?
It means that the Suns have to win the 'quick score' game, despite being at a natural deficit in size on most nights. You don't have to grab every rebound, but you do have to be better than your opponent at turning those rebounds into points.
Quick scores are created by via (a) second-chance points from offensive rebounds and (b) fast breaks.
This season so far, the Suns produce 11.5 points per game on second-chance points and 17.5 per game on fast breaks (29 points total), while they give up 12.9 and 15.3 respectively (28.2 total) for a tiny .8 point advantage.
But last year, their advantage was more pronounced, with 12.9 and 18.7, respectively (31.6 total) versus 14.3 and 14.1 for the opponent (28.4 total), for a much bigger 2.8 point advantage.
The Suns can out-shoot their opponents, but unless they can create a solid advantage in quick scores they are going to struggle to win as many games as last year.
Tonight's opponent (Charlotte) and Saturday's opponent (Clippers) just happen to be two of the top five defensive rebounding teams in the league. The Suns will have to scrap like crazy to get more quick scores than either of them.