It's no secret that the Phoenix Suns lack—and have lacked—low-post scoring for years. As a consistently fast-paced team, being able to slow down the pace of the game and score with the back to the basket has never been a priority.
But this Suns team has struggled more than those in the past. Unlike the elite sharpshooting teams of several years ago, the current Suns shoot an above-average but unspectacular 35.9% from three-point range as a team. That ranks 9th in the league.
That's good enough to make the team a perimeter threat on most nights, but not enough to allow them to consistently shoot their opponents out of the gym. So perhaps they should stop trying to.
With so many close games and ultimately heartbreaking fourth quarters, the team would greatly benefit from some added low-post scoring. It's an old cliche, perhaps, but the pace of the game does slow down in the playoffs. The Suns have yet to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies with their current style, and that's just one example of a slow, grinding team that they could potentially meet in the postseason. Phoenix is now 0-7 against Memphis in the Hornacek era.
To provide the numbers, here is a chart of how many post-up possessions each team has had this season. The numbers are courtesy of NBA.com/stats.
The first thing you might immediately notice is that the Warriors and Hawks rank 28th and 29th in the league in post-up possessions. Yes, the league truly is transitioning away from the low-post game, but at the same time you can only get away with so few possessions if you have elite shooting and defense like those two teams.
The Suns rank 22nd in the NBA with 421 possessions; that's not so bad, right? While it could be worse, the Suns find themselves at or near the bottom of the league in most categories regarding post-up situations.
They rank 25th in the league in PPP (points per possession), scoring only .79 points per post-up possession. For comparison, the Clippers lead the league in that category with .93 PPP. If the Clippers had the same number of post-ups as the Suns (421), they would score a total of 59 more points, or 1.1 extra points per game.
The team also ranks dead last in FT frequency, getting to the line on just 7.6% of their post plays. The Clippers also lead in that category, getting to the line on 18.3% of their post possessions, a huge disparity.
Don't forget turnover frequency! Phoenix is 27th in that area, turning the ball over on 15.2% of post plays.
Surprisingly enough, they aren't that inefficient. The Suns have only taken 330 post-up field-goal attempts as a team, but they convert those shots at a 44.2% rate, which ranks 13th in the league. By no means spectacular, but at least average. The team's high rate of turnovers and low rate of fouls drawn lowers their PPP in the post to what it is.
Furthermore, that 44% rate is pretty much thanks to one player and one player only: Markieff Morris.
Without Markieff Morris, the Suns would have absolutely no post options. Morris has shot 91-189 from the post this season. That 48.1% clip is better than the vast majority of big men, and only slightly below low-post maestro Al Jefferson (48.9%). Only 10 big men have attempted more shots down low than Markieff.
But by taking 189 shots in the post, Morris alone accounts for 57.2% of the team's low-post offense! Is it any wonder that they struggle when he comes out of the game? The Suns currently lack an effective offensive backup big man to put in the game when Markieff is on the bench.
You certainly can't trust any of the other big men. Marcus Morris has shot 9-20 from the post this season, a decent 45% rate but much too small of a sample size. Alex Len's sample size is equally tiny, as he has shot 7-17 (41%).
And we all know about Miles Plumlee and his hook shots. Plumlee doesn't post up too often, but when he does it isn't pretty. He is shooting 15-39 in those situations, which equates to 38.5%.
This has been a lot of incoherent stats, so perhaps it's time to get to the main idea.
The Suns are a poor team in the post, and the only person that's preventing them from finishing dead last in that area is Markieff Morris. When Markieff is out, the team has no option to go to for easy points in the paint, unless the point guards either feed a cutter for an easy basket or feed a big man off a pick (another aspect of the offense that's lacking, but that's another story).
The Suns have proven that they do not have the personnel to be as reliant on three-pointers as they are, but unfortunately they do not have the talent to bang in the post more either.
Ryan McDonough has recently admitted that the roster is unbalanced. Changes may come within the next week or within the next year or two, but they do have to come eventually. While the defense could certainly use improvement as well, adding a low-post threat alongside an elite mid-range shooter in Morris and an elite rim protector in Len would give the Suns an incredibly versatile offensive attack from their big men. Perhaps that should be the next step.