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Phoenix Suns play at a really fast pace, but are one of the league's slowest teams

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek wanted his team to be among the top three fastest teams in the league this season, considering all the youth on the team after finishing 8th in pace a year ago.

This year, he wanted the Suns to get the ball down the court a lot faster, on both makes and misses. He got what he wanted, though what he got might not be what everyone thought they'd be getting.

Where the Suns are fast

The Suns are 2nd in the NBA in pace, a measure of the number of possessions per game. A possession ends on a shot or turnover. The Suns take the 2nd most shots in the league and have the 6th most turnovers.

"We want to bring it up the court, get into our early offense," Hornacek said, with a bit more detail. "Swing it from side to side, quick hitters for our guards so they can break the defense down and then kick out to guys."

The Suns do create a bunch of early offense, and Hornacek is right that the earlier the shot, the higher percentage it will be a scoring play.

nba-stats-shot-clock

*courtesy NBA.com/stats

The later the shot, the worse the Suns' field goal percentage. This is true of every NBA team, not just the Suns.

More than 40% of the Suns shot attempts come before the clock strikes 15, helped out by being 2nd in the league in fast break points. And on those shot attempts, their effective field goal % (factoring in three pointers and free throws) is higher than 50%.

Another interesting stat is the "touch time" per to each shot - a measure of how long the shooter was in possession of the ball before taking the shot. Simply, a 'catch and shoot' shot would have a very short touch time, while an isolation shot by the point guard after taking the ball inbounds would have a long touch time.

suns-touch-time

Only 10% of the Suns shots are taken after holding the ball 6+ seconds. This should assuage those concerned by the rampant "iso ball" the Suns seem to rely too heavily on. Maybe there are "iso ball" tendencies, but they don't seem to be of the pound-the-ball variety.

However, the Suns appear to be fast dribblers. While only 10% of their shots are taken after holding the ball for 6+ seconds, a whopping 27% of their shots are taken after 3+ dribbles by the shooter.

suns-dribbles

As you can see, the Suns field goal percentage drops with every dribble. This is true of ALL NBA teams, not just the Suns.

study done by nerd-olifics at HP basketball comes to the same conclusions as these Suns charts show. The earlier in the shot clock, the fewer the dribbles and the more open the shot, the better the chance it will fall through the net.

The way to reduce dribbling and get a better shot is to pass the ball. While the Suns take a lot of shots really early in the shot clock (40% in the first 9 seconds, #2 in pace) and with very few dribbles (73% on 2 or fewer dribbles), they don't do a ton of passing the ball to each other.

Where the Suns are slow

The Suns are only 19th in the NBA in passing (286 passes per game) and 25th in assists per game. This is a much better number than a year ago (23rd and 29th, respectively) but still pretty bad.

The reason this fits in the slow category is that one of the reasons the Suns don't pass a lot is because guys aren't cutting and moving to get open. The offense is designed around the point guard creating shots off his own drives while everyone else stands around on the wing - a perfect design when you've got Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas running the show.

The Suns don't pass the ball a lot, but at least they know how to score when they touch the ball. The Suns are 5th in points per touch (.255), and surprisingly 3rd (THIRD!) in the league in points per half-court touch (.355).

Unfortunately, while the Suns are quick to get up a shot, they are not very fast in NBA terms.

According to NBA.com's SportVu data, the Suns are the league's second-slowest team (4.0 miles per hour) and they travel the 3rd shortest distance per game (16.4 miles).

How is that possible? Because the Suns offense is not designed to cover a lot of ground in the half court. Players without the ball stand around waiting for the kickout, whereas teams like the Hawks, Jazz, Spurs and Warriors are constantly on the move.

What it means

It means that the Suns are really good at jogging the ball up and taking the quickest shot possible, using 'the earlier the better' motto that is quite proven to work.

They run a lot, but they don't run very fast.

They are second in the league in fast break points, but are 2nd slowest in terms of speed and travel the 3rd shortest distance over the course of a game.

It appears that the Suns players have focused more on taking the first open shot possible and less on creating open shots through passes.

Without having great shooters, this translates to the league's 12th-rated offense overall, in terms of efficiency. But the Suns are going in the wrong direction since the All-Star break, and that speaks to an offense geared to succeed on isolation scorers once into the half court.

Through December, the Suns were as high as 4th in offensive efficiency (points per possession). By the All-Star break, which includes a slump, they'd dropped to 7th overall. Still really good, with a scheme to match the scoring skills of Dragic, Thomas, Bledsoe and the Morrii.

But after great isolation scorers Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas were traded, and not replaced by similar iso scorers, the Suns offense has dropped to 23rd in the league since the Break. Bledsoe and the Morrii have not picked up the missing points, leaving the void to be filled by Knight, Len and others who are not nearly as good at getting their own shot.

To succeed with the new lineup, the Suns will have to start passing more to create open shots on the catch-and-shoot. They've improved that a bit, but not enough to be efficient once into the half court.

That's why you think they've lost their way a bit on offense. It's because they have.