Nabbing an associate head coach early in the summer can be disregarded rather quickly. Despite the lack of sex appeal on the offseason splash-making hierarchy (I just made that up myself), the acquisition of an associate head coach that fits the style of your roster can allow a team soar to new heights that even the shrewdest of free agent signings cannot attain.
Coaching matters, and instilling the right system that pins lethal players in equally lethal positions is a recipe for success when you don’t have the service of The King, or the resources to create a super team. Remember the impact Alvin Gentry had on the birth of Golden State’s atomic bomb motion offense and the Los Angeles Clippers prior to that? The Suns are looking to catch a similar strike of lightning with the hiring of Jay Triano -- motion offense aficionado — from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Phoenix has always been a team that seeks out a fast-paced game, and I expect that mantra to stay true given the surplus of athletic talent on the roster. The biggest changes to the offense under Triano’s direction figures to come within the half court setting. High pick-and-rolls are the security blanket for nearly every offense in today’s NBA, but it is important to have a quick-hitting system in place to keep a defense from digging their feet in.
A pick-and-roll featuring Eric Bledsoe or Devin Booker as the ball handler with Tyson Chandler as the dive man will undoubtedly still be a go-to set for the Suns (as it should be), but I would also expect some other intricacies to come to the forefront based on what Portland ran under Triano.
The key element of the motion offense is, well, motion. Jitterbug guards scurry around screens from baseline to baseline, seeking to either create enough space to hoist a jumper or catch the ball in position to attack an off balanced defender.
“(The flow offense) is hard to guard, especially for a team like Phoenix with fast, talented guards. It’s going to be tough to guard against. I guess we just got to get ready for that problem,” Damian Lillard told Blazers Edge, who were kind enough to get some feedback for Bright Side.
Ball-stopping will be replaced with slick dribble hand-offs designed to keep every player engaged, while also doubling as a cop out when possessions get muddied up.
Notice how Crabbe began that sequence stationed in the left corner before wheeling his way around to the right wing to spearhead the offense. C.J. McCollum — the type of player the Suns need Brandon Knight to be -- fills Crabbe’s post in the left corner to keep the train moving. Traditionalists will scoff at an offensive philosophy that does not utilize the post-up prowess of the big man, but look closer and you can see the fingerprints of Ed Davis all over this possession. Before acting as the bridge between Crabbe and two points, Davis is set to carve an alley for McCollum on the weak side.
That sort of screening and mobility is paramount for a big man that is going to gel in this scheme. Sure, the ball wasn’t exactly thrown into Davis with the intentions of scoring, but a post touch can elicit all kinds of chaos for defenders attempting to weave through traffic. The motion offense utilizes the post to facilitate the offense rather than dominate it, and that ideal will play well with the bigs the Suns have on hand.
Chandler has never been mistaken for Hakeem Olajuwon, and Alex Len is still coming into his own from a post game perspective. With that said, there will be a need for both behemoths to take a step forward on the playmaking front with the shift in offensive mindset. Defenses will likely seek out a trap against many of the Suns’ ball handlers (sparing Bledsoe on a cold shooting night), providing opportunities for the bigs to shine as playmakers.
Mason Plumlee does a great job of staying controlled within the open space of real estate provided to him. An unskilled big man will panic and look to swing the ball to a guard to reset the offense, but Plumlee attacks the back end of the Warriors’ defense before dishing the ball off to the short corner. Chandler and Len are going to have to mirror this kind of impromptu play to keep a defense accountable while taking pressure off of Phoenix’s blitzing group of guards.
Speaking of those blitzing guards, Triano’s offense is prime to uncork the talents of Bledsoe, Knight, and Booker alike. The constant motion and screening will create space for Booker to act as a rich man’s Crabbe, and using the post as a means of facilitation will allow Bledsoe to resist the temptation bear the burden on every possession.
There has been clamoring for the departure of Knight all summer, but I am confident that this kind of system (plus a nifty weight gain from Booker to make playing at the three a possibility) will allow each of the guards to coexist.
“I know they’ve got good guards. Brandon Knight’s a good guard, Eric Bledsoe’s a good guard, (Devin) Booker’s a good guard, so certainly a lot of their offense is going to come from their perimeter and from their backcourt. Whatever you can do to accentuate their talents is good,” Terry Stotts told Blazers Edge.
If ran correctly, Phoenix’s offense will showcase a certain symmetry that has been lacking since the gripping 2013-14 season that featured Goran Dragic as a paint darting dynamo. Winning the transition game is the hallmark for any team that lives in a fast-paced world, but in order for the Suns to creep into the upper echelon of offensive efficiency, consistently winning in the half court should be the focus.
“Point-five mentality,” said Watson to azcentral.com, bringing back a phrase he implemented late last season for quick decision-making. “Pass it. Drive it. Shoot it. Don’t hold it. Cut to the rim. Sacrifice cuts and play with pace.”
Motion, hand-offs, and timely cutting have become staples of the NBA’s most electric offenses. After two disappointing campaigns under Jeff Hornacek, the Suns are diving head first into the world of motion basketball. There will be times of delight along with times of fright.
Let’s just hope that Coach Triano gives us a reason to remember his name.
(I apologize in advance for allowing Fort Minor to rise from the depths of your brain.)