When the Suns reportedly installed a Portland-like offense this year, many of us envisioned three-pointers raining down in high volume as the Suns attempted to maximize their guard-heavy roster.
Two games into the 2016-17 preseason, however, the Suns have been anything but.
So far, the Suns rank 4th in percentage of their points coming in the paint versus 29th in percentage of points coming on three-pointers, having taken the second-fewest threes per game this week (16.5 per game). This has led to the Suns ranking dead last in Effective Field % and True Shooting %, both of which give extra credit for three-point shots.
*all statistics in this article courtesy of stats.nba.com
Anyone who’s been able to attend or watch the stream of the Suns’ games this week would agree the Purple Power gang (yes, I just made that up) are attacking the rim whenever possible, whether it be in the half court, on the fast break (second in % of points coming from fast breaks) or at the free throw line after drawing a foul (fourth in % of points coming on free throws).
Even the Suns best shooters - Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Brandon Knight, Leandro Barbosa - have been taking it to the rack more often than not.
Unfortunately, despite installing a motion offense expected to increase their abysmal assist rate, the Suns have the 3rd highest % of unassisted field goals per game.
But while execution has been sloppy, it’s obvious the Suns have entered the 2016-17 season with an aggressive streak that extends beyond their shot distribution.
“They’re very physical,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said after Wednesday’s game. “They got into us pretty good.”
After two games, they are 1st in offensive rebounds per game, 1st in second-chance points, 1st in blocked shots, 6th in total rebounds, 9th in steals, 3rd in % of points off turnovers and 2nd in % of points off fast breaks. Overall, they are 6th in defensive rating.
The Suns best stretches of play in the first two preseason came at the beginning of each third quarter, as they’ve amped up the pressure and physicality coming out of halftime.
“They got physical with us and I didn’t think we responded initially to that very well,” Jazz coach Quinn Snyder said.
I don’t know what Earl Watson says to these guys in the locker room (“a lot of words I can’t repeat here,” he joked the other night), but it works so far.
Sure, the sample size is extremely small. The Suns have played only two preseason games with this new roster. Everything could change tonight against the Trail Blazers.
But so far it does appear that an Earl Watson team is going to mirror his own NBA image: more about grit, grind and hustle than pretty shooting. These aren’t going to be your Mike D’Antoni Phoenix Suns (just look over at Houston for that).
The Purple Power philosophy works for an extremely young team with more than half the rotation, including three bouncy teenagers, on rookie contracts and no NBA Superstars among them. Even the team’s veterans have reputations for giving out max effort on every play.
If we could watch the Suns take on the Portland Trail Blazers tonight up in the Pacific Northwest, we’d see two teams that play quite differently despite having similar half-court offensive schemes.
Assistant coach Jay Triano, late of the Blazers, has helped Watson install a motion offense designed to increase the pass-rate in the half-court, something Watson has coined a “point five” mentality where anyone can make a play and the ball doesn’t stick.
The Blazers used the motion offense to create more open threes for their clearly guard-oriented team. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum both put up 20+ points per game, with Allen Crabbe dropped 10+, while the highest-scoring traditional big was Mason Plumlee’s 9 points per game.
The Blazers were 7th in the league last year in percentage of shots taken from behind the three point arc and 26th in percentage of points scored in the paint.
That offensive leaning to the perimeter appears to match the Suns roster to a T.
The Suns have gifted three-point shooters in Booker, Knight, Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley. In the Suns’ offense, like most NBA offenses these days, the job of the forwards is generally to run to the corners and wait for an early catch-and-shoot three before circling around the perimeter to participate in repeated dribble-handoffs until an open shot appears. That means T.J. Warren, P.J. Tucker, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss will get a lot of chances at those corner threes this year too.
But for now, Watson has his team focused on being the aggressor, taking the ball to the rim at every opportunity. That should suit players like Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler and the teenager Chriss who looked thrilled on Wednesday to challenge Gobert.
This Suns team might actually live up to the coach’s preseason cliches of having the defense feed the offense, and not letting the other team get comfortable in their schemes.
So far, so good.
Good luck finding a stream of tonight’s game against the Blazers at 7PM Pacific Time. It appears the Blazers will show the game on CSN Northwest, which should make a stream findable.
The Suns will have Jared Dudley back in the fold (missed Wednesday’s game), which moves Marquese Chriss back to the bench.
Tyson Chandler is still out for a personal issue, allowing Alex Len to stay in the starting lineup to face off against Mason Plumlee and giving some good minutes to Dragan Bender and Alan Williams.