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Phoenix Suns Must Improve Three Point Shooting to Win

Can they?

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

You can point to a lot of things that have led to the Suns mounting number of losses this season and one thing that you certainly can't overlook is three point shooting... or the lack thereof. As a team the Suns are 28th in the NBA in three point percentage at 29.8% after 11 games. They are also 27th in three pointers made per game (6.5) and tied with Sacramento for 25th in three point shots attempted per game (22.0).

Only five Suns to have attempted more than 20 three pointers this season, Devin Booker (51), Eric Bledsoe (42), Jared Dudley (38), Brandon Knight (37) and T.J. Warren (22). These five players have taken 78.5% of the three pointers attempted by the Suns this season so I'm focusing on them since they've had the largest impact overall in regard to three point shooting.

The Good

Two Suns, Jared Dudley and Dragan Bender, are averaging over 33.3% from three on the season. Dudley is shooting a great 50.0% from three hitting 19 of his 38 attempts. Three point shooting is the main reason the Suns brought Dudley back and so far they are getting their money's worth out of him.

Bender has only attempted 14 threes this season but is hitting 42.9% of them so he gets an “honorable mention” here. It's a very small sample size (6 of 14) and he has been very inconsistent in the 8 games he's played in. In four of those games he's made 50.0% or better on his three point attempts but in the other four games he's missed every shot that he has taken, both three and two pointers, but he shows promise.

The Bad

So far Devin Booker has taken the most three point shots at 51 but connected on only 14 for a 27.5% average. I'm not terribly concerned about Booker yet as his percentage has gone up after resolving his "turf toe" problem but his shooting did cool off considerably in the last three games (1-5, 0-4 and 1-4 from three against the Pistons, Nets and Warriors respectively) after 50.0%, 42.9% (twice) and 33.3% three point shooting nights in the previous four games.

In case you forgot, Eric Bledsoe was making a respectable 37.2% of his three point attempts last season before going down with a knee injury that caused him to miss the last 51 games. This year he's second on the team in three point attempts but has only been hitting 26.2%. I'm not sure why his percentage has dropped so much from last season. He's actually attempting fewer three point shots per game this year than last (3.8 vs 4.2) but they just aren't dropping for him like they were last year. Perhaps it’s “rust” after his long layoff. He has hit at least 33.3% (or better) of his three point attempts in six out of eleven games played but the other 5 games have dragged his overall percentage down.

Brandon Knight has attempted the fourth most three pointers for the Suns this season and is only hitting an abysmal 24.3%. For a guy that has a career three point average of 35.7% and has never averaged under 32.5% in any of his previous five NBA seasons this is really bad. I can't say for sure what the problem is for Knight but certainly something is wrong this season. Coming off the bench and playing more of his minutes against reserves instead of opposing starters should help him improve his game but so far it hasn't. If it's a mental thing because of losing his starting spot and/or getting fewer minutes per game, he needs to get over it and do it quickly.

TJ Warren's three point percentage is also down from last season. He's making 27.3% as opposed to the 40.0% he shot last season but this year he's been playing mostly against opposing team starters instead of bench players as he did last season. Since he's improved in virtually every other aspect of his game over last year, I'm inclined to take a wait and see approach with his three point percentage. Oddly though, all of the threes that he has made were in just four of the eleven games that he's played in and he's missed every attempt that he took in the other seven. He’s made 6 of 22 attempts so far.

While the team doesn't really rely on Marquese Criss or PJ Tucker's three point shooting, they’re worth mentioning here. Chriss is hitting 25.0% of his attempts. Not very good but also not terrible for a rookie that you weren't really counting on to hit a lot of threes. He's only attempted 12 this season, mostly from the corners. Tucker on the other hand has hit only 1 of 13 three point attempts this season (7.7%). Even though he's never shot a lot of threes, this is far below his career three point average of 34.5%. I’m giving him a little bit of a pass because he missed all of training camp and preseason because of his back surgery but he also needs to step up his three point game. Thankfully he's only attempting 1.2 threes a game.

The Ugly Truth

Last year the Suns as a team averaged hitting 34.8% of their three point attempts (16th in the NBA), were 12th in the NBA in three point attempts per game (25.8) and tied for 10th in three point shots made per game (9). This season they are starting out near the bottom of the barrel. The Suns are actually shooting a better two point percentage this season than last (48.7% vs 47.2%) so if they could just raise their three point shots made per game average from 6.5 to the 9.0 three point makes per game that they had last season, mathematically that adds up to an average of 7 to 8 (7.5) more points scored per game... and by my count three of the Suns' eight losses have been by less than 7 points.

As I said in the beginning, this is just one of many things you can point to and say is a problem that the Suns need to improve on... but history shows that they can improve on this aspect of their game. I hate to pick on Knight but he especially needs to do whatever he needs to do to get out of his three point shooting slump. There is no reason that Knight, Booker, Bledsoe and Warren shouldn't all be able to bring their individual three point percentages up to at least 33.3%. Even if none of the other problems that the Suns have get fixed, more three point shots made equals more points scored and that could have turned what is now a 3-8 team into a 6-5 or 7-4 team.

How they can right the three point problem is something that Earl Watson and the coaching staff need to think long and hard on. It might get better on it's own as the season progresses but if there are any tweaks that they can make to the offense to jump start the process they should make them.


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