The Phoenix Suns closed out the 2016 calendar year with another loss.
Superfan and always-positive Scott Howard helps put 2016 into perspective for us.
This is true for the 2nd consecutive year and at .294 will be significantly worse than last season. Go Suns! pic.twitter.com/cSnBDc1u0c— Scott Howard (@ScottHoward42) December 31, 2016
See how he ends it with a positive note? Mid-day Scott is always upbeat.
Check out all of Scott’s tweets, but fair warning that they get darker and darker as each night goes on. His final New Year’s tweet to the Suns can’t be shared here. I think he might be an alcoholic but I can’t be sure. Maybe he’s just a morning person.
Anyway, back to the Suns.
As the game wore on, the Suns found it more and more difficult to score. Devin Booker scored 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting in the opening stanza, but only scored once the rest of the game and that was a on breakaway off a great steal.
How did the Jazz lock down Booker? By putting a bigger defender on him 100% of the time. The Jazz rightly realized that shutting down Booker means taking control of the Suns chances to blow up the scoreboard. One of Joe Ingles or Rodney Hood stayed on Booker’s hip the whole second half, it appeared to me anyway.
And the Suns obliged by refusing to peel those guys off him.
Do the Suns know they’re allowed to run Devin Booker off of screens to get him open?— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) January 1, 2017
To which I responded, though not directly to Zach.
I think the Suns have decided there's only so many screens to go around and they're going to use them ALL for the ball handler— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) January 1, 2017
I watched closely, and the only screens being set by the Suns were for the ball handler, beginning at the top of the key.
Conversely, one good look at a three by league-leading three-point shooter Joe Ingles involved a play where the Jazz set two screens on one side - one on the catch, and one after - to absolutely ensure Ingles had an open look at his favorite spot. And he got it. And he made it.
But the Suns really don’t like that, or at least they didn’t last night. Every play was the same play, sometimes run 2-3 times on the same possession. Kick ball to top of key, set screen two feet beyond the three-point line to get ball handler potentially an open three or (if the D hedges) a drive to the mid-range or all the way into the paint.
Guess which shot the Suns were stuck with?
- the Jazz are the league’s BEST defense at the three-point line, in terms of attempts allowed and conversion rate
- the Jazz have Rudy Gobert protecting the paint
Watching the game last night, you can see that Gobert absolutely controls the paint. He knows how to defend without fouling. So well that even when he does foul, it doesn’t get called. He’s basically the new Tim Duncan without the hangdog look.
Eric Bledsoe and Tyler Ulis (who got the second-half backup PG minutes) were the Suns only offensive threats, as Bledsoe and Ulis ran pick and roll after pick and roll and ended up getting what the Jazz wanted to give: open mid-range shots.
It helped the Jazz that T.J. Warren and Brandon Knight were no-shows (each going 0-5 for the game), and that pups like Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, as well as veteran P.J. Tucker, have zero offensive game between 1-22 feet.
It’s a wonder the Suns stayed tight in this game, but they did.
Ulis and Bledsoe kept the Suns in it, each giving the Suns a fourth-quarter lead. And only a missed long three by Booker with a few seconds left - his only open shot of the second half on a nice ATO play design - sealed the win for the Jazz.
Give the Suns credit for feisty defense and making the most of what the Jazz gave them offensively, even if the play selection was less than inspired.
Watch the nine-minute highlights here.
T.J. Warren got his starting spot back, but didn’t reward the coach for it by going 0-5. P.J. Tucker ended up playing 35 minutes, partially because Warren looked even worse than his box score. Warren was torched on the defensive end by Hayward a few times.
Jared Dudley got his 4th straight DNP-CD and no one knows why this is so absolute. I had a small exchange with Jared yesterday, who told me that he and Watson spoke briefly before this lineup switch - though very abbreviated - and that he thought it was weird Watson was so coy with the media. Remember, when I asked Watson last Wednesday he simply said “We’re all okay. We all live a nice life.” Watson could have and should have said something like ‘we are giving Bender a chance, and Dudley’s time will come back around soon enough’. Anyway, so that’s still a bit awkward. But Dudley’s a pro, and he’s handling this well.
Dragan Bender played 21 minutes, and is now the primary backup four to Marquese Chriss. Bender tries hard, but being a full-time big man is a transition for him. A couple times last night, he failed to switch and protect the paint when the big man he was defending set a pick on the perimeter to free the ball handler. Bender’s failure to switch and pick up the ball handler on the drive crossed up Tucker and left the Jazz player an open drive to the rim more than once. Bender also got bodied on the boards, and found more success tipping the ball to teammates than corralling rebounds on his own. But this is me nitpicking. Overall, Bender remains a net-positive on the scoreboard because he plays smart and generally does the right thing. He’s earned these minutes.
Marquese Chriss is never going to be Dragan Bender, but it’s quite possible he will end up a great complement to Bender on the front line. Chriss is basically Bender’s big-man opposite - all highlights mixed with too many plays off whereas Bender is few highlights but never takes a play off. Best case is an Amare-type player who can build on his god-given talents and become a statistical monster some day. Chriss can score from anywhere and has great athleticism and he’s got the natural strength to survive down low when he fills out. Right now, he’s just a 19 year old rookie.
Tyler Ulis once again got second-half backup point guard minutes from Brandon Knight. That’s two straight games now that Knight sat in the second half, first due to sloppy foul trouble and last night due to his lackluster 0-5 start. It seems Watson has stopped just handing minutes to Knight if he doesn’t play right in the first half.
That’s all I got.