For the first time since the vaunted Lindsey Hunter era, the Phoenix Suns have strung together three straight 28+ assist games, winning two of three to up their record to 7-8 under interim coach Jay Triano.
“That’s how we want to play, keep moving the basketball,” Phoenix Suns coach Jay Triano said after his team had 32 assists in a win over the Bulls on Sunday night. “And I think it’s a lot more fun for those guys.”
Going into this stretch, the Suns were ranked dead last in assist percentage for the third time in the last five seasons, at 49.7% of field goals coming off an assist. In this three-game stretch? 64.8% of field goals have been assisted.
Sure the wins and assists have come against soft competition, but wins are wins and assists are assists. We have to recognize the good among the bad, and celebrate that basketball is more fun to watch when players pass the ball to each other.
And passing can be contagious.
“It’s like when you come down and you shoot it, nobody else touches it, that’s contagious as well,” Triano said. “When you get a touch, you want to give one. We have to keep playing that way.”
T.J. Warren agrees wholeheartedly.
“Basketball is a brilliant game when everyone gets involved,” said Tony Buckets. “It’s fun to play that way.”
The Lindsey Hunter Suns. You read that right.
Four days after I detailed how badly the Phoenix Suns needed a point guard, the Suns throw it back in my face by stringing together three straight games of 28+ assists with the point guards they have.
The Suns hadn’t had three straight 28+ assist games since 2013 when Lindsey Hunter roamed the sidelines. With Goran Dragic and Kendall Marshall taking turns running the point, flanked by the likes of Smilin’ Wes, SuperCool Beas, Luis Scola (sorry I don’t have a nickname here), J-Duds and the Morrii, the Suns posted 28, 29 and 29 assists in their last three games of the year (1-2 record). That same group had a three-game run of 27+ assists a couple weeks before that. Those 25-57 Suns finished 11th in assist rate that season (assists on 60.6% of their shots).
Not once under Jeff Hornacek or Earl Watson, with Dragic and new acquisition Eric Bledsoe running point for much the last 4-plus years, did the Suns accomplish that feat again.
In fact, since Hunter, K-Marsh, Wessy Wes, Beaz and Mr. Scola left for greener pastures, the Suns have consistently ranked 29th or 30th in the league in assist ratio four times.
So maybe they’ve turned a corner under Jay Triano?
“We want to continue to move the ball,” Warren said. “Continue to get a lot of assists every night, keep playing hard on defense, and we’ll get in the win column.”
Could it be coincidence that the assists have skyrocketed since Greg Monroe joined the Suns’ rotation literally three games ago?
“It makes things a lot easier,” Monroe said of the recent passing fancy. “Everyone feels better when they’re touching it. The team is finding open players and it becomes contagious.”
It’s not like Monroe is a pass-happy center (he is averaging two assists per game) but he is a good finisher around the basket and is willing to make the extra pass for a better shot.
I’d give more credit to the coach and the guards though. Devin Booker is looking harder for teammates every week (5.8 assists per game last week), Josh Jackson had a career high 4 assists on Sunday night, and Mike James and Tyler Ulis have facilitated better in the last three games, averaging 10.3 assists in 43 minutes a night collectively over that span.
“I think it has been improving,” James said when asked about chemistry among the first and second units since he and Ulis switched places. “I think it shows in our assists.”
The Suns are still a bad team that will lose on most nights. Adjusted for schedule (6 of last 7 at home) and strength of opponent, the Suns are still one of the worst teams in the league even while going 7-8 since Triano took over.
One piece of good news for #TheTimeliners embracing the tank ... the Suns have played the league's 3rd-easiest sked, per BPI, and have the toughest schedule the rest of the way.— Michael Schwartz (@SchwartzCenterM) November 21, 2017
But it’s always more fun for us to watch - and for the players to play - when the ball is being passed around with a purpose and resulting in easy scores.
Let's hope this trend continues.