What do we know about Monty Williams’ coaching style so far?
Not much, that’s for sure. But the few things you can see so far are what the players are being told to do as pure, basic tenets of their offense. So far, the Suns are playing fast in their possessions, ranking 4th overall in pace across the league in preseason so far with 113.75 per game. That’s a lot higher than last year’s 98 per game in preseason under Igor Kokoskov (last in the league), who also preached ‘quick decision’ offensive tenets but with lesser talent to execute it.
So they’re playing fast this year. To this point, that is resulting in lots and lots of turnovers (50 through two games, second most per game in league), and lots and lots of missed (rushed) shots. The players look gassed, which is to be expected when playing full speed for the first time together. And in preseason game number two, against Sacramento, they looked haggard and unsure. They fell behind Sacramento 29-12 in the first quarter with the same starting lineup that took a 28-15 lead over the Wolves two nights before.
Learning a new offense with a number of new players takes time. Understood. I’m most curious, though, about the KIND of shots they are taking.
Are Monty’s Suns embracing the modern NBA style of going harder for three-pointers than two-pointers? Frankly, you’re more likely to lose games when you don’t try to score as many points as your opponent. The Suns cannot afford to be toward the bottom of the league again in three-point attempts.
Monty Williams last head-coached in the NBA in 2015, which was before the league’s latest crazy foray into taking threes almost as often as any other shot. Back in 2015, the median was 22.5 three point attempts per game. This past year the median was up to 32 per game. That’s a 50% jump in three-point shot attempts since the last time Williams walked the sideline as head man.
A year ago, Williams served as an assistant coach in Philadelphia. The Sixers were 19th in the league in three-point attempts per game (30), so he’s seen how the league has gone three-crazy. You don’t need to lead the league in threes, but you have to be respectable.
So what will happen here in Phoenix?
“You have to look at the kind of threes,” Williams said at Media Day. “Off the dribble. Contested threes. Those aren’t good shots. So we want to be able to get open threes. We have two guys who can create open shots, in Devin and Ricky. So everybody else should be licking their chops.”
So far, their chops are unlicked.
Not only are the Suns missing when they take them, the players are too often passing up three point attempts on the catch. At least so far, during a pair of preseason games. Frank Kaminsky and Devin Booker lead the Suns in attempts per game (4), but they would both tell you they’ve passed up as many as they’ve taken. So are other players.
Monty is right. The players are getting open threes in this offense. They’re just not taking them. After two preseason games, the Suns rank 27th out of 30 NBA teams in attempts at 28 per game (versus 35 per game by their opponents). Instead of shooting, they’re quick-passing to a teammate or putting the ball on the court as they try to attack the lane on the bounce. That might be fine for Booker because he can get three points the old fashioned way, but not for Frank. Or Dario Saric. Frank and Dario need to catch and shoot with abandon. As do all the catch-and-shoot wings they acquired in the offseason.
When the Suns are taking them, they’re missing so far. After two preseason games, the Phoenix Suns shooting an abysmal, and league worst, 23% on threes. But with most of the rotation holstering respectable career averages from behind the arc, you can chalk up the misses to a confused start in a new scheme and expect better days to come.
What we need are more attempts. You simply cannot expect to win a reasonable amount of games in this league if you’re not even trying to score as many points as your opponent. The Suns don’t have the magic sauce of a tenacious defense, or a handful of players (beyond Booker) who can generate an outsized number of free throws to offset the disparity on threes.
Look for the Suns to up their game on taking threes as they get more comfortable in the offense.
Because if they don’t, it’s going to be another long season.