Close your eyes. Really. Do it. Close them and then inhale until your lungs feel full, then let out a long, slow breath. Remind yourself that hey, you like the Phoenix Suns! It’s fun to watch basketball! This is a heck of a lot more fun than paying attention to all the other nonsense going on right now.
Online last night while the Suns dropped a winnable game to the Kings, 106-103, fans had a bit of a dramatic one. Think about how fired up you may have been last night and think about if you could do that 36 more games over the next six months, or once every other game. Probably not!
So rather than milk the misery, what I’m going to do here is walk through some of what the Suns can do to get back on track as they get a chance to take on the Kings right away on Sunday night, the second night of a back to back.
Come out with better energy
This may sound easy, but the Suns just looked off the first two games of the season. Because of how much their systems are predicated on ball movement and team defense, it may take a while in that regard.
But the Suns allowed Sacramento to score 62 points in the paint and according to Cleaning the Glass, the Kings added 3.1 points per 100 possessions to their offensive efficiency in transition, even though their overall fast break point total was low.
The Suns just made simple mistakes like losing Marvin Bagley III here:
you let the kings run and good things happen. i'm shocked. pic.twitter.com/2UQ1j5l5DZ— Karens In Paris (@NekiasNBA) December 27, 2020
The good thing is that’s the type of stuff that can be pretty easily solved by better communication.
“You look at transition defense and it’s two things,” Jae Crowder said postgame on a Zoom call, “communication and then making sure we’re taking the best offensive shots that we can.”
If the Suns can make it a point to talk more on defense and if we can assume they make more than a quarter of their threes on Sunday, the Kings’ transition scoring should be muzzled a bit.
The other area where Sacramento out-hustled the Suns was on the glass. Bagley alone had six offensive boards and the Kings tallied 15 total. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Kings scored .417 points per miss, an outrageous number for second-chance points.
While Crowder took responsibility for the team coming out flat because he sees it as his responsibility to bring energy to the starting unit, head coach Monty Williams was more blunt in his assessment.
“I thought we started the game in a bit of a ‘trot,’” Williams told reporters postgame. “That’s not how you start games on the road. ... But to me, the physicality was one thing, but for me this was the first time in a long, long time with this group where we got out-worked. When a team has 15 offensive rebounds, that’s a sign that you’re getting out-worked.”
Not to ignore the challenges of bringing intensity for 48 minutes (if it were so easy it wouldn’t be the mark of a great team), but fortunately for the Suns, it’s a trait they value in every player they acquire, and we just saw this squad play with relentless energy every game in the Bubble. Provided the veteran additions can slide in smoothly in time, playing hard is merely a mindset issue, so it is solvable.
Cut down on turnovers
This one comes back to Devin Booker. The Suns only have 30 turnovers through the first two games of the season, but 15 of them came from Booker.
“That’s something I know he’s aware of; he’ll correct it for sure,” Williams said. “A lot of it is having different guys on the floor. Some of it is not knowing where we’re supposed to be, some of it is teams are game-planning.
“Devin’s turnovers usually always come from a good intention. That’s not something I think is going to trend at all.”
As Williams also noted, the Suns didn’t do a great job attacking the Kings’ aggressive switching. When we last saw Chris Paul, he was cooking Robert Covington over and over in the Thunder’s seven-game playoff series against Houston. That’s not the guy we’re seeing right now, though Paul was more assertive on Saturday than he was in the opener.
That Paul can put up a 22 and 12 and still seem off shows how impressive the sleeping giant that is the Suns’ offense can be. Paul did, however, acknowledge he felt better in Sacramento.
“We still need to win this game, but it’s fun being with the group that we have because we’ve got a great group,” Paul said. “As we continue to get our legs under us, especially myself, it’s going to be fun.”
Should Paul look more like himself soon, the rotation should be easier to put together for Williams. Right now, Booker is often playing with lineups that put a lot of pressure on him to create and score everything, almost like the early days of his career.
Incredible shot but it’s looking like 2017 all over again here with the amount of attention the Kings are able to give Booker pic.twitter.com/wdDQ3U5Hwp— Brendon Kleen (@BrendonKleen14) December 27, 2020
More scoring from Paul and better cohesion from everyone on the roster should start to limit the number of possessions we see in which Booker gets tunnel vision feeling like he has to put the ball in the hoop every time down.
More Frank the Tank?
It’s not so much that Frank Kaminsky should be expected to be the answer to the Suns’ problems, but more that the guy he’s replacing has hurt the team quite a bit. That would be Damian Jones, during whose minutes the Kings outscored the Suns by 10 in what ended up being a three-point game. Jones is unaware defensively, not much of a roll threat on offense, and is too easily overpowered by bigger players like Hassan Whiteside.
Williams didn’t try Kaminsky until the fourth quarter, but at the very least, Kaminsky’s defensive positioning is better than that of Jones and Kaminsky can space the floor and move the ball better than Jones. The real solution will come when Dario Saric returns to the lineup, potentially as soon as Tuesday at home against New Orleans, but for now, Kaminsky is the Suns’ best hope to shore up the backup center minutes and help stem the bleeding during the time Deandre Ayton is off the floor.
On Ayton’s part, I believe he was fine while he was in the game, but it’s up to him to keep his fouls in check so he can stay on the floor.
“We need him in the game,” said Williams.