It’s hard to make assumptions through the first four games of any season, no matter the sport. The sample size is small and variables such as opponents played or roster health aren’t necessarily concrete. Yet through the first 5.6% of the Phoenix season, trends are beginning to appear. The most important trend, winning, is exciting the fanbase. The 3-1 start for Phoenix is the best since 2014.
As you begin to deconstruct the games, the offensive and defensive sets, and the efforts put forth by the Suns, you can begin to establish a narrative as to why the team has started off strong. Is it their defense (98.5 opponents-points-per-game, #1 in the NBA)? Is it their offense (109.0 points-per-game, #21 in the NBA)? What aspects have led to success and what facets have created challenges?
I’d love to break down their team defense, as I believe this roster is designed to create chaos for opposing teams. I’ll save that for another day.
As I’ve watched the games, taken my notes, and analyzed the numbers, it is clear that Monty Williams is having fun with the toys at his disposal. The depth of the team creates numerous opportunities to try differing ways to attack the opposition, both offensively and defensively.
What is one of my primary takeaways? The Suns love the three-ball.
The roster that Suns general manager James Jones has constructed for the 2020-21 NBA season appears to have an affinity for taking the outside shot. Additions such as Jae Crowder, Langston Galloway, and (to a lesser extent) Chris Paul have the ability to score from deep. Combine that with players from last season like Devin Booker, Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, Mikal Bridges, and Jevon Carter, and the Suns, on paper, have a team that appears primed to shoot the ball from downtown.
Thus far this season, paper has met reality.
Again, very small sample size. But still, the Suns are firing at will from beyond the arc.
The Suns are shooting 39.0 three’s-per-game, which is good for 6th in the NBA. The team is shooting 35.3% on those attempts. If you take out Jevon Carter’s rough start from three-point land (1-13), the team would be shooting 37.7% on 35.8 attempts. But you can’t do that. Keep shooting Jevon.
Take in consideration that the team had a franchise-high 31.8 3PA/g last season. That team shot 39 or more three’s 9 times, posting a record of 7-2 in those contests. It appears that James Jones has tapped into something.
Looking at the past 20 year’s of Suns basketball, you can see a steady increase in attempts-per-game as the league has shifted to the perimeter:
The teams in the mid-2000’s were revolutionary as they were tops in the league in 3PA. The past few seasons, however, the Suns have been near the bottom of the league attempting the super shot: 21st in the NBA in 2019-20, 23rd in 2018-19, 20th in 2017-18, and 28th in 2016-17.
James Jones, a 40.1% three-point shooter during his 14-year career in his own right, has carefully designed a team that has the ability to take the shot. And Monty is letting them do it. It the three wins thus far this season, the Suns are shooting 39.2% from deep on 37.3 3PApg. In their one loss, despite throwing up 44 attempts, they shot 25%.
44 attempts?! Who is this team?! The last time the Suns shot 44 three-pointers in a game? January 2, 2006, a triple OT loss to Stephon Marbury the New York Knicks. In the nationally televised dominating 25-point victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night, the Suns shot 47 from deep. That is a franchise record, folks.
What impresses me is how wide open the Suns are on these shots. This is the advantage of having Chris Paul and Devin Booker on the team. Their gravity pulls defenses away from their assignments as they navigate. What that means is open shooters.
The respect that Chris Paul garners from defenders is elite. He has the ability to, at any time, stop on a dime, pull up, and hit a jumper. He can also find Deandre Ayton in the paint for an easy two. Therefore defenses collapse in an effort to create havoc down low. CP3 takes advantage of this:
Booker can do this as well, seeing as he is one of the best mid-range finishers in the game. When he charges towards the rim, defenders tend to cave in. Look how many Suns are open as the entire Kings defense enters the paint. Mikal Bridges is the lucky recipient on this play, and his smooth stroke leads to three points:
Why not have a play where both Booker and Paul take turns driving into the teeth of the defense? This creates mass confusion for the young Zion Williamson and Jae Crowder once again benefits.
The beauty of the Phoenix Suns offense is it can hurt you in so many ways. Add the depth that Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, and Langston Galloway bring, and not only is the offense potent, it’s consistent. That stats back it up.
The team’s commitment to shooting the ball from deep, coupled with the offensive strategies in place to ensure those shots are uncontested, will equate to wins. Now if I’m seeing this, you know scouts and coaches are as well.
The challenge moving forward to maintain effective shots from deep lies with the Phoenix Suns. Successful teams don’t remain stagnate, they adjust. Monty and his staff will have to continually be creative to find ways to ensure the offense is taking their shots. This roster should assist in making it easy to do so.
Is this a flash in the pan? Or is this the new norm? In the era of “Valley Oop” should we be expecting “Valley of the Three”? I don’t care about the nickname, as long as they keep winning.