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Bubble Update: Suns will hunt more rebounds, defend transition a bit less

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General Manager James Jones says the Suns will focus on rebounding during the NBA restart in Orlando

Phoenix Suns v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Phoenix Suns begin play in Orlando on July 31, they will likely shift their emphasis a bit to secure more possessions per game via offensive and defensive rebounds at the expense of some transition opportunities.

Nothing dramatic, of course, but the Suns realize that they gave up on possessions too quickly this year. The emphasis all year on both ends was to get the upper hand in transition while sending minimal guys to the boards.

“Defensive transition was one of our stronger suits,” General Manager James Jones said in a Zoom call with local media on Monday.

Indeed, the had the league’s third-ranked transition defense this year in terms of points given up per shot (1.06 points/play) while allowing the 11th most chances. Those kind of canceled each other out, resulting in middle of the pack ranking (13th) in total transition points allowed per game.

Jones indicates the Suns want to balance that a bit, going more for offensive rebounds on misses to reduce opponent transition chances at the expense of allowing a bit more success per chance.

“I don’t want to steal Monty’s thunder,” Jones said of head coach Monty Williams. “But we are open to evaluating whether or not getting back in transition and limiting ourselves of offensive opportunities, if that’s better for us.”

The Suns currently rank only 19th in offensive rebound rate per game (26.1% of their own misses) and a paltry 24th in second-chance points per game (12.1).

They are gambling that this adjustment will translate to better scoring, where the Suns are 16th overall without sacrificing much if anything on defense, where they are 19th.

“We’re a team that when we have more possessions, the way we shoot the ball, how efficient Devin is, how efficient Ricky is, with Aron Baynes stretching and shooting threes, have given us a huge offensive lift,” Jones noted.

After an offensive rebound, the shot clock is reset to 14 seconds to give the team that extra scoring chance. The Suns half-court offense is no great shakes — their most efficient scoring comes in transition — but a second chance is better than no chance at all. Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio are two of the more efficient (Book scoring, Ricky dishing) offensive players in the game.

“We just need more possessions,” Jones said. “So we are focused on how do we get more possessions offensively without being reckless, and defensively are there things we can do to secure more rebounds.”

On the other end of the court, the Suns are not very good at stopping their opponent from scoring. Though ‘not very good’ is miles better than the gawd-awful we’ve seen the last three years, so silver linings and bright sides and all that.

The Suns are 19th overall on defense this year and 18th in defensive rebound percentage (72.8% of available defensive rebounds).

If the Suns can grab a few more defensive rebounds they will not only reduce giving up second-chance points (12.8 points per game, 14th overall) but they can get out in transition a bit more with the benefit of the live ball and the Suns are very good in transition (1.19 points per play versus the 1.10 overall on all play types).

This is all shades of gray, of course. As you can see, it’s simply an attempt to eke out 1-2 more net points per game to turn the Suns from a loser into a winner. Right now, the Suns net points differential is respectable (minus-1.3 points per game overall). If they can flip that to a positive, they would be even closer to playoff contention.

At the moment, the Suns are one of 22 teams participating in the NBA’s Grand Experiment, having traveled to Orlando Florida for a sequestered, well-contained series of games to decide the NBA Championship. The Suns, ranked 21st out of 22 teams here, will spend most of their bubble time playing better teams, but that doesn’t mean it’s just an exhibition event.

“They are going there to compete,” Jones says of his young Suns. “I want those guys to go there and play because we’re playing 21 of the NBA’s best teams. Playing playoff teams every single night, and we’re getting other teams’ best efforts. And that’s the only way we can get better.”

Who knows what all the teams will look like by the time the Suns play them, given the potential for rampant coronavirus transmission, but let’s stick with the Bright Side outlook for now and expect this 8-game stretch to be the MontyBall version 1.5.

*all stats courtesy of stats.nba.com and InPredictable.com