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The Phoenix Suns have been destroyed from deep, and it’s their own fault

The Suns have done a less-than-stellar job defending the three-point line.

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The season is young for the Phoenix Suns, having completed just three games thus far on their 82-game schedule. I know you’re carrying the one and crunching the numbers, but that equates to just 3.6% of the way through the marathon. There is no need to panic at the 1-2 start for Phoenix, especially when you consider the three games played came in four nights.

Thus is the life of the spotlight in the NBA. The Suns played two of their three games on nationally televised outlets. When the execs recognize you as a team in high demand with savory matchups designed to increase viewership, you play ball. Tired or not.

Three games isn’t much of a sample size and we do not know if what we are seeing from the Suns is a blip on the radar or a trend. If their record were a trend, losing two out of every three games for the remainder of the season, the team would end with a 27-55 record. This is your reminder not to overreact.

These first three games have been like the beginning of a first date. We’re taking the Suns out to a nice dinner, and so far we’ve pulled out the chair for them to sit down and asked them three introductory questions in an effort to get to know who they are in 2021-22. The waiter hasn’t even come by to take our drink order yet.

While the roster remains mostly the same from a year ago, there are tweaks and changes, new coaches and new philosophies. Each game we’re learning more about this team. We’re excited about the positives and recognizing the areas for growth. Again, sample size is small, but this is a Suns’ blog, and we’re to observe and report.

One area I have observed that they need a little more focus on? Defending that perimeter. Sure, that stats are inflated because the Portland Trail Blazers just dropped 21 made 3PT’s on 50 attempts, but the first three games of the season have not been kind to Phoenix relative to the three-ball.

Entering Monday night, Phoenix has allowed the most made three-pointers-per-game (17.7) on the second best shooting percentage (43.1%).

Let that sink in for a second.

Done? Cool.

What is the “why”? Why are the Suns getting obliterated by the three-ball? It might have something to do with the opposition having a wide open look at the cylinder. 18.7 of the 41.0 opposing three-point attempts per game are designated as “wide open” (defender 6+ feet away), and they are shooting 46.4% on those attempts. Couple that with the 15.7 attempts that are “open” (defender 4-6 feet away) that are being made at a 44.7% clip.

34.4 of the 41.0 attempts are open, per NBA Advanced Stats. That’s 83.9%.

Is there a direct correlation between how open the opposing team has been from deep and the Suns win/loss record? Through three games, here are the open/wide open statistics for the opposition:

  • Denver Nuggets (loss): 16-of-36 (44.4%), 39 total 3PA (92.3% were open/wide open attempts)
  • Los Angeles Lakers (win): 15-of-30 (50.0%), 34 total 3PA (88.2% were open/wide open attempts)
  • Portland Trail Blazers (loss): 16-of-37 (43.2%), 50 total 3PA (74.0% were open/wide open attempts)

Couple this with the fact that Phoenix is 24th in made 3PT’s this season and you can start to see why there is concern behind the arc. The Suns are -60 points from three to start the season as the opposing teams have made 53 to the Suns 33.

So what the heck is going on?! I’ve spent the past hour looking at all of the made three-pointers thus far this season by the Suns’ foes — yes, all 53 of them, and I’ve come to the following conclusion: all of the wide open looks occur due to three differing reasons. Lack of trust, playing time together, and focus.

Lack of Trust

Here is one example of something we are seeing from the Suns early on. It is a lack of trust for the talent that is Deandre Ayton in the middle.

Phoenix is collapsing on the interior way too much. In the example above, you can see that Monte Morris, who is being guarded by Chris Paul, isn’t really being guarded by Chris Paul. CP3 drops to assist Devin Booker as he is thwarted defensively by Nikola Jokic on the play. As Will Barton comes off of the screen, the options in front of him are numerous. Barton can either:

  • Bounce pass to a driving Jokic, although Ayton is taking that option away.
  • Deliver a pass to Porter, Jr., who has the inside position on Mikal Bridges, although the long arm the law could easily intercept the pass.
  • Take the mid-range jumper, although Ayton has taken that as well.
  • Pass the ball out to Morris, who is more open than a Circle K.

Option #4 is the correct one and the Suns pay for Chris Paul’s mistake.

Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges were both in the paint on this play and could’ve stymied the Nuggets’ attack long enough for Booker to recover. Paul needs to have a little more faith in his defensively minded center and stick to his man on the perimeter.

Here is another one in which the defense collapses to pinch Cody Zeller in the paint. That’s right, the offensive juggernaut from Indiana, Cody ‘The Big Handsome’ Zeller. In doing so, Anfernee Simons is left wide open in the corner.

Lack of Playing Time Together

When you have new cast members, you’re constantly learning your role. While on offense it’s pretty easy to settle into your duty, on defense it takes a little bit longer.

Phoenix is allowing plenty of wide open looks from three simply because there is some discombobulation. New members of the team are playing with guys who’ve been together a year (or more). Naturally there is a learning curve as the individual becomes part of the team.

Here we see Avery Bradley perform a rub on Landry Shamet while Russell Westbrook is passing to LeBron James. As this occurs, Shamet does not instinctively move into the correct position. He drops to the paint rather than follow his man, which is Westbrook.

In doing so, Shamet leaves Jae Crowder on an island, and that island has two future Hall of Famers living on it. Russ picks Jae, which frees up James, who knocks down the three-ball. Shamet is 10 feet away watching rather than assisting on the play.

The only way to correct this issue is to have patience. The more reps these lineups have together, the more film that they review, the better they should become in understanding where they should be on the court relative to one another.

Here is another one in which JaVale simply does not respond quick enough as he believes he should tail LeBron. Nader fights through the Carmelo Anthony screen, but due to lack of playing together —JaVale probably doesn’t understand that Nader is a hustle guy and will try to fight through every screen — he doesn’t rotate appropriately. 3 points for Melo.

I’m quickly learning that, as much as I enjoy the addition of JaVale McGee, he is easy to target on defense. If you run a high screen and get a switch, offensives are recognizing the matchup and attacking. JaVale is afraid of becoming a turnstile, so he drops down on the coverage. Unfortunately that leaves the perimeter open.

How about one more in which JaVale does not challenge the perimeter?

Lack of Focus

Sometimes there are no excuses. Sometimes it’s just bad, bad defense. The expectation is that you guard your guy and sometimes that simply just does not occur.

Here is an example in which Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges become so locked in on Nassir Little that they completely disregard Robert Covington. He slips right by and they don’t even acknowledge his existence.

Oy. Easy three for the Blazers.

And how about this one? The classic ‘weak-side-Devin-Booker-collapses-into-the-lane-and-leaves-his-guy-wide-the-eff-bomb-open’ play. I’ve seen this movie play too many times over the years. In fact, I played something similar above when Simons made his super shot.

For all of the positive things Booker does on offense, he tries to cheat on defense. This isn’t something new for weakside Book; he’s been doing it his entire career. He isn’t focus on his guy, he is focused on the ball handler. Stick to your guy, Book. Guard that perimeter.

There is plenty of time to correct these issues. Outside of JaVale on defense, everything is correctable. It will take recognition of what is preventing them to be successful and the determination to execute those changes. It will take more energy on to do so.

But if the Suns are who we think they are, we should see a much better perimeter performance come Wednesday versus the Sacramento Kings.

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