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Is the NBA’s new ball the cause of the Suns’ shooting woes?

There’s some evidence that might be at least part of the problem.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Remember when the NBA previously decided to change balls beck in 2006? Unlike today, that ball was still made by Spalding but made of a synthetic microfiber composite instead of being made from the traditional leather.

It was almost universally disliked by players from the beginning.

“Right off the rim when I first started gripping it, I didn’t like it,” said 14-year NBA vet Steven Jackson, back in 2006. According to Ray Allen, “Overall, you see the league, shots aren’t like they used to be. Every player I’ve talked to, to a man is in disagreement with the ball.” Other stars such as Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Shaquille O’Neal also voiced their dislike of the new ball. So many complaints piled up that on December 11, the NBA officially did away with the new ball and returned to using the traditional leather Spalding ball.

This year the NBA has changed balls again and, although the change was not as radical as 15 years ago (just a change manufacturers of traditional leather balls), player complaints about the new Wilson brand balls not feeling “right” are beginning to mount.

Duncan Robinson of the Miami Heat had this to say on new NBA game ball, “If you handed me like blind-feel test, a Spalding and a Wilson, I would one thousand percent be able to tell the difference.”

Paul George of the LA Clippers commented, “It doesn’t have the same touch & softness that the Spalding ball had. You’ll see this year. A lot of bad misses. You’ve seen a lot of airballs.

Several Denver Nuggets players commented that the new ball felt a little more slippery than the Spalding balls with Nikola Jokic saying that sometimes he loses his grip on it when he plays.

Even Suns star Devin Booker mentioned the new ball last night following the Suns’ 112-100 win over the Pelicans:

That could at least partially explain why the Phoenix Suns field goal, three-point and free throw percentages are all down from the 2020-21 season... and well down in 3-pt (down 6.2%) and FT percentages (down 10.5%). As a matter of fact, league averages for FG% and 3-pt% are also down so far this season with FG% (44.7%) being the lowest since 2004 and 3-pt% (34.2%) being the lowest since 1999. Could the new ball be at least partially responsible for these drops?

Perhaps but unlike back in 2006, changing back to the old balls isn’t going to be an option as the league has signed a multi-year deal with Wilson. Whether the players like the new balls or not, they’re stuck with them. But the Wilson balls are not bad basketballs, just a little bit different than what the players are used to.

If the change to a new ball is responsible for the lower shooting percentages of both the Suns and other teams in the NBA, the problem will likely fade away as players grow more and more accustomed to playing with it. Hopefully all of the Suns players will get used to it very quickly and see their shooting percentages rise back to at least 2020-21 levels.