The Phoenix Suns are an incredibly strong basketball team, as one might expect of a team with the league’s best record deep in December. They have a top 5 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and a top 5 defensive rating (points allowed per 100). They have a deep bench and up to 4 or 5 players capable of shouldering the scoring load on a given night.
But no team is perfect. As the season edges on toward the midway mark, is it worth it for the Suns to risk upsetting what they have going to try to improve on their few weaknesses? Well...what are those weaknesses? Let’s take a look at a couple of identifiable ones, not in order of importance necessarily.
The Suns do not shoot many free throws, ranking only 24th in the NBA in this area. I believe this is not due to some sort of anti-Suns bias (the Suns are actually pretty good in the fouls category) but because the Suns’ primary scorers are either living in the midrange more and seeking contact less than other teams’ superstars (Devin Booker and ESPECIALLY Chris Paul) or are primarily catch and shoot guys who tend to draw little contact.
The good news is that the Suns are #10 in the NBA in hitting free throws, and that free throw attempts do not correlate all that closely with team success. The Houston Rockets currently lead the league in FTAs per 100, and they are....not great.
The only really easy way to fix this would be for Deandre Ayton to start getting to the line more. He ranks 14th among NBA centers at 2.8 FTAs per game, while being 9th in minutes. This isn’t bad, but there is room for improvement when it’s such low-hanging fruit: Ayton shouldn’t be scoring fewer points at the line than Jarrett Allen, Montrezl Harrell, or Alperen Sengun.
So while it’s true that the Suns are scoring a couple of points fewer per 100 than Western Conference rival Utah at the charity stripe, I think this is a “weakness” we can live with.
It seems weird to say this after having just made the point that so many Suns players are basically catch and shoot guys...but the Suns aren’t really a high level three point shooting team. The Suns rank 28th in the NBA in three point attempts per 100 at only 31 attempts per. This is a real gap between other top teams in the West when you consider that even on a real PER GAME basis, the Suns attempt about 10 fewer threes than the Warriors and about 12 fewer than the Jazz.
Again, this is a function of the Suns living in the midrange. The difference between the Suns and the Warriors/Jazz in this area is stark. The Suns rank #2 in the NBA in shots from 10-16 feet with about 14% of the team’s field goal attempts falling in that range. The Jazz rank #27 and the Warriors #29, both around 6% of team shot attempts.
This makes the Suns a throwback club flouting the conventional wisdom that the three point shot is the kingmaker in the modern NBA. The Suns are #3 in the NBA in true shooting at an impressive 57%. But the Warriors are #2 at 59% and the Jazz tops at 60%. And we’ve probably found the reason why.
Does this matter a lot? Hard to say for sure. But in a tight playoff series where the outcome is balanced on the edghe of a knife, every little bit of efficiency might make the difference. It might be worth the Suns figuring out how to get off a couple of extra quality triples a game.
So what can be done?
If this all seems like nitpicking, it’s because it is. The Suns are the best team in the NBA right now, and they just don’t have a bunch of glaring weaknesses that seem to be crying out to be addressed. I don’t expect the Suns to be entirely quiet on roster moves the rest of the season, but I don’t think James Jones will or needs to make any serious move to address these things. Some small schematic changes aimed at producing a few more quality deep looks rather than midrange opportunities for Paul or Booker may be appropriate, and it may (as ever) be appropriate to try to coax Ayton to play a bit more physically on the offensive end.
Whether another team can find a specific mismatch or strategy to knock off the Suns in a playoff series remains to be seen. But this is a very good team we’ve got here, and their armor has few areas to be exploited in the macro.