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Phoenix Suns appear to be focused on attacking the rim this season

What was a weakness may now be a strength.

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The start of the 2022-23 campaign for the Phoenix Suns has been exciting. They’ve defeated three teams that many believe have a shot at winning the Western Conference, including both teams that appeared in the Western Conference Finals a season ago.

Strengths that existed last year still exist, and weaknesses that were concerns for the team have yet to come to fruition. It was these weaknesses that, at least in the mind of this writer, were going to result in early season frustrations. And who knows? We’re only four games into the season. It is a small sample size.

What we have seen, however, are the results of a true off-season for Monty Williams and his coaching staff. They had the time to address schematic opportunities for this team, implement them, and reap the rewards.

A season ago the Suns lacked the aggressiveness – and maybe the ability? – to attack the interior of opposing teams’ defenses and take the ball to the cylinder with consistency. Phoenix drove the ball to the hoop 42 times per game. They attempted 24.2 shots-per-game inside of 5 feet. They attempted 19.9 free throws.

Although the team won 64 wins, it was one deficiency that magnified in the postseason. They drove 38.6 times during the playoffs, attempted 22.9 shots inside of 5 feet, and averaged 18.9 free throw attempts.

Attacking the rim puts pressure on the defense. Plain and simple. Think of Joel Embiid. How do you feel when he takes a jumper versus when he attacks the basket?

Free throws are just that: an opportunity for free points. They don’t involve schematic adjustments or designed sets to be successful. All it takes is putting the opposition into a situation in which a foul is called, and when you get the bonus (or an and-1 situation), you’re shooting free throws.

The postseason is a completely different beast. Every possession carries so much weight. Every point is amplified by the moment. Having the ability to get to the line not only puts pressure on the opposition from a foul trouble standpoint, it releases the tension created in the flow of the game. It allows players to take a slight mental rest, and when it’s your team at the line, I’m guessing some positive endorphins occur.

The early part of this season, again understanding that four games is a small sample size, it appears that the Suns have made a conscious decision to take the ball at the defense. Through four games, they have driven the ball 45 games each game (+3 as compared to last season), shot the ball inside 5 feet 27.3 times (+3.1) and taken 22.3 free throw attempts (+2.4).

They are attacking the rim with a higher frequency, and as a result they’re getting to the line. Deandre Ayton, and Jock Landale have both made it a point to be present in the paint. In doing, so they have freed up their fellow teammates to make runs at the rim.

When you possess quickness like Cameron Payne or ball handling skills like Devin Booker, you can beat your defender off the dribble and begin your attack. Due to the fact that both Ayton and Landale are in that area, their defender has to make a decision.

Sometimes, if you’re Draymond Green, that decision is to push a defender into a driving Cameron Johnson. What a piece of shit.

The Suns are taking advantage of these mismatches and scoring easy points.

By attacking the opposition you put them in foul trouble. Deandre Ayton actually did this in the first quarter on Tuesday! Kevon Looney had two fouls within the first 3:23 of the game due to DA’s aggressiveness and willingness to put pressure in the paint. I want more of that!

It’s early, and we will continue to monitor if this is a fad or a trend for the Suns. Have they truly made an adjustment to impose their will on the opposition rather than sit back and try to win with jumpers? Or are they actively looking to get to the line this year?

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