Merry Christmas Eve, Suns fans! In the interest of self-care, forget about the Friday game for a few moments and think about the big picture. The Phoenix Suns are still only one win behind the conference leaders through today with almost 50 games to go, and have one of the league’s best offenses. Let’s dive into how they get their points to kick off games.
Prior to Friday night, the last three games have seen the Phoenix Suns score on their first possession.
They typically do a great job - as arguably the best half court attack in the league over the past three seasons - with getting a defense to tip their hands in coverage via their first offensive possession.
They do so by blending a good amount of player and ball movement, tugging at the strings of the opposing defense as they gather information (oftentimes, to then use to their advantage via counters, in crunch time, to patterns a defense has seen throughout a game and on their scouting reports).
vs New Orleans
Here, the Suns have Devin Booker as well as Chris Paul and Mikal Bridges in the fold and use some of their strengths as an advantage.
So, we see Paul as the passer, Bridges as the curl man, Biyumbo as the screener multiple times, and Booker as the shooter being freed.
This is a ton of activity to be tasked with defending at any point, but especially to start a game.
It enables the Suns to see that the Pelicans are indeed switching off-ball screens (or at the very least, switching vs curls), and are protecting the paint.
vs Los Angeles
Next, we’ll see more Bilbao action out of their Horns-Elbow set. This time, the personnel’s different. It’ll involve Paul, Lee, Bridges, and Ayton.
Alright, there’s good communication from the Lakers defense off-ball. You can see Beverly (guarding Bridges) indicate early to Walker IV (guarding Lee) to stick with his man as he curls the flare.
Beverly then revs up to chase Bridges.
This one doesn’t see much separation, however, as Ayton fails to make contact with either of the cutters’ defenders.
He does make up for it, though. After the Suns keep their flow by transitioning into the next action, “Zoom” or “Chicago” (a screen for a cutter that flows into a hand-off).
Ayton goes off-script late in the clock and displays some sweet footwork and dexterity, via a rip-and-go, then spin into a half-hook shot, for two.
This was a great example of “keeping your flow,” in both transitioning to the next action after the initial is defended, as well as playing outside the play in improvisation.
At least two-thirds of the league struggles in that dynamic of half court offense, and this was a playoff-style rep, because, come that time of the season, defenses and scouting will force sets to be run more crisply and thoroughly.
Transitioning to the final rep, we will have Paul, Bridges, Lee, and Ayton involved in “Twirl” action, via staggered (or double) away alignment.
The Suns quickly realize that the Wizards see locking-and-trailing off-ball, as Avdija never hesitates on the trail of Lee’s curl.
We then see Kuzma (defending Bridges) shoot the gap here to meet Bridges on the other side. Ayton and Bridges could certainly do a much better job making this part of the play more effective, or even flipping this into a flare as Mikal is usually great at countering when defenders shoot the gap. Nonetheless, they do a great job, again, not losing their flow and transitioning into what then becomes pick-and-roll with an emptied side of the floor.
Craig comes up with his first of five offensive rebounds, Paul resets, then finds Bridges - who’s shooting 40.7% on catch-and-shoot from deep - and knocks it down with a quick trigger.
It’s been fun to see the Suns not just go immediately to pick-and-roll (or Spain pick-and-roll, though it’s my favorite) right away.
They force Intel to be conceded from the opposition early and often, enabling their foundation and flow to also be established offensively, via meticulous operation out of the gate.