A contentious contest with two contenders squared off to cap the Christmas Day slate of games and it turned out to be the quite entertaining!
An early re-aggravation saw Devin Booker exit just four minutes in, however the Phoenix Suns would put forth their best showing in this recent stretch, though it would result in an overtime loss in Denver, 128-125.
1.) Time in Task
For the fourth game in a row, Landry Shamet was able to have an impact past what grew to be his “norm.”
He’d put together yet another 31-point performance, in a game that demanded just that from him. He’d also do so via 7-17 shooting from deep. That makes for four consecutive games in double-digit scoring, four straight with four or more makes from deep, and also three straight with double-digit attempts from range.
He’s emphasized an encouraged and increased level of aggression and has certainly bought into this method and approach.
His dynamic in spacing, spot-up shooting, and movement shooting have been as great as ever as a member of the Suns.
Over the last four games, he’s at 22.5 PPG on 44.5% from deep (on 12.5 attempts). Even more, he’s at 45.7% via 8.8 catch-and-shoot attempts per game. Then, he’s also at 40% on 3.8 pull-up attempts from deep too.
On Sunday night, he came in in place of Devin Booker and absolutely brought it.
This level of play was and has been timely, but clearly isn’t sustainable.
What is sustainable, however, is the dynamic of his shooting versatility (spot up or of movement, from range), the level he’s competing at, and the general level of aggression he’s shown.
He’s been playing a lot more off of feel, rather than trying not to make mistakes, and the result has been a whole lot more production from him.
Update: Unfortunately, Shamet has now been added to the Suns long injury list with a sore achilles tendon. He will miss at least Tuesday’s game vs. Memphis.
In the last Stephen’s Study, I mentioned that the Suns had been lacking their signature competing level that makes them viable against anyone, regardless of who is or isn’t in the lineup.
It certainly resurfaced on Christmas Day. We saw ample moments of multiple efforts where defensive rotations weren't just made, but made with activity. We also saw forced shot clock violations as well as players in solid positioning against the top-end talents of the Denver Nuggets.
We also saw comeback efforts with ferocity from this team, sustaining stops but competing on the offensive end and a general sense of “not letting go of the rope,” and making way for them to have a chance in the end.
This one fell to OT, and was a loss, yes. This team is also far too good for moral victories, also true. However, solace can be found in “how” a loss comes about.
"9 out of the last 13 are Ls, and that's not us. I think tonight, we can sleep well tonight because we fought, and that's our norm. We played hard."— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) December 26, 2022
Deandre Ayton after #Suns OT loss at #Nuggets. Talked earlier about matchup with Nikola Jokic.
"It's the battle of the titans.' pic.twitter.com/wpziMjPL7O
Sans Booker, Johnson, Payne and Crowder (or Crowder replacements), this team went on the road and competed with the current best team in the Western Conference.
Of course, losing isn’t ideal, especially at the frequency they’ve seen losses of late, but this was the best start-to-finish effort we’ve seen from this group, in this present rendition, in this stretch.
There was a connectivity that didn’t waver much until the closing minutes of overtime, and that is something to build off of.
3.) Efficient Playmaking
Sometimes your greatness can “work against you,” after it’s become a sustained standard. Years ago, Chris Paul ascended to this realm of greatness, especially in the realm of point guard play.
On Christmas, the Point God had 16 assists and zero turnovers. Not much of a peep was said about it.
Having a usage north of 30 (31.3 to be exact) and not a blemish to your playmaking is unrivaled.
To be accountable for 46.4% of your team’s offensive output (17 points and 41 assist points) and not have a single turnover is very much a Chris Paul thing to do. To have it hardly go noticed also is a thing unique to Chris.
They came via set plays, off-script plays, manipulating angles in transition, and off of general feel in pick-and-roll.
His scoring and his efficiencies have been up and down in the last six games, however, his playmaking has been ever-present.
In this window, he has 59 assists and just seven turnovers.
His scoring touch and feel, especially from the midrange, and the elbows even more so, will return.
As he blends that with his playmaking and typical efficiencies, he will resemble the all-around Point God that he’s been much more often than not over the past couple of seasons.
Up Next: A rematch, this time on the road, with the Memphis Grizzlies.