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Stephen’s Study: Points in the Paint remain a Pain, Ayton’s Soft Touch, and Defensive Woes

Suns loss to the Wizards saw a weakness exploited, again.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns saw another matchup where they failed to have the requisite resistance to slow their opponents enough for a fighting chance in the end. The closers were pulled with 2:45 left in the fourth, as the Washington Wizards expanded upon their lead coming into the final frame.

1.) Points Allowed in the Paint

In December the Suns have gone 5-10. A large part of their issues resides in the absence of health they’ve endured.

Independent of that, they’ve lacked consistent efforts to close defensive possessions. They sustain initial stops and do a solid job of containing the ball defensively, however, the most important parts of defense are controlling the paint and rebounding.

To that point, this month, they’re 26th in points allowed in the paint (53.1). In tandem, they’re also 27th in opposing 2nd chance points (15.7).

That is also exactly what hurt them yesterday as the Wizards compiled 60 points in the paint, to go with 15-second chance points.

Their points in the paint scoring, by quarter:

  • 18
  • 14
  • 12
  • 16

The Suns were a minus-32 in “PITP” and that’s the general difference in the game. Even more, the Suns had just six attempts at the rim (by far their lowest number in the season), compared to 20 for the Wizards (on 19 makes).

Those numbers paint the picture regarding the lack of effort the Suns saw in walling off the paint from dribble drives, as well as boxing out consistently.

Now there was surely at least *some* pertaining to their scheduling demand (tail end of a road back-to-back), however, this became a sustained issue in this rendition of the team.

2.) Ayton with a(nother) Solid Showing

Deandre Ayton tallied his third 31-point showing on the season. Even more, it was his second against the Wizards.

He’s been knocking down his mid-range shots from near the free throw line with regularity and has found a go-to while going against drop defenders who wait at the rim for his roll. He’s begun stopping his roll short, near the free throw line, and getting into his array of soft touch shots, and they’ve fallen with consistency.

Since he returned from his two-game absence in mid-December, he’s up to 22.8 PPG on 61.5% from two, and 10.3 RPG.

He’s at a usage percentage of 24.8 (90th percentile), and his mid-range attempts account for 63% of his attempts (98th percentile). That’s accompanied by a 53% mark, ranking in the 67th percentile.

He’s getting the job done by operating at a frequency that’s needed offensively.

He’s seen slightly more plays called, and also being sought after more in the half-court (by teammates rather than just Paul).

If entry passes hadn’t failed to be executed so often, he’d have a chance to be north of 25 PPG in this window.

Nonetheless, he’s providing, and the Suns have needed it as their sole paint presence.

3.) Defense, or the lack thereof

The Suns registered their worst defensive efficiency mark of the season in their loss to the Wizards.

141.9 points per 100 possessions is atrocious, and by far their worst showing this season. Condense it specifically to the half-court (against a set defense), where the Suns did a much better job of keeping the Wizards, the woes were troublesome yet again. They’d allow 113.3, their fifth worse mark.

These numbers are swelled courtesy of the offensive boards conceded, but the Suns also had a handful of defensive lapses in this one.

There’s a trend of them struggling against teams that can provide size, via multiple bodies, in the frontcourt. Gafford-Gibson, Adams-Jackson Jr.-Clarke, Jokic-Gordon-Najee, Williamson-Valanciunas-Nance Jr., these styles and types of pairings that are solid in “moving furniture” in the paint have presented an impactful challenge, and have swayed the outcome of games consistently.

The Suns have a need for size and activity in their forward/center group that they presently do not have, and even when healthy, their present rendition would succumb to this dynamic presented by opponents.

This is a weakness, in stature and size in the frontcourt court, they need to have addressed at the deadline as well.

Up Next: A trip north of the border tonight, to Toronto, with the reeling Raptors.

Over the last two weeks, they’ve been a bottom-third team in the league in terms of record. At 2-5 in this window, they’re 19th in offensive efficiency and 26th in defensive efficiency.

Nonetheless, and especially while undermanned, this is a game the Suns will have to go and earn. This is still a well-coached team with a litany of scheme and gameplan versatility at the hands of Nick Nurse. They also have a top-end paint presence in Pascal Siakam, who can wreak havoc in a multitude of ways in the painted area.

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