One of the most fun watching points in the NBA playoffs each year is seeing how teams are able to adjust from game-to-game within a series.
After a game one that ended up closer than the game felt – holding a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter in a game they led wire-to-wire – the Phoenix Suns don’t have a ton of schematic fixes to make against the Dallas Mavericks, but there are a few relatively easy ones that Monty Williams and the Suns can make.
Minimal/zero minutes for JaVale McGee
Given his inability to effectively defend Doncic and Kleber in game 1, it’s clear that this isn’t the series for McGee, and that’s okay.
Looking at the tracking data on NBA.com for game one, McGee gave up 17 points (6-9 shooting) in under five minutes of defense played. The only Suns to give up more points did so in much higher minute totals; Bridges – 19 (7-15) in 15:53 – and Ayton – 19 (7-17) in 13:04.
As a replacement, I look to Bismack Biyombo if you want to stay big in the second unit. Biyombo does a much better job moving his feet on the perimeter, and he played the Mavs really well in his lone opportunity; while Mavs were pre-trade, Biyombo only allowed 7 points in 11:46 in the Jan. 20 meeting.
I’m ready for Ish Wainright playoff minutes if Dallas tries to assert their small-ball lineups, too. Torrey Craig, the other option for small-ball 5 has been dreadful for most of the playoffs, and our John Voita was even calling for the “Wainright over Craig” change since last series.
“Ish might not bring the experience that Craig has, but for 10 minutes a game, his physicality might have an effect on the opposition. His 6’6”, 250 pound frame may be beneficial in moving the Pelicans off of their spots and snagging a few boards.”
Asserting Ayton vs small lineups
ESPN’s Tim McMahon pointed out that Dallas may have struck gold with a small ball-heavy fourth quarter in game one. The two Mavs “centers”, Powell and Kleber, played just a combined 1:48 in the fourth, and Dallas was +10 in the 10:12 with neither on the floor.
Ayton, himself, was a -7 in the final frame and accounted for 3 rebounds and no other counting stats; scoreless on 0-4 shooting. The Suns need him to do a better job against those lineups.
Sometimes that added schematic effort takes the form of forcing the issue in the pick-and-roll, but there are actions that Ayton can run off the ball as well, like this downhill curl after a handoff that left him wide open under the basket for a moment, but the Suns were unable to get him the ball in time for the easy bucket.
Ayton made two thirds of his hook shots this season, as well, so he should be able to force the issue himself against smaller defenders like 6-foot-7, 220-pound Finney-Smith who is usually the de facto small ball 5 for Dallas.
What are the schematic adjustments you’re looking for from these Suns?