But did you notice the Suns are focusing a lot more on drawing contact this preseason? They actually finished preseason with the second-highest free throw attempt rate at 35% of all shots getting a foul call.
Before you discount ‘it’s preseason’, they were 28th in preseason FTRate last year. In the regular season, they were 28th, 29th, and 29th in FTRate the last three years.
Free throws aren’t the end-all-to-beat-all, of course. The LA Lakers lapped the league in free throws last year and won fewer games than the MASH unit Suns. In fact, last year’s third, fourth, and fifth-highest FTRate teams (Mavericks, Pistons, Magic) didn’t even make the playoffs.
The difference between the Suns and those teams, though, is that the Suns can shoot. The Suns have one of the best shooting lineups in the league with a Big Three of shotmakers in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal.
But free throws would be nice too, because they come with foul calls on the other team. Now there’s pressure on the other team to manage their physicality, force them into rotation changes when a player starts racking them up, and sometimes requires the opponent to change their whole defensive scheme around managing the damage: packing the paint with help, and forcing jump shots outside the lane.
Cue the side-smiles by Durant, Beal, and Booker. And the grin on Frank Vogel’s face as he anticipates supporting shooters Eric Gordon, Grayson Allen, Yuta Watanabe and others just waiting for wide-open kick outs as their defender sinks to the paint. And the grins on Nurkic, Eubanks and the cutters who can take advantage of a defense with heads turned away from them.
This all plays right into the Suns' hands.
Durant, Booker and Beal are best known as three of the greatest midrange shooters in the NBA, but did you also know that they live at the free throw line too? This ain’t last year’s Suns. Booker gets 7 FTs a game. Durant gets 6. Beal gets 5+. You’re already at 18 there before even considering Jusuf Nurkic, Drew Eubanks, Eric Gordon, Grayson Allen, Josh Okogie and others who have been aggressive driving into the defense on single coverage.
This isn’t last year’s Suns, folks.
You’ll see a ton of jump shooting, of course. This team will cook from the outside. But you’re also going to see a lot more action in the pain, forcing contact and getting the other team on their heels, too.