Over the last few seasons, the Phoenix Suns have increasingly used variations of three-player handoff actions — involving screens and handoffs, to get things rolling into action.
There is “Chicago” action, which is a screen that flows into a dribble handoff, and “Miami,” where a dribble handoff is followed in succession by a ball screen. Both of these actions fall under the “Zoom” umbrella of quick-hitting and flow-inducing actions.
Many teams use these actions, and the Suns are among the teams that do so on high volume — which should see even more of an uptick given the strengths in that context that the players on their roster possess.
From the big three to Allen, Gordon, and Watanabe — they have a bevy of players that benefit from being able to get actions flowing off movement.
These actions typically take place on the outer thirds of the floor.
A side note, but something else that is unique about the Suns, and something they leaned into more as Booker has seen more two to the ball, is running “Chicago” from the middle third — where it’s harder to be aggressive in the scheme, whether it’s two to the ball or an aggressive switch because there’s no assistance from the sideline.
This season, in totality, there’s been a steady diet of these actions occurrences, including from sideline out of bounds from the Suns.
Through nine games played, they’ve compiled a 1.083 points per possession mark for sideline out-of-bounds scenarios., which is good for a ninth-place mark across the NBA.
However, because their volume of play from this context is so high (tied for 5th most possessions, with 72), the PPS (points per shot) returns hold equally as relevant, which stands at 1.19, placing 3rd.
They’re averaging 8.7 points per game from here (4th best), scoring on 50.0% of plays from this offensive context (T-5), and were at 54.9% earlier this week, which was the best in the NBA, all per Synergy.
They’ve generated plenty of good-to-great shot quality and general looks at the cup, specifically via “Chicago,” from the sideline out-of-bounds context.
Let’s dive into exactly what is going on in this scenario, and how the Suns find ways to manipulate things in their favor via this quick hitter.
The pace on this one is slower due to the Lakers physicality, nonetheless, we see their dominos fall, in favor of solid Suns shot quality.
Durant comes off the handoff and sees two to the ball momentarily, which creates an isolated tag — forcing Reaves to tag the roller, and then recover to his original man with zero help.
It’s essentially a two-way closeout that’s forced here, and with Gordon lifting and spaced a few steps beyond the arc, the rotations stretched.
No basket, but you can see the process playing out.
Here, again against the Lakers, we see Davis now in a drop.
We also see a heavy isolated tag from Russell.
Solid screen chip after the handoff from Eubanks enables Durant to engage Davis, with pace, for a middy — high shot quality, mixing in movement.
Customarily and on brand, we see switching from the Jazz.
Collins is detached from Durant as the action starts, which sees Sexton aggressive with his switch up the line.
We see the Suns counter to the next action with great pace, which is now an emptied side pitch into pick-and-roll, with guess who, now stationed one pass away in the opposite slot?
That naturally enables a middle driving lane for Gordon, as Sexton won’t truly commit on his jab at or dig, simply off Durant’s presence.
Gordon blows by Collins on the mismatch and is undeterred at the nail due to Durant’s positioning in spacing.
Sixers present a new coverage in it here, with a different switch, as Nurse leans into Philadelphia’s defensive versatility and allows Embiid to help in flattening out actions.
Oubre has a lapse at the mesh point, and Melton is ancy with his tag to get back to a hot shooting Allen.
Meanwhile, the low man (Harris) is preoccupied with navigating the exit screen, and Durant hits Nurkic after an early slip from the big fella after processing the coverage.
No basket but again, the shot quality plus the Suns processing through it all exemplifies how compromising their action is.
The Sixers go with the same switch again, from the other sideline.
Durant is patient this time, and the ball boomerangs back to him after heavy elbow protection in support from Maxey discourages a Durant drive right.
On the get back, a great jab and rip over the top, plus a tight angle held, enables him freedom after attacking the top foot.
Beverley muddies the flow here as he top-locks Durant.
Suns process well through it still, as Allen adjusts his screen accordingly.
Durant then has two to the ball as he stretches that.
Meanwhile, the isolated tag from Korkmaz is both late and behind the Nurkic seal-into-roll with the reverse pivot.
Durant’s on schedule with his processing and delivery, and there are two more.
Against Detroit now, we see great screen navigation from Stewart (on Durant) paired with a bad screen angle from Gordon, which flattens out Durant’s attack.
That’s doubled down on by the early elbow show in support from Cunningham.
Smart pin-in from Bates-Diop and lift from Allen as they process the defense frees him for three.
A triple switch now, from Detroit, see’s Durant with an opportunity against a late-closing center, in Duren.
It also sees more elbow support from Cunningham, who Durant is able to beat on the split as well, keeping the ball high (Dwayne Wade style).
The pin-in, again, is there on the second side, and a strategic seal from Nurki eliminates any other help.
Good denial from Stewart here flattens out the action, but like earlier, look at the pace into the next action + Durant’s gravity enabling an advantage, one pass away.
Allen gets downhill so quickly, after the pitch and screen from Eubanks, which forces a late-switch, and ultimately sees the big man as the recipient of his detailed work.
We had been seeing pin-in/exit screens set to leverage and manipulate space, while also holding the attention of the weak side.
Here, we see an “exchange” do the trick, as, with Watanabe and Goodwin swapping positions, it forces communication and/or swapping of defensive roles.
Meanwhile, Durant’s attacking another center, odd that switch, with zero help at the nail or opposing elbow.
That’s a ton of space for him to navigate, against a mismatch.
Lastly, we see Grayson Allen as the handler, and a high shot quality is still created.
Now, this isn’t good screen navigation from Cunningham, as he dies on screens twice.
Nonetheless, look at where Eric Gordon is, as he’s spaced at the 4-point line, and his man has both toes on the line as Allen comes off.
That is a major gap for Allen to get through, especially as the Pistons have a lapse at the point of the handoff.
This is a simple yet consistently compromising three-player action that the Suns blend into their offensive process, inbounding the ball with the intent of flowing into points.
They have numerous player combinations they can play in this action with, with players at multiple spots in spacing or in action.
We saw them force switches, work against aggressive switches, triple switches, aggressive off-ball coverage, early help, and two to the ball.
As they better the pace here, and get into even more backdoor counters as teams play aggressively against Booker or Beal, this quick hitter will be sure to remain a staple that keeps defenses in compromising situations — without a win in decision-making.