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Stephen’s Study: Quick takeaways from the Suns dramatic win in New York

Bookers usage continues to evolve, in addition to the usage of guards screening, and the Suns execution after timeouts are a bit of what stood out to me in their win over the Knicks.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New York Knicks Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns are now on a seven-game win streak following a win in Madison Square Garden where they saw more elite offensive play and processing. It marked their 6th game over this win streak, and 4th in a row now, where they registered a half-court offensive rating in the triple digits, and that ranked in the 76th percentile or better for this season.

They finished with a 106.6 mark in the half-court for this one, even with having spent 80.5% of their possessions against the Knicks set defense. On the season, their half-court offensive rating now ranks 5th (101.9), and during this win streak, they’re 1st (112.2).

Let’s dive into some of what caught my eye in this one.

1.) Booker Working Off-Ball + a “Twist” to their Pick-and-roll Approach

Lost in the usage and growths of Devin Booker and his processing as a playmaker on-ball, as well as his unique blending of his on-ball scoring in addition to the playmaking, has been his abilities off-ball.

Though his usage in this context is low, via catch-and-shoots, his points per shot mark tied for 24th in the league, at 1.43. The points per possession mark for him on possessions that see him in a catch-and-shoot scenario ranks excellent as well, at 1.429 — 25th in the league.

These are slightly skewed, again, given his low usage in these contexts so far this season, but Booker is a player with off-ball at his foundation.

He compiled his most possessions on the season working off screens against the Knocks, with five.

His ability to effectively toggle these roles throughout games will be important to the Suns general offensive prowess and will be enabled even more so when the Suns are healthy.

Baking this blended usage into their process more — especially as they grow healthy and whole — adds yet another layer to an ultra-dynamic offensive unit. The Suns offensive attack can take on multiple different looks over 48 minutes, from heavy pick-and-roll to off-ball and second-side optimization, to inverting play with post splits, traditional post-ups, to isolation play.

Additionally, when he does have the ball offensively, pick-and-roll has become a context he’s also elite.

I’ve spoken and written about how he’s transitioned from reading and reacting, to manipulating his evolution quite a bit already. He’s finding his preferred “Waldo” in these scenarios, keeping them in action either directly, or making them make decisions in rotation.

He’s going into these scenarios, processing the defense + personnel + coverage, and pulling strings in manners that Chris Paul has — keeping opponents in “can’t be right” and compromising situations, on repeat.

Frank Vogel mentioned last week that Devin Booker has “downloaded Chris Paul’s brain,” and that entails just how well Booker is processing the game at this moment and time.

Unsurprisingly, a winning streak has ensued with the return of Devin Booker to the rotation, and the execution of their offensive process + usages/featuring of him within it have remained impressive.

Things get easier alleviating pressure on him when Kevin Durant returns, as well as Bradley Beal, nonetheless, these are still great reps indicative of Booker’s evolution, and the Suns general offensive process — that’s sure to see abundances (re)infused soon.

2.) After Time-Out Play

The Suns presently average 14.5 points per game in “After Time-Out” scenarios (directly after timeouts + “BOQ” beginning of quarters, with the stoppage in play between frames equating to a time-out as well).

That mark ranks 3rd in the NBA.

A ton of detail goes into these scenarios: Who’s hot? Who do we need to get going? How will they guard this action? Who do we involve in this action? What coverage have they been in? And so on…

Finding sustained success out of these scenarios, and even generally scoring outside of the initially called play, is a layer of execution that contending teams simply have.

This one has been used as a general set for Durant, Booker, and Beal, in the flow of the game.

Here, they go to it ATO, with their traditional and signature “Elbow” action out of Horns.

As Booker crosses, though, notice how Metu runs the baseline, and the Suns subsequently shape-shift the court balance in re-spacing. Ultimately, they manipulate space, as now Booker has that entire half of the floor to himself in isolation.

Booker assesses the defense and hears the double team cue from Thibodeau (knowing it’s coming from the passer).

Notice the timing of his drive, though.

After the initial “overload” early help leaves, as well as Hartenstein resetting the defensive three-second clock as he “2.9’s,” Booker then turns the corner going baseline.

Additionally, this pump fake, and playing off two feet from it (!) nets him access to an overexposed defender, and he generates free throws.

This one’s a miss, but the green shot quality generated is abundant.

Notice the timing of everything here, from when Gordon turns the corner when Booker screens Nurkic’s man, and how that combines to pull the lowman — Jalen Brunson — in, as well as Eric Gordon’s timing of the pass.

Spain pick-and-roll is so compromising for this exact reason, it’s organized chaos at its finest.

A miss, but a high-quality shot comes from the sideline call here.

I speak on the former part of this play being used in the ATO film session below, but we can see the defensive adjustment in the Knicks guards switching the post splits here, flattening out the attack, and how the Suns make do in the “next” action.

A late clock handoff and the exchange gets “redded” (late clock switch everything call), and Goodwin threatens downhill before the pullback to counter anticipation, knocking down a timely three.

Then, for the game, all the bookmarks compiled over the prior 47 minutes came into play.

Simple “get” or “hand back” action happens after the anticipated double, and Booker concedes the ball initially knowing there’s time left to get it back.

The double causes a rotation, ultimately tasking Randle to protect downhill as Booker gets the ball back, but he’s in rhythm to his strong hand and can cash out in grand fashion with the coolness of all-time greats that have preceded him.

Attention to detail combined with execution and completion of task in these scenarios is something the Suns should be able to dictate with consistently, and seeing the effects and impacts from it through this early portion of the season suggest it’ll be an entity they’ll dictate from with regularity going forward.

Film Sessions

As always, all of my film sessions can be found at my “Suns Film” playlist, on my YouTube page. Most videos are included on my posts, but sometimes the Film Sessions fly solo, so feel free to subscribe to the channel and see those as they’re updated!

Up Next: the Suns trek north of the border, to take on the scrappy Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

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