With Chris Paul now out for the near future with a groin strain, Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams is planning to turn to Cameron Payne, Terrence Ross and T.J. Warren for more scoring around stalwarts Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
Here’s Monty Williams referring to Ross and Warren after practice today, to our good friend and colleague Gerald Bourguet.
“Those are two guys that could see significantly more time,” Williams said of T.J. Warren and Terrence Ross.
“Those are two guys that could see significantly more time.”— PHNX Suns (@PHNX_Suns) May 3, 2023
Monty Williams confirms Terrence Ross and T.J. Warren could get more run in Game 3 to provide more offense alongside Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, and that they’ll live with “whatever warts may come with that”: pic.twitter.com/LBuOauzGXi
The guys that Williams had hoped to be his scorers off the bench in these playoffs have failed badly. Landry Shamet is making only 26% of his shots and Damion Lee is making only 20%. They combine for only 3.5 points on 5 shots in 24 minutes a night so far. Over 7 games. Combined.
With the Suns down 0-2 to Denver and the prospect of the season being over as early as Sunday night, it’s time to pivot.
“I could do a better job of putting more scorers on the floor and putting up whatever warts may come with that,” Williams said after practice between Games 2 and 3.
- More scorers == more points from guys not named Booker, Durant or Ayton
- Warts == worse defense
Let’s set aside the fact that the Suns had the top offense and below-average defense in these playoffs before Monday’s game. Most of that offense was coming from two guys: Devin Booker (35.4 points per game) and Kevin Durant (27.9) accounted for 45% of the Suns scoring.
Now Chris Paul — the one creating the 3rd (via assists) and 4th (his own points) leading scorers — goes down and you’ve got yourself a crisis of scoring.
As a team, the Suns only got 28 points in the last 17 minutes of Game 2 after Paul went down. They started the fourth quarter missing nine straight shots, and for the game the bench was only 2 of 16 from the field.
Hence the pivot to Ross and Warren. You can tell that Monty Williams is only making this change because of the Paul injury, though.
“Those kinds of decisions (to sit Warren and Ross due to defensive/scheme limitations) only hurt you when you have an injury,” Williams said to Gerald, of taking Ross and Warren out of the rotation so far. “You wish you could have gotten those guys a bit more reps to prepare for that.”
However we got here, it appears we will see a few different players in Game 3 than we’ve been over the first seven games.
Payne is the obvious choice for an expanded role to replace Chris Paul’s minutes. Even though he himself is only making 30% of his shots for 2.3 points per appearance, he has a history of delivering in these moments for the Suns.
Ross and Warren are the mild surprises. If you don’t play them until you find yourself down 0-2 and lost your 4th leading scorer to injury, you’re just throwing stuff at the wall hoping something will stick. Williams has already gone 11 deep in his rotation, and now he’s going even deeper.
Why haven’t proven NBA scorers Ross and Warren played much yet?
The Suns offensive and defensive schemes are very team oriented — everyone playing their part like they’re connected by string — and neither Ross nor Warren have made a career in those kinds of schemes. With the Suns late in the regular season, they too often lost their rotation assignments mid-possession and regularly got singled out on defense by the opponents. That’s those warts Monty is talking about.
But at least Ross and Warren are proven scorers. Ross has a career average of 11 points per game. Warren has a career average of 14.6. They can not only drain 40+% of their catch-and-shoot threes but they can also generate their own shot off the dribble. That’s important in the playoffs where ‘assist rates’ go down across the board because well-prepared, playoff level teams are so good at cutting off passing lanes and easy shots.
Yet they haven’t gotten on the floor... until now.
Let’s hope their scoring offsets what they give up on defense. If they can do that, the Suns may just be able to keep their season alive a little longer than this weekend.