The Phoenix Suns and Josh Okogie have found themselves in a bit of a dilemma at times over the last few seasons. The value he’s provided defensively, and in all extra effort dynamics of the game, has been invaluable. By the same token, how he’s defended in teams (drastically) gapping off him to support against primary actions, has been a riddle for the Suns to solve.
Okogie, in his tenure with Phoenix, has been a 31% shooter. In his career, he’s at just 28.8%.
This era where shooting and spacing are what sell tickets and stress a defense most, has made it seemingly difficult for teams to find offensive value in the players who cannot serve as a threat to the defense from range.
Independent of shooting, spacing is the most valued entity of offense these days. In that, has developed ways to use players — even centers — who don’t particularly pose a threat in space to shoot, to occupy certain areas of the floor for functionality.
Take Robert Williams III, here:
Those Celtics teams had White/Brown/Tatum that could execute in these scenarios, with him.
Or Bam Adebayo here, for instance:
Those Heat teams had Butler/Struss/Herro/Robinson/Vincent/Lowry to execute in these scenarios, with him.
Or the best comparison piece for Okogie of these three here, in Draymond Green:
Those Warriors teams had Curry/Thompson/Poole/Wiggins to do so with him. Notice also how well and how much pace they generate, leveraging the coverage conceded to Green into an advantage that optimizes him but also creates a 2v1 advantage — with movement and pace — within their offensive flow.
What do these four players, in Williams III, Adebayo, Green, and Okogie, have in common? For one, the best values they provide come on the defensive side of the floor. For two, they aren’t the best three-point shooters on their respective teams, lending themselves to teams gapping off them defensively. For three, they’re skilled and are — within the offensive contexts they're featured in — insulated with offensive pieces around them that excel playing off movement, for shots or to get downhill, enabling them scenarios to set, maintain, or execute in an advantages, cyclically.
In a handful of the plays above, we saw play flow to these players because they were left open to provide help on the better offensive pieces they’re surrounded by.
I’ve spoken (ad nauseam) about Josh Okogie being better utilized/featured within the Suns offense — this is what it looks like.
Everyone knows he’s not a player that will garner long closeouts, or make his check think twice about peeling in early defensively to shrink the floor. It’s on coaching to find a way to best utilize all of the pieces consistently featured in a rotation — to optimize the team.
Everyone has a niche, and carving those enrities out will expedite the process for them offensively, and enable the requisite skills needed for them to get closer to peak efficiency offensively.
For Okogie and the Suns, we saw it occur against the Heat.
This is it for Okogie: played off in Miami’s rotations and coverage of him, so he’s making a quick decision and it’s tandemized to optimize Booker, bring two to the ball, and quickly create another advantage for the Suns to play in — netting Grayson Allen great shot quality for a new career-high in three-point makes in a game.
Taking into account what we saw above, and the functionality that comes with those pieces (Williams III/Adebayo/Green) being able to connect, and apply the results garnered to how Okogie executes here.
No, he doesn’t get a direct assist. Functionality-wise, though, look at what stems from him quickly connecting with Booker on the perimeter, helping to generate pace and flow after the initial action is flattened out.
Notice finally, the second side shot quality that comes from it.
So now we see just that happen here, & look at the pace + reaction from the defense + shot quality that stems from it— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) January 6, 2024
Great skip from Booker to stretch the rotations — leading to Grayson Allen's career high 9th 3PM tonight https://t.co/pOnT11Quk6 pic.twitter.com/1IP9PYuLnz
This is it for Okogie and his usage within the Suns offense, allows him to be the “Draymond-esque” piece to add yet another dynamic layer to their attack.
Let’s also apply this playmaking context for him, in another example, with the initial play seen at the bottom of the tweet above.
Notice how he plays in read and react as the Heat anticipate a switch here.
The threat of the downhill handoff from Okogie to Beal gives the defense something to consider.
Add to that, that on his drive it’s Devin Booker (super) spaced, and you see how the spacing of the Suns works to insulate as well as complement his best offensive skill, which is his drives.
Presenting him with these simple read-and-react contexts to function in, with his skill, and the supercharged offensive pieces the Suns have compiled, is where they can optimize both him and their offense.
Having a player of his skill to connect in multiple contexts, maintain an advantage, execute in one, or generate flow after an initial action breaks down, is his niche — all with him playing in “0.5.”
His uniqueness provides such a positive contrast in balance with their multifaceted top-end skilled players, and the context of him insulated by these pieces enables the Suns an avenue to dictate with, should they feature him appropriately.
As presently constructed, the Suns truly need Okogie to play and play effective minutes. His point-of-attack defensive activity, chaos-inducing support both in gaps and in rotation, rebounding efforts on both glasses and abilities to turn 50/50 ball scenarios into an advantage for the Suns, are all of immensely high value.
With Okogie on the floor, they’re 7.51 points better defensively per 100 possessions, than when he’s off. That net rating, of 111.2, equates to 5th best defense in the level of play and production.
A top-5 level defense, if sustained, is daunting for an opponent given what the Suns can be offensively.
They also shoot 5.73 free throws per 100 possessions with Okogie on the floor, given his talent and abilities on the drive, which I can’t overstate in importance.
The Suns also garner 2.65 more possessions, score 2.26 more second-chance points, and turn the ball over slightly less with him on the floor per 100 possessions.
Optimizing the usage of Josh Okogie and finding a way to keep him on the floor more — to get as much out of his point-of-attack defense — is one of the most important entities left for the Suns in their process.
Enabling him to be a pressure release: he can handle initiating offense as seen above (helping to start the offense with much more clock to play in), or connect when gapped off from the nail when spaced above the break, or from the lowman when spaced in the corners — and even handle in Delay action (imagine him in small ball lineups) — all serve as ways to optimize him.
Possessions like these come to mind for me in their offensive process, & featuring Okogie is relevant— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) December 29, 2023
His ability to not just pass the baton, but generate small advantages like *these* on the handoff to create downhill advantages to attack switches
He's key to these lineups https://t.co/zQBBNDvcbi pic.twitter.com/tZBiOCOuz5
This ability to execute handoffs in an effective manner — not just passing the baton, but the handoff as well as the screen to create leverage — is a skill among many (including his passing, handling, and drives — that is underrated.
I love to see this usage of Okogie— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) November 13, 2023
Often having guys "stashed" on him to provide support elsewhere, if not left open, using him to leverage pace &/or a switch, as a hand-off hub, is a weapon
We see it here 2x, in a way we've seen Bam Adebayo & Draymond Green optimized pic.twitter.com/h1Xk2ZSM40
His defense in archetype as well as unlocking scheme and lineup versatility is invaluable, and his functionality offensively can provide a needed layer to their offensive attack — across multiple lineup constructs.