Troy Daniels has thrived in Suns’ quickly evolving offense
PHOENIX — Large-scale schematic changes in the middle of a season aren’t unheard of in the NBA.
For the Phoenix Suns, firing head coach Earl Watson three games into the 2017-18 season did erase the team’s plans to some degree. Interim coach Jay Triano went to a more traditional lineup off the bat, and he’s since installed more of his own philosophies and plays.
The Suns might show some of those off Friday against the Houston Rockets after having the last three days to practice.
But the biggest identity change in the first half of the year came when starting guard Devin Booker got hurt, Triano said.
“Instead of playing a lot of pick-and-roll action, we played a lot of pitch-and-cut action,” the coach said. “I think that’s been our best offense to date. I think the one thing that’s interesting is, like, we put a lot of horns stuff in and we played that way, and it was effective, but then the league figures you out.”
Horns sets, which include many variations, begin with a guard dribbling off at least one high pick-and-roll and another big man operating on the opposite elbow as shooters stand in the corners. But now in the evolving Suns offense, guards are more apt to toss the ball to the big men and work off the ball to get open.
While there are numerous individual performances to consider along with the success they’ve found doing that — Alex Len’s hot streak, Dragan Bender’s emergence and the Isaiah Canaan pickup among them — it’s been Booker’s backup, Troy Daniels, who has benefited the most.
He averaged 6.9 points per game and shot 43 from three but had a -3.5 plus-minus in 26 games before Booker’s injury on Dec. 5.
In the 16 games since then, he and the second unit have thrived. Daniels has a 1.0 plus-minus, averaging 11 points per game in about 10 more minutes compared to the stretch prior.
For the year, Daniels, who takes threes on 81 percent of his attempts, is shooting 40.8 percent from deep.
“I think it goes with a lot of film and coach helping us out,” Daniels said of the ease that Phoenix has grown into the new offense. “It came naturally to me just because I did it a lot last year with (Grizzlies center) Marc Gasol, just pitching and playing off of the big, which is a lot easier than trying to dribble off the big.
“I think it takes a lot of pressure off our point guards as well so we don’t have to always call the ball screen and go off a ball screen.”
Would the Suns have installed what Triano calls the pitch-and-cut offense had their best player not gotten hurt and missed nine games?
“Probably a little bit just because of the way the game was trending, but for the most part, a lot of it had to do with the fact that we needed to figure out how we were going to move the ball without a primary ball handler,” Triano said.
ROCKETS LIMP INTO PHOENIX
The Houston Rockets will be without MVP candidate James Harden when they visit the Suns Friday.
And even though the injury report out of Houston runs long, the Suns have plenty of motivation.
They remember when the Rockets put a 90-spot on them in the first half of a 142-116 loss on Nov. 16.
“We mentioned it today, definitely,” Triano said. “We mentioned it. In our defensive schemes and coverages, we got to be aware of what happened last time we played them. It was an embarrassment last time we played them in the first half. They shot the ball extremely well, they hit tough shots but we can’t let them get that comfortable.”
CHRISS TO MISS FIRST GAME
Suns forward Marquese Chriss’ streak of playing in his first 124 NBA games will come to an end Friday.
He’s out with a hip strain and did not practice Thursday. Fellow second-year pro Dragan Bender will take his spot in the starting lineup.
Additionally, point guard Isaiah Canaan practiced Thursday after sitting out due to an adductor injury. He could play depending on how his injury responds following practice.
Rookie forward Josh Jackson was listed doubtful with a right hip strain by the Suns but was at practice Thursday.
Foul trouble has haunted the Suns’ young players like Chriss and Jackson, and it’s no surprise Phoenix fouls the fourth-most per 100 possessions (25.0) in the NBA.
The Suns make up for it on the other end by drawing 25.7 per 100 possessions, the third-highest mark in the league.
That stat is noteworthy considering the implications for a team attempting to, like the Rockets, get to the basket and shoot threes at high volumes.
“It’s a fine line between wanting to shoot as many threes as you can and also getting to the rim and being aggressive getting fouled,” Triano said. “I think you have to have a great combination of everything. Get to the rim but also know that, if you’re not aggressive and you pass the ball around the perimeter, the three-point shot is easy to take away.
“So you’ve got to be able to attack, shrink defenses and then kick for threes. If that involves getting the fouls, that’s a good thing.”
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