Phoenix Suns preach structure, pace at media day for upcoming season
PHOENIX — Coming into media day for the 2017-18 Phoenix Suns season, there were two things we knew for sure: There was no Markieff Morris or Brandon Knight shadow hanging over the day, and the team’s playoff chances are incredibly low, if non-existent.
With regards to that, there weren’t many expectations when it came to what would be said by those speaking Monday.
This was reflected in general manager Ryan McDonough’s opening statement, when instead of going on for a few minutes, McDonough briefly mentioned they are excited about the young team, and then opened the floor to questions.
When head coach Earl Watson spoke afterward, though, he had some telling words on what he saw last season and this season being about.
“So last season was about development,” Watson said. “Allowing guys to play and opportunities (so) the confidence can grow, the game can grow.”
Watson referenced the growth seen in Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Alan Williams and Tyler Ulis with those extended opportunities. Later, he would go into what’s in store for this upcoming season.
“This season is about structure,” Watson said. “Even though we have a chance to allow Josh (Jackson) to grow and our young guys to grow, it’s about structure.
“You saw (Marquese Chriss) take his game to another level last season, you saw Dragan (Bender) make strides until his injury. This season is about structure. Playing a certain way within what we do. Kinda bringing it back, but if you can fit in with what we do then you allow (yourself) to do it.
Watson, as he can be at times, was vague about what exactly the system was that he had planned, but there were hints here and there.
“Very disciplined style of basketball with, you know, three-point shooting and a fast pace.”
When prodded further on what that style entailed, the third-year head coach said it’s not going to take a whole lot of high-level analysis to notice what’s going on.
“I can’t give away all the tips but I think you’ll just kind of see a trend if that makes sense,” Watson said. “Style of basketball, shot selection, you’ll see it.”
In the past, Watson has said he’s wanted to see the team take 30 three-pointers a game, and that would factor into playing at an even higher pace, which was the theme that came across from the players and management who spoke.
“We’re gonna try to keep that up, or pick up on the pace,” McDonough said in regards to the pace, as he noted the team was already second in pace last season.
The way in which the Suns can do that outside of a mindset is by going small to better benefit their ball-handlers outside of the guard position.
The team will have an established floor general on the floor at all times, whether it’s Eric Bledsoe, Ulis or Booker playing some point guard. Beyond that, players like Jackson, Jared Dudley and Bender can control the offense and make the right pass, whether that’s in transition or in the half-court.
That opens up the game even further for players like T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Derrick Jones Jr. and Troy Daniels, who get the most out of their skills when the team is moving at maximum speed on offense.
Add all that together and you’ve got a very intriguing mix that, at least on paper stylistically, gels well offensively.
McDonough nudged to that specific thought.
“I really like what I’ve seen so far in the pickup,” McDonough said. “I know it’s just pickup but the continuity and chemistry I think has taken a big leap from last year.”
Those quick to get excited about an extremely fun and young team zipping up and down the court should be somewhat hesitant about how the team can manage it being so inexperienced.
This problem, in fact, is what Dudley was primarily focused on when asked about the team’s potential with so many different players capable of a high pace.
“We have to play with pace, but because of pace, you turn the ball over more, especially a younger team,” Dudley said. “So Bledsoe and Tyler (Ulis), their turnovers have to be low for us to have a chance this year.”
Dudley’s repsonse is a mirror image of where the hope is surrounding the team this year. Many watching will be focused on the lottery standings for the NBA Draft more than anything, but those observing for growth will have to see the team not only create an identity, but do so with winning habits.
Taking care of the ball is one of those, along with defense, three-point shooting and rebounding. All of those can also be considered weaknesses of the team, which shows how far they have to go before becoming a winning team.
As it was shown with the extension of McDonough, however, they are in the rebuilding process for the long haul, and that more than anything else is what mattered most for the team this offseason.