EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

For Phoenix Suns, more passes don’t mean more production

Oct 31, 2018, 1:24 PM | Updated: 2:21 pm
Phoenix Suns forward Trevor Ariza (3) passes around Dallas Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan during t...
Phoenix Suns forward Trevor Ariza (3) passes around Dallas Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Phoenix. The Suns won 121-100. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Watch the Phoenix Suns operate on offense, and it’s clear this is different from what the franchise has known dating beyond the overloaded point guard rotations of recent past.

The ball moves side-to-side. It swings. It doesn’t often die.

The Suns, through Wednesday, lead the NBA averaging 354 passes per game. What’s it say about the team?

“We got a lot of passes in our offense,” Ariza said, dryly.

In other words, it’s a relatively empty statistic. The Suns only assist their teammates on 7.3 percent of those passes, the fifth-worst mark in the league. Consider that there’s no viable one-on-one threats outside Devin Booker — and that Phoenix leads the league in percent of points earned off assists — and you can see where this is going.

Offensively, Phoenix is doing quite poorly.

“It’s a fact we’re trying to play the right way, trying to move the ball. We have to be more precise, more concrete and more efficient,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said.

The head coach has leaned on his players to understand how he can help them understand the system.

On Tuesday, he and veteran Ryan Anderson talked for more than an hour courtside after the Suns broke practice with a singing of “Happy Birthday” to 22-year-old Devin Booker. Dragan Bender, whose rookie contract option was not picked up by the team on Wednesday, did the same with Kokoskov Wednesday.

“He wants us to have that open-door policy,” Anderson said. “We even talked about it. We need to do it more to kind of check up on things and make sure we’re on the same page. Yesterday’s conversation was a really good one. I mean, we want to figure it out.”

In all the numbers, there’s at least some good news for a team with five blowout losses in a row heading into a Wednesday night home game against the rebooted San Antonio Spurs.

It’s that there’s buy-in.

Phoenix continues to pass the ball unselfishly, trying to make Kokoskov’s offense second nature, step by step. The results aren’t promising. Indecision has led to turnovers, and turnovers have led to 23.7 opponent points off turnovers, a league-high.

“Oh, man,” veteran Trevor Ariza said of the turnover rate. “It’s a little bit of a lot. It’s a combination of things. No one’s out here purposely trying to do or make mistakes. There’s a few things you can do. Watch film, get out on the court and slow down and try to perfect what we’re doing. Once everything becomes second nature, the turnovers will come down as well.”

Suns opponents are scoring 24.7 points in transition, league-worst allowed by a good four points.

If there’s any reason to believe Phoenix can compete with San Antonio, whose leading scorers are DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay, it’s that the Spurs are the least-interested NBA team in getting out in transition.

They finish plays in transition 5.9 percent of the time, 6 percent less than the next-least-transition-oriented team in the league.

As for the chances of cutting down on those turnovers, becoming more efficient offensively while keeping other teams out of transition, Phoenix can make an argument it’s close despite having the worst net rating in the league.

Ariza and Kokoskov said that they feel like their halfcourt defense hasn’t been that bad.

That halfcourt offense, however, needs to click for that to stand out.

The young Suns, Anderson said, are trying too hard to run the plays right rather than reacting to what’s happening around them.

“If you go to out there and you’re thinking about, this guy’s going to cut and I need to pass here and I’m going to screen, there could be a guy wide open on the side of court and you don’t even see him because you’re watching the play, how it works. That’s something that where we’re at right now,” the forward said.

“It’s not their fault. They want to run the play right and do the right thing but the best thing is just hitting the open man. Trevor’s been in that position … a lot of guys. What’s the point of getting pissed off? It’s coming over and having a good conversation with them and helping them grow and learn.”

INJURY UPDATE

— Booker (hamstring) and point guard Isaiah Canaan (ankle) were ruled out by the Suns against the Spurs. Josh Jackson (toe) is probable.

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