EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Amid several issues, Suns have a serious 3-point shooting problem
Jan 15, 2020, 3:43 PM
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
You’re going to want to sit down and get comfortable if you want to hear the reasons why the Phoenix Suns have fallen off since a 7-4 start when they were the talk of the NBA.
Defense. Injuries. Continuity. Rotation changes. No big fella. Regression. Teams figuring them out.
It goes on and on, but while defense should still be looked at as the most pressing issue for Phoenix right now, their awful three-point shooting numbers after that win over the Atlanta Hawks in mid-November is worthy of consideration.
Head coach Monty Williams has had clear success in implementing his “0.5” offense, preaching a high volume of passes and off-ball movement. Just about all of the analytics back it up.
The Suns average 300.6 passes per game, a top 10 mark and the exact spot Williams wanted them to land in terms of a concrete number. Despite the drop-off in the last two months, the Suns remain the league’s best assist percentage team at 67.0.
They average the second-most catch-and-shoot field goal attempts per game at 29.9. Looking at the tracking data for shots where no defender is within six feet, the Suns also put up the second-most of those shots per game at 24.4.
The offensive system is working. The problem is the guys taking the open shots aren’t converting enough.
General manager James Jones’ desired traits this past offseason included shooting.
“They are proven winners and provide depth to our roster,” Jones said back in July on the additions of Aron Baynes, Dario Saric, Ty Jerome and Cam Johnson. “Their combination of shooting, versatility and toughness will be extremely valuable as we move forward.”
This is not to say Jones was wrong. He did get players who can shoot. The problem, like we’re starting to learn about that whole last offseason in general, is that he couldn’t really be that picky and didn’t get the seamless fits.
Baynes “can shoot” but is a guy who just started doing so two years ago. Saric and Jerome should shoot when they’re open but you’re not going to be trying to set them up to.
Johnson is the only certified shooter of the group and it’s the primary reason Phoenix reached on him at No. 11 in the 2019 NBA Draft. He also plays the same position as Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges, two players who command at least 25 minutes a night, usually 30-plus.
Jones’ biggest move was signing Ricky Rubio, who addressed the most glaring need on the roster of an experienced NBA point guard. He’s also a career 32.2% three-point shooter.
Add up the Suns’ rotation and here’s what you have in shooting. Devin Booker, Frank Kaminsky and Johnson are the three unquestionably good shooters. Beyond that, Elie Okobo, Tyler Johnson, Oubre, Baynes and Saric are average shooters. Then you’ve got Bridges and Rubio who are poor shooters and Deandre Ayton doesn’t shoot.
In theory, that sounds like a team that should be average if not above average from three-point range, right?
Here’s the problem with the variance shooting adds, grabbing the three-point shooting numbers since that pivotal swing point on Nov. 15.
If Kaminsky (40.3%) can’t stay on the court because he couldn’t finish over your local community college’s starting center and his defensive struggles, plus Cam Johnson (38.6%) not playing over 20 minutes in 10 of his last 13 games, that leaves just Booker.
And when no one from the average group takes a huge step forward beyond Okobo (39.0%), you’ve only got Booker as your good shooter constantly in the rotation shooting on decent volume.
So, when Booker is shooting 30.4% since that pivotal point in the season, that’s no more good shooters left!
It’s Oubre (35.4% on 5.7 per game) as the only passable guy that’s consistently playing. Then you’ve got the ugly numbers for Rubio (31.0% on 3.7), Bridges (30.6% on 1.7) and Saric (29.2% on 3.9), followed by the horrific from Baynes (25.4% on 3.6) and Tyler Johnson (17.5% on 2.4).
Remember all those open shots the Suns were creating that I mentioned earlier? The league average for three-point shooting this year in general is 35.2%, and on wide-open three-pointers since Nov. 15, the Suns are shooting under that at 34.7%. When they are wide open!
Looking at that number as a qualifier again, the Suns have managed to shoot 36% or better from beyond just once in their last 17 games.
On catch-and-shoot threes, they are once again under that number at 34.2% in those last 29 games.
That’s over a third of the season we have as a sample size telling us Phoenix is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, which is precisely what the head coach’s offensive system prioritizes setting up, as it should in today’s game. But we still have a problem if they can’t hit those good shots being set up! Are they even good shots then?
The question is how the Suns fix this. Well, unfortunately, they’ve got to keep shooting. You can see the numbers affecting the choices the Suns make on the court. Looking at every team’s last 15 games, the Suns are last in three-point attempts per game at 28.6. In the first 25 games of the season, they attempted 35.8.
Players like Saric, Baynes and Johnson simply have to be better than below 30% and for a shooter of Booker’s quality, a shooting funk like this is unacceptable.
Even with the Suns adapting as they have, they are still going to play through the offensive system that, like I said, is working, but it’s going to create open shots they aren’t making.
In the short term, they’ve just got to keep shooting. In the long term, it’s a great example of how much putting out all the fires Ryan McDonough left burning is still costing this franchise, as a fine job by Jones of team-building still was not good enough and he will have to try again this summer finding the right mix of those aforementioned desired traits.