EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Kings’ offensive firepower presents good test for Suns’ recent defensive issues

Oct 26, 2021, 5:15 PM
Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges goes to the basket against Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holme...

Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges goes to the basket against Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes during the first quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/José L. Villegas)

(AP Photo/José L. Villegas)

PHOENIX — The talent pool in the NBA is borderline overflowing, and look no further than the Sacramento Kings as the example.

The Phoenix Suns’ opponent on Wednesday night has multiple weapons they have to account for, a good test after two shaky defensive performances contributed to a 1-2 open to the year.

When Suns head coach Monty Williams was rattling off the personnel for the Kings, he said the way they love to run and jack up 3s makes them a “prototype” team.

It also will have them pushing the Suns’ defense where it has struggled. Phoenix center Deandre Ayton mentioned transition defense as the biggest thing the Suns need to improve on that end, and also cited the league-high 43% teams are shooting against them from deep.

Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox is coming off a season average of 25.2 points per game, a blur with the ball who has started rounding out his all-around offensive game. Shooting guard Buddy Hield is one of the NBA’s premier shooters and Suns fans know what center Richaun Holmes is capable of as a diver and active body around the rim.

And then there’s forward Harrison Barnes, who is off to a torrid start through three games, posting 28.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

“He’s just playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said Tuesday. “He’s been their best offensive weapon so far this year.”

Barnes is 26-of-52 (50.0%) from the field and 15-for-27 (55.6%) on 3s, which adds up to taking nine long balls a night.

Williams said he’s seen Barnes knocking down more triples off the bounce.

The Kings will get him moving off the ball too.

“He’s so doggone strong, that if you go for the pump fake, he can get to the basket and finish,” Williams said of the threat Barnes poses.

Barnes is clearly benefitting from more ball-handlers. The Kings picked guards Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell back-to-back drafts in the tail-end of the lottery, burdening the load placed on Fox as the offense’s primary initiator.

Williams described that young duo as versatile, complimenting Haliburton on his combination of pick-and-roll play with catch-and-shoot skills while Mitchell can score and defend.

More dribble penetration is going to open more things up for shooters like Barnes and Hield as the team gets used to the ball movement that comes after a drive-and-kick scenario.

Of Barnes’ 12 assisted 3s to open the season, nine of those have been dished to him by Haliburton, Fox or Mitchell.

And where it starts to get fun is when that kickout is to one of those three guards who knows what to do with it.

Add in Holmes’ consistent presence as a rim runner and you’ve got some serious firepower.

Holmes returns to Phoenix where he was teammates with Deandre Ayton in Ayton’s rookie year.

“Richaun has so much to his game,” Ayton said Tuesday. “Dude’s a fast big, super nimble on his feet — I don’t even like calling him a big. He’s just a quick player man. His size, he can finish around the rim, above the rim, he has a nice floater, nice touch around the rim and he sets screens and gets out of them early. I gotta make sure he don’t get behind me with pick-and-rolls with him and Fox.”

Defense has been the problem for Sacramento.

They had a 116.5 defensive rating last year, the worst in the league and the highest in NBA.com’s database that goes back to 1997.

Selecting Mitchell this past offseason surely had something to do with that. The rookie is already making a name for himself as one of the handful of defenders in the league who are appointment viewing.

Three games into his career, Mitchell has already guarded Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Donovan Mitchell. We should see him on both Devin Booker and Chris Paul Wednesday.

He’s been game to take on those lofty challenges. Mitchell’s nickname is “Off Night,” aka, his mark is about to have an off night because he’s defending them.

“He’s a high-level on-ball defender,” Williams said of Mitchell. “Most young guys don’t understand how to guard the ball and pick a spot and stay in front and harass the ball-handler. He’s way ahead of the curve in that regard.”

The Suns’ showdown with the Kings is a 7 p.m. tip-off you can hear on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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