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The delicate balance of ball movement for the Suns

“Sometimes it’s not what the numbers show.”

This was a portion of an answer from Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek regarding the team’s passing numbers over the past two seasons.

According to SportVU, the Suns averaged 289.7 passes per game (ranked 17th), 41.7 assist opportunities (22nd) and created 47.2 points by assists per 48 minutes (25th) during the 2014-15 season.

In 2013-14, the Suns averaged 280.9 passes per game (23rd), 39.9 assist opportunities per game (29th) and created 47 points by assists per 48 minutes (28th).

Under most circumstances, the belief is passing helps to create better shots, which in turn leads to higher-level offense. Which year do you think the Suns were better offensively?

If you said last season, you would be incorrect. The Suns offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) was 102.9 in 14-15, putting them 14th out of 30 teams. In 12-13, the Suns ORtg was 108.2, which was good for eighth.

“If you have three or four passes before you even really get into your play — you look at some of those teams, some of them, yea, the passes are meaningful, but then there’s other teams that when you look at the list of teams that make a lot of passes, you’re like, OK, they drove four or five passes before you even get into the action,” Hornacek said.

“If you want to count those, sure, go ahead, we prefer not to use 20 seconds of the clock. We want to get the game up and down and we’ll get into the action without the five passes.”

The Suns goal is to play to their personnel on offense. As they’ve done during the Hornacek and general manager Ryan McDonough era, that’s through initiating with their backcourt.

“We want that as the guards, Eric (Bledsoe) and Brandon (Knight), to create and these other guys they’ll get kick outs, they’ll catch balls on the run,” said Hornacek. “When your guys start breaking people down and pulling people in, then they throw it to you, that’s your opportunity to catch it on the run and make their play that way. Not catch the ball, isolate, let the defense set, try to go one-on-one.”

Phoenix’s offense is going to be constructed around the pick-and-roll featuring their two-point guard lineups, and Tyson Chandler, arguably the most efficient PnR center in the game. The Suns will use dribble-drives to bend a defense and get opponents on the move making the game easier for the complementary pieces.

The Suns want to have a cohesive offense that plays off each other with teamwork, but they’re hoping it reflects in fluidity on film rather than counting passing stats.

It’s important to note only four of the top 10 teams in passes per game last season were top 10 in ORtg.

“We do want better ball movement,” said Hornacek. “We do want guys to move without the ball, but there is that fine line. If you’re just moving the ball to move the ball, and not really getting anything, it doesn’t mean anything.”

It’s a balance between teamwork and emphasizing individual skills to get the most out of each of their five players on the court.

“Just learning each other’s games, that takes time,” said Brandon Knight. “That’s the biggest thing, just learning where guys want it at, where they’re best at, and that takes time to learn those things. Along with experience, it takes time to get to know a guy, and which situation he’s best in.

“You’re not going to experience that at this time. There’s going to be times in the season when we’re still improving upon that, but I think that’s the biggest thing, just knowing your teammates best and where they like it. What we’re most successful at as a team, I think we’ll figure that out.”

Yes, that’s cliché, but it’s also accurate.

Each player likes to shoot from different spots on the floor, is comfortable receiving a pass in a different place, and some are better at making basketball plays at full speed than others.

It takes time to learn the nuances of who you play with.

The Suns aren’t going to get back to being a top 10 offense by becoming the San Antonio Spurs or Atlanta Hawks. They have their own style constructed to the talents of the players on their roster.

The Suns do need to move the ball better than they did last season, but as Jeff Hornacek said, “sometimes it’s not what the numbers show.”


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