Among the Phoenix Suns’ issues to begin this season are the hot and cold shooting nights.
In a small sample size of seven games, the offense is struggling and ranks 27th in the league in points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com/Stats.
It’s mattered that Phoenix is third in the NBA in turnovers per game and its free throw shooting has been bottom-5 bad. But what about the offense?
What are the tweaks needed to be made?
The first suggestion on the tip of your tongue (I see you, people on the Devin Booker train) might be for coach Jeff Hornacek to play more shooters, but the issue isn’t necessarily that the Suns need more shooters on the court.
They just need their shooters to shoot more.
SUNS NEED TO GET SPOT SHOOTERS MORE LOOKS
Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight have so far dominated the ball off the dribble. Markieff Morris has increased his three-point rate and volume of total shots to varying degrees — but he’s struggling to the point Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver named him to the All-Brick-Layers team and said his shot chart was of the “Chinese Flag” variety.
As a team, the Suns are ninth in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) — the number adjusts for threes counting for an extra point — on catch-and-shoots. They are 10th in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage despite Morris taking three such attempts per game and shooting a miserable 27 percent (which ties to this piece by Ian Levy about big men especially taking way too many threes).
The issue is Phoenix is in the NBA’s bottom third of catch-and-shoot shot frequency.
It may be the large volume of shots off the dribble by the Bledsoe-Knight-Morris threesome, which by the way, has taken 56 percent of the team’s total attempts this year.
Looking the other way as far as defense is concerned, Booker, Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic were key additions because Phoenix needed floor spacing.
Two of those three aren’t the only Suns off to a pretty good shooting season.
Leuer (elite!), Ronnie Price, P.J. Tucker, Booker and T.J. Warren have all shot at least an eFG% of 57 or better in catch-and-shoot situations. From three-point range, those five have combined for 8.6 threes per game at a 44 percent clip. Yet, they aren’t accounting for half of the three-point attempts with Bledsoe, Knight and Morris shooting 13.7 threes per game and hitting just 33 percent.
Calling for the Suns to play Booker or Teletovic would help here, but even players like Leuer, Tucker and Price have been shooting the ball well.
THEY’RE GETTING DECENT LOOKS BUT JUST NOT KNOCKING THEM DOWN
There’s reason to believe the Suns could get better looks, but also evidence their players are just slumping.
The Suns are seventh-best at getting “open” and the fourth-best team at getting “wide open” (see the bottom of the page for the distinctions between the two).
But this is bad: For open shots (which can still be mildly contested), Phoenix owns the fourth-worst eFG% of 45 percent. A lot of that is due to the shots Bledsoe and Knight take; they are top-10 in “open” shot frequency.
That could trend upward with better shot selection.
Here’s more evidence to suggest Phoenix isn’t simply a poor shooting team: The Suns take “wide open” three-point attempts at the third-best rate in the NBA and hit 48 percent in those situations … the next-best team has shot 42 percent.
Between the catch-and-shoot numbers and the frequency and effectiveness of open shots, we can determine a few things:
Phoenix may indeed benefit from giving Booker, Teletovic and the shooters more time. But the role players already in the rotation have shot the ball well in the few looks they’ve gotten.
The Suns could improve by getting its best spot shooters more “wide open” looks rather than relying so heavily on Bledsoe, Morris and Knight to create their own looks, but even without major tactical changes, it’s clear that turnover problems and shooting slumps have led to unsustainably bad statistics.
** SportVU tracking statistics consider “open” shots to be attempts with the closest defender within 4-6 feet. Getting players “wide open,” an even better goal, is designated as a shooter’s defender being at least 6 feet away.**
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