Having split the first two games of a three-game road trip, the Phoenix Suns seemingly found added offensive juice with a lineup adjustment.
Mirza Teletovic has gotten hot, and he and rookie wing Devin Booker have seen increased roles of late.
As teams pack the paint hoping to at least make guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight less apt to penetrate, the Suns’ bench has stepped up shooting from deep, hitting 56 percent (15-of-27) in the past two games.
More outside shooting has been good, but Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said after a 122-116 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday he’d like to see more opportunities and efficiency in the paint.
“There were a lot of little things we did wrong,” Hornacek told media after the game of his team’s 10-of-32 shooting in the paint. “First of all, that’s not enough attempts.”
“We have to shoot better than that in the paint if we want to win,” he added. “We didn’t have enough stops at the end of the game and they made more plays.”
Surely, Anthony Davis being Anthony Davis bit Phoenix.
But on both sides of the ball, finding success near the hoop hasn’t gone well of late.
New Orleans doubled Phoenix up 44-22 in paint points a game after the Suns allowed 54 points in the paint to the Nuggets while scoring just 36 themselves.
Small ball units, be it Teletovic playing with Markieff Morris or Jon Leuer, have been effective offensively by spacing the floor. And really, the power forwards have also played well with centers Tyson Chandler and Alex Len.
On the other side of the discussion, the Suns’ paint defense has suffered as the team has gone with lineups more heavy with spot-up shooters like Teletovic and Booker, who are also players less known for their defense.
Chandler and Len combined for only 18 minutes against New Orleans, a night after they played 32 as the Suns used smaller units to stop the bleeding against a Denver team whose bigs were running with effectiveness.
Denver shot 61 percent at the rim and had 44 such attempts. The Suns got just 36 rim attempts and hit 47 percent.
On Sunday, the Pelicans held the Suns to 33 percent at the rim while daring them to bomb from deep. Credit Phoenix for answering by knocking down 17-of-36 (47 percent) three-point attempts. But apparently, New Orleans’ gamble paid off even with that success.
Meanwhile, Alvin Gentry’s team hit 59 percent of its shots at the cup.
It’s hard to pin the plus-minus statistics on any lineup, big or small, within a two-game span. Yet, it’s clear that the changes that favor the offense could hurt the Suns’ paint production — and hurt on defense, too.
Phoenix has consecutively allowed the Nuggets and Pelicans — respectively the 14th- and 15th-ranked teams in terms of offensive efficiency — to score seven and 13 points above their per-100-possession averages for the year.
If we’re guessing, playing more shooters should still open the lane for more and better shots from Bledsoe and Knight. There’s room for improvement there, especially if the three-point shooters keep making teams pay for sinking down and clogging the lane.
Defensively, playing those shooters might also mean giving up a little in terms of on-all defense.
At the same time, it was clear that Hornacek went with smaller lineups because of speedy big men on both New Orleans and Denver. Maybe this is just about unique matchups unique to a few teams.
But such is the complexity as Hornacek dabbles with his new lineups.