If there was a perceived chink in the armor, it was
their ability to create efficient offense beyond their star
backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Remove Paul from the mix,
as he has been since the All-Star break due to a broken thumb, and
it was fair to ask what things would look.
The answer so far: a 9-4 record, a top-five offense (119.2) and
defense (108.7), and the third-best net rating (plus-10.5) in the
The offense humming to this degree is wildly impressive, and
highlights (or further affirms, for those who follow the team
closely) three things:
1) Booker is an absolute problem and deserves your
2) There was room for Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges (among
others) to stretch their games, and Paul's absence exacerbated that
process. (This doesn't mean Paul was holding them back.)
3) It is hard to overstate just how effective and layered their
offense is from a scheme perspective.
To the third point, the Suns' pick-and-roll attack is absolutely
lethal. It's hard to pinpoint what they want to do, how they want
to attack, who they want to attack, who they want to do the
attacking and where they want to do it from.
They fluctuate between spamming the same action, or running
three or four variations of a play from the same setup. Think about
your annoying friend in Madden that lines up in Gun-Bunch 98% of
the time, but has four different audibles (and hot routes on top of
that) to keep you on your toes.
In short, the Suns seem to have an answer for everything.
Running drop coverage is a no-go. Switching allows Booker or
Ayton to cook against mismatches, and Bridges is really freakin'
good at slipping screens. Put two to the ball, like the Chicago
Bulls often did on Friday night whenever Nikola Vucevic was
involved in action, and the Suns can pick you apart.
Take this possession as a premium example.
It. Took. Four. Seconds.
Using Cam Payne, a near-40% three-point shooter during his Suns
tenure, as the inbounder was intentional. Coaches always tell you
to watch the inbounder, and his presence is the hidden key to
making this baseline out-of-bounds play (BLOB) work.
Things kick-off with Booker curling around an Ayton screen to
receive the inbound. As noted earlier, the Bulls played Vucevic at
the level (or higher) in ball screens against Booker in order to 1)
keep him from turning the corner and 2) force someone else make
After receiving the pass, Booker runs a ball screen with Ayton.
Sure enough, Vucevic jumps out to pressure Booker. And that, my
friends, is where things get hazy for the Bulls.
With Vucevic playing high, the backline is responsible for
tagging the roller (Ayton) and then helping the tagger by zoning up
behind him. Because of the location of the play and the personnel
involved (the Bulls are #TooSmallErneh), this is darn-near
DeRozan is in a bad place. If he picks up Ayton, allowing
Dosunmu to stick with Payne as he relocates to the corner, that
would leave Zach LaVine to split the difference between Bridges and
Torrey Craig. With Bridges chilling above the break (empty corner!)
and Bridges in the paint, there's no win.
Dosunmu is also in a bad place. If DeRozan can't handle Ayton,
the smaller Dosunmu surely can't. And that comes with the added
stress of leaving Payne open in the corner.
Booker further complicates things
by accepting the pressure from Vucevic and
stringing out the ball screen.
From there, Booker has his pick of the litter — firing the dart
to Payne in the corner, or lofting a pass to Ayton underneath. He
chooses the latter, leading to one of the easiest baskets the Suns
scored on Friday night.
It's important for the Suns, and Booker in particular, to get
these reps against aggressive coverages. As dynamic as the Suns'
pick-and-roll attack is, they rank 15th in points per possession
(PPP) on trips featuring a blitz or hedge by the defense.
Booker has especially struggled against traps and hedges in ball
screens, generating 0.81 PPP on direct plays. Among 41 players that
have been hedged/blitzed on 100 picks, that ranks 38th. Only
Dejounte Murray (0.8), Cade Cunningham (0.78) and Jordan Poole
(0.76) are lower on the board.