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Strengths and weaknesses of the Phoenix Suns as Bubble games begin

Strengths and weaknesses of the Phoenix Suns as Bubble games begin

The Phoenix Suns will resume their 2019-20 season on Friday with the first of eight seeding games against good teams who are either in the playoffs or within striking distance.

By record, through the March 11 shutdown, the Suns (26-39) are the worst of the 13 Western Conference teams invited to the Bubble, and 21st of 22 teams overall. But hey, that’s better than being one of the bottom-dwelling teams who were just told to stay home for the summer!

The Suns still have a (small…small…really small) chance to make the playoffs and have taken this opportunity to bring their best selves and best efforts to this eight-game hurtle to another finish line. There are no individual awards at stake, so all that’s left is team pride and spirit.

“I tell the guys all the time this is a ‘get to’ not a ‘got to’,” says coach Monty Williams of the Suns chance to join this bubble of 22 teams.

“Outside of the teams that are right there to win a championship, we have the most to gain,” he continued. “We’ve done so much together [here in Orlando]. It’s something that’s going to pay dividends for years to come.”

To a man, the Suns players look focused and ready to show the other teams in the league that they not only belong here in Orlando, but that they are a team to a feared.

Come on Dave, this is the Suns. No one’s going to fear the Suns.

Okay fair enough. Right now, none of the teams on the upcoming schedule is overly worried about beating the Suns. The Suns have only a 4-9 record this season against the Wizards, Mavericks (twice), Clippers, Pacers, Heat, Thunder and 76ers.

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Yet, when you consider that some teams are already positioned where they want to be for the playoffs, especially with no home court advantage to battle for, it’s possible the Suns can snake their way through to a winning record.

Let’s review the team’s biggest strengths and weaknesses today.


Bball-Index says…

I love this stuff! I have trouble understanding all of it, and I’m a data analyst by trade. But I respect it and want to share it with you because this data gives you more insight into the team than you otherwise get by watching. You might be surprised by some of the Suns strengths and weaknesses as determined by fancy fancy math skills and highly advanced databases of every play from the season, according to bball-index.com.

What does that chart mean? Here’s the breakdown from the guy who runs the bball-index.com and goes by the moniker Cranjis McBasketball.

From the Suns’ chart, we can tell the team has Wings adept at Perimeter Shooting, Interior Defense, and Defensive Rebounding relative to other Wing position groups around the league. Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges, and Cameron Johnson make up most of this group for Phoenix. Phoenix’s Bigs, and the team as a whole, have a strong Post Play grade, higher than 80.6% of other teams’ Bigs and 96.8% of other teams overall. That Post Play grade looks at post-up and putback activity and efficiency.

Team strengths as listed here focus on really the wings outside of the obvious in Booker as a shooter and playmaker. Booker contributes to the overall Post Play stat.

For the team’s weaknesses, Finishing leads the way. While the team is stronger on posting up and putbacks, the data on their ability to get to and finish at the rim is poor. From our Leaderboards tool, we can see that only 4 of their 12 players that played 500+ minutes have at least an average “Getting to Rim” rating, which focuses on unassisted rim attempts (rather than finishing a dump off). Likewise, the same 4/12 above average rate exists for our “Finishing at Rim” rating, which adjusts for degree of difficulty on rim attempts to capture shooting ability. Devin Booker is the only player above average in both areas, let alone in the elite range where he is.

Outside of Devin Booker, there’s really no one on the Suns right now that finishes at the rim at a high high level. Deandre Ayton should join him in coming years. But who else will be a frequent finisher at the rim on this team? Maybe Mikal Bridges?

Other than Wing Playmaking, the other big weakness we see is regarding Off-Ball Movement, which analyzes cutting (removing dump-offs) and off-screen (flare, pindown, etc.) abilities. Other than Booker and Bridges, the Suns don’t have a single Guard or Wing at least average in that metric. Our Player Profiles can shed more light on this. While 6/12 have A- or better Cuts per Game volume and 8/12 are at least average, only 3/12 have an average or better FG% on cuts. A similar high volume but low efficiency relationship exists for off-screen attempts.

Again, I love love love this stuff. If you do too, go to bball-index.com and sign up for your own access. I believe the cost is something like $5 per month or $60 per year.


Now let’s look at team strengths and weaknesses from a different point of view, using a totally different source of advanced data from nba.com/stats.

Dave King says…

Biggest Strength — Passing into wide open shots

The Suns as a team lead the league in assists per game, assist-rate and assist-percentage, all measures of their ability to generate makable shots from their passing game.

Point guard Ricky Rubio is among the league’s top five in assists per game, while shooting guard Devin Booker is among the best secondary ball handlers. They combine for 15.5 of the team’s 27.2 assists per game, meaning the rest of the rotation still generates almost 12 per game themselves. Eleven other players average 1.1-2.2 assists per game in a very balanced attack outside the top two assist men.

What’s crazy about the Suns leading the league in assists is that assists are only recorded when you make the shot. For all their great passing, the Suns are pretty bad at shooting. As a team, they are only 12th in total field goal percentage, 19th in three-point shooting and 21st in effective field goal percentage (that adds those two numbers together into one composite number).

What that tells you is that the Suns are really good at passing with a purpose: to get the open shot.

The Suns are SECOND in the league in generating wide open shots. A whopping 24.9% of all their shots are taken with no defender within six feet of the shooter.

Biggest Weakness – Making those damn open shots

Unfortunately, the Suns rank only 12th on making those wide open shots (and 18th in wide open shots from three-point range) where the closest defender is more than six feet away from the shooter on the attempt.

If the Suns could just MAKE those open shots, imagine how deadly the offense could be. On Tuesday, in their scrimmage against the Raptors, the Suns made 18 three-pointers and won the game easily. But in the two prior scrimmages, they struggled mightily in that area.

Overall the Suns are just a team that can’t shoot real well from the outside, contributing mightily to their 16th-ranked defense (mid-pack) despite being so good at creating easy looks.

On all shots — open and contested put together — the Suns are 12th in field goal percentage and 19th on three point percentage. Combining those into a single stat puts them at 21st in Effective field goal percentage (giving extra credit for three-pointers because they have more scoring value) while they recover a bit when you fold in free throws (10th overall).

Funny when you look at it. Any team should make more wide open shots than contested ones, but with the Suns those numbers are pretty much the same, which makes that their biggest weakness to me.


There you go, Suns fans.

What do you think are the Suns biggest team strength and weakness, heading into these Bubble Games?