PHOENIX — Timing is everything in basketball. Cut or screen too soon or too late, and the offensive play crumbles.
The Phoenix Suns, like every other NBA team, haven’t had much practice time — not even casual pick-up games — to construct well-timed execution, and that had a great deal of impact in their season opening loss.
Bad timing led to a poorly executed final play in the Suns’ loss to the New Orleans Hornets. It also might have thrown off the usually solid shooting percentage of Phoenix as the Suns connected on only 39.5 percent of their attempts.
“Our offense was just non-existent,” head coach Alvin Gentry said. “We just never got into any rhythm or flow, although in the first half we had a lot of really good looks that could have put us up 10 or 12 points.”
Instead, it was the Suns’ defense that put them in position to start off the season with a victory. Even the game-winning jumper by Hornets guard Eric Gordon was a well-defended, contested shot, Gentry said.
However, Jared Dudley remained skeptical when reviewing the defensive statistics.
He believed the low-scoring affair was partially a symptom of the Hornets playing with a new roster. They dished out just 10 total assists, and much of that was due to starting point guard Jarrett Jack out due to suspension.
“Obviously we played well statistically,” Dudley said. “We played against a team that didn’t have a point guard. Jarrett Jack was suspended, they just threw trades in. I think we both were just really bad offensively.”
So as much as they’re working on a new defense, the Suns are still about offense — after all, this is a Steve Nash-led team.
Dudley agreed that there were numerous opportunities to build upon a big lead in the first half, but he and his teammates missed open jumpers. Gentry estimated that Dudley, forward Grant Hill and struggling big man Channing Frye missed at least three open looks each.
That too had to do with off-kilter rhythm and timing, though Gentry wasn’t too concerned and believes the offense will come with time and (surprise) a more frenetic pace.
“Early on we had great looks, you’ve got to knock them in,” Dudley said. “Sometimes we have to get to the basket. We want to get out more in transition.”
And Phoenix struggled to do that against the Hornets.
Last season, the Suns posted scoring outputs in the 80s just seven times and had the league’s seventh-best Pace Factor of 94.4 possessions per 48 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Against the Hornets, Phoenix posted a middle-of-the-road Pace Factor of 89, and Gentry and company think the Suns must take advantage of transition opportunities, especially when they’re having a poor shooting night.
“As I said, it doesn’t matter how they play offensively as far as stringing out possessions,” Gentry said, “we still got to be able to get out and run. If they only had 12 offensive rebounds, we had a lot of opportunities to run.”
Taking the open shot
We hear it often — sometimes coaches for the Suns have to urge players to let it fly.
Even for self-proclaimed scorers like guard Shannon Brown, it’s easier said than done. Brown, who went 1-for-8 in his Phoenix debut against New Orleans, appeared to be pressing on Monday.
Gentry said he needs to play more instinctual basketball.
“It’s just like, ‘shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot,’” Brown said of the Suns’ offensive philosophies.
“I don’t think I was trying too hard,” Brown added. “I think it’s just getting in to the rhythm of everything.”
Gentry, however, believes Brown is still in the process of shedding his old habits with the Lakers. Trying too hard or not, it appeared Brown was forcing the issue at times on Monday, going one-on-one instead of taking the open jumpers on catches off the ball.
“We don’t expect him to be an iso guy,” Gentry said. “We’ll put him in a flow and in a rhythm. It’s tough. He’s played in an offense the last few years where everything is predicated on the next move and the next move.
“He was passing up some shot opportunities, you know, that we swing the ball to him where he’s kind of in the middle of (thinking) ‘is this a good shot or is it not?’”
Rookie forward Markieff Morris was another player still getting used to the shoot now, shoot later mentality. He went 2-for-5 from the field an 1-for-3 from beyond the arc in his first NBA game.
Morris was the last player to leave Tuesday’s practice, and ended his session by working on catch-and-shoot three-pointers while on the move.
“I missed about eight in a row but that ninth one I made,” Morris said of his post-practice drill. “Coach has his faith in me to keep shooting and when I’m open I have to take the shot. He jokes about (Kansas) coach (Bill) Self telling me not to shoot.
“It’s different now.”
- Morris on the last play of the game and his pass: “To be my first game and Coach had faith in me to have me in that time was big. Made a bad pass at the end, but you live to play another game and it’s the first of 66. It definitely happened fast. I just was trying to get the ball to Steve. It was a bad pass, they played great ‘D’ on him.”
- Brown on how much we can take from the first game: “If ya’ll are basing (the team) off what happened yesterday, I say you’ve got to look at both preseason games and the scrimmages or whatever. Yesterday, we were a little out of sync. I don’t even know the last time the Suns scored 85 (actually 84) points.”
- Brown on keeping up with the Los Angeles Lakers: “It’s kind of hard to put it behind me. Every time I talk to somebody it’s all they talk about. Every time I’m out, it’s like, ‘Lakers, why’d you leave the Lakers? Lakers, Lakers, Lakers.’ I think there are more Lakers fans in Phoenix than Suns fans. We’ve got to convert them.”