The Phoenix Suns’ offense during the Steve Nash era was very simple.
Step #1 – Inbound the ball to Steve.
Step #2 – Have a tall yet nimble man set a screen on Steve’s defender.
Step #3 – Watch Steve work his magic.
Step #4 – Run back on defense after the ball goes in the hoop.
Now that Nash is gone and the Suns’ roster is filled with new faces, the offense will have to be modified. Coach Alvin Gentry must design and install plays that utilize point guard Goran Dragic’s unique skill set and style. He’ll also have to find ways to accommodate Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat, both of whom are most effective in the paint. This will be a trying task for Gentry, but one place to start might be a fresh take on the ol’ pick and roll. Below I’ve diagrammed a half-court pick-and-roll set that should generate quality scoring looks for Dragic, Scola, and Gortat. The first two boxes set the play up, and each subsequent box illustrates a variation based on how the defense might react.
This play is run on the left hand side of the floor (in the diagram) so Dragic can go to his dominant left as he uses Gortat’s high side screen. Likewise, this allows Gortat to attack the right side of the basket where he is more effective. Moving the Suns’ best shooter to the other side of floor forces his defender to go with him instead of staying on the strong side of the floor. This opens up driving and passing lanes. Scola sets up shop on the weak-side high post to give the pick-and-roll space to operate while remaining in an area where he can still attack and score effectively. On the weak side, Beasley and Dudley move along the arc to keep line of site with Dragic.
The first scoring option is also the simplest. Gortat sets a good screen and Dragic hits him on the roll for an easy bucket. Because Goran is quicker and more aggressive to the hole than Nash, Gortat’s defender won’t be able to casually show. He’ll have to slide over quickly and force Dragic to pick up his dribble. So long as Marcin gets a good seal on Dragic’s defender, he should have an open lane to the basket. Dragic will have to find a passing angle with a larger defender on him, but I have confidence he can do that. This is a slightly different look from the Nash pick-and-roll as Gortat will roll from the wing instead down the middle of the lane, but this set should get him equally easy buckets.
Defenses will no doubt adjust after Dragic or Gortat get a few easy hoops. Their likely strategy will be to send the closest help defender, the man guarding Scola, to halt Dragic’s penetration. When he’s left at the high post, Scola can catch a quick pass from Goran for a 15-foot jumper or dive to the basket for a layup. If Scola runs to the rim, Dragic will have to pass over the top of the oncoming defender, as a bounce pass from that angle would be hard for Scola to catch. If any weak side defenders come over to help on Scola, Luis can hit the man left open (Dudley or Beasley) for an open jumper. Scola is an underrated passer, especially from the paint.
The third and final option is a variation of option #1. Gortat rolls and catches a pass from Dragic. When Scola’s man comes down to protect the paint, Marcin hits Luis in the middle of the key. Quick passing between these big men will be key to the Suns’ offensive success. With a quick point guard like Dragic, the Suns can use the pick-and-roll to put the defense on its heels and get easy buckets so long as Phoenix’s frontcourt players are able to read and react quickly.
This is just the first of many posts we’ll be doing this year on the Suns’ X’s and O’s. This offense will continue to evolve as the season progresses, and we’ll be here to document and diagram it all.