The evolved emphasis of the Suns' 3-point shot

PHOENIX – Once the word got out about the Phoenix Suns, opponents stopped over-looking them. Once there was a sufficient amount of tape on Jeff Hornacek’s team, the Suns needed to react.

That they have done.

Since Eric Bledsoe went down with a knee injury, it became apparent the offense put too much on point guard Goran Dragic. The Leandro Barbosa signing helped, but in the end, Hornacek needed to do more than rest his Slovenian point guard. He needed to set up and help his role players.

What they were doing with Bledsoe wasn’t going to fly. And what they were doing was shooting a lot of three-pointers.

“We got to know what teams are trying to take away,” forward P.J. Tucker said. “Strong-suits, trying to run us off the line. A lot more of our threes are contested now, even though they’re good looks — a little tougher. We got to change our scheme. Make them change up, too.”

The Suns took a little while to get away from playing like Bledsoe was there. Thirty games in 2013 saw Phoenix take 25.9 three-pointers per game and knock down an impressive 37.3 percent. In the first seven games without Bledsoe in 2014, Hornacek’s squad cranked up 29.1 threes per game – it was the only shot available – but only hit a third of those attempts.

Now, the NBA’s most prolific three-point shooting team changing things up.

In the last two games, both at U.S. Airways Center, Hornacek has preached driving to the hoop and attacking mismatches, whether they be Kendall Marshall in the post or Dirk Nowitzki in the pick-and-roll. The Suns scored a whopping 64 points in the paint and added 37 fastbreak points on Wednesday in a 121-114 win against the Los Angeles Lakers, then came back with 60 points in the paint and 20 fastbreak points on Friday in a 110-107 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

The Suns went 7-for-22 from three-point range against Dallas, yet Dragic maintained that they “settled too much.”

The Suns have gotten away from their attacking mentality for stretches.

Against the Mavs, the Suns found themselves behind 86-78 early in the fourth quarter. The Morris twins rattled off four straight threes, two of which were makes, before Dragic missed two more shots beyond the arc with only a Tucker layup thrown in there.

“We were getting the layups, getting the easy shots,” Hornacek said. “Continue that. (We have to) not figure you’re going to get it back in one hero play. Hopefully they learn on that. We’ve lost a few games because of it.”

Even Phoenix’s two-most prolific three-point snipers, Channing Frye and Gerald Green, have been in on the two-point shooting efforts. Against the Lakers Frye struggled by going 1-for-6 from deep yet he still scored 20 points.

The Mavs game-planned for him well.

In the pick-and-roll game, Dirk Nowitzki and the other Mavs did well covering Frye, who finished with six points and just six shot attempts. Dallas showed hard against Dragic coming across screens, pushing the point guard too far out, which allowed the Mavs to recover on Frye. When the Suns adjusted by making Frye roll, they couldn’t complete a pass.

“If you’re playing it that way and you roll hard and you get one or two of those, then all of a sudden they have to get out (on the three-point pops),” Hornacek said. “We never got that one or two.”

Carlisle moved Nowitzki around defensively, and Hornacek hinted the Suns weren’t quite picking up on what mismatches to attack once that happened. The communication between bench and point guard, and between point guard and his teammates, could improve.

But in the end, Phoenix’s offense still put up 107 points without Eric Bledsoe, without Leandro Barbosa and with Channing Frye and Gerald Green combining for 18. It was a huge help that Marcus and Markieff Morris poured in 36 points off the bench, of course.

Compounding the Suns’ lack of three-point shooting, just 41 combined attempts over the last two games, is that they’ve only hit 27 percent in that span. But they see the three-point shooting woes as a short-term issue. They’ll get their touch backs once teams have to adjust to all the scoring in the paint.

“It’s waves, it’s waves,” Tucker said. “We have to keep playing, keep shooting. Most times we lose, it’s on our D.”

And with a 3-6 record in January, it really does just come down to the nitty-gritty. The Suns have a point differential of -0.1 this month.

A weird ending

The Suns somehow ground out a final possession against Dallas that could have forced the game into overtime. With 6.7 seconds left after forcing a turnover on Dallas’ own inbound, P.J. Tucker inbounded to Goran Dragic from under the hoop. The looping point guard drew Tucker’s man, Shawn Marion, and Tucker quickly went to his favorite spot in the right corner.

Dragic found him, Tucker’s shot spun out, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered much anyway – Tucker’s toe was on the line.

“Me and Goran talked, we knew that once he attacked, Shawn would have to react to it,” Tucker said. “Just one of those days, man. I was already celebrating because it did everything but go down.”

So about those jerseys …

Goran Dragic is still not a fan. He won’t be until the Suns win donning orange and sleeves.

“I was a little bit skeptical before the beginning,” he said. “Then when you get on the court, you’re so much zoned in, you just forget it. I think it’s a good look, something new. So far they are not lucky jerseys for us.”

  • Voqar

    The thing that would help the most would be to make wide open shots and otherwise makeable shots.

    Against Dallas they missed way too may wide open 3′s and other shots. That can’t happen when you are also taking a lot of tougher shots (almost anything green jacks up or anything plumlee attempts inside).

    I like plumlee but he needs to either hit his inside moves or give it a rest and get his points off of hustle, fast breaks, rebound/putbacks. This forcing the ball thru him when he’s off and waiting until he misses 3-4 brutally isn’t a great idea.

    The team seems to too often be lacking for energy too. There’s a reason by Dragic is the one man fast break – it’s because nobody else is down the court when he takes off for the other basket. Or he passes to them for a wide open 3 and they miss.

  • BCrayZ

    “Blur” is coming back.

    This will help coach Jeff & the team.

    Hope that some of the young guys will take notes as to how easy he makes it look, when he drives to the hoop. Just hope that he is healthy enough to play.

    MUST start & finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • CART jeff

    Ok, I have established the baby hook shot is ineffective for Plumlee. Now what? Plumlee has great footwork and jumping abiliy so he should model his game off of Duncan. Duncan doesn’t settle for 3 point shots, he shoots a lot of 10 footers facing the basket and when younger, a lot of 1 dribble drives. Squaring up and shooting means he will get to the free throw a lot more too.

  • sunsn7

    It all comes down to TEAM EFFORT.

    This young squad started believing the early season hype and didn’t think they had to work so hard. They’ve become a chuck n duck team (no surprise there).

    Play the youngsters and lets get better draft positioning. Suns wont make any noise even if they make the playoffs. Im looking further down the NBA road than just this season.

  • BCrayZ

    Play the youngsters?

    Sure. “TEAM EFFORT”?

    How does playing the effortless, selfish twins contribute to the effort of the team? We get lots of effort from our starting unit. Will have even more from them with either LB or Eric pairing with Gogi. Suns don’t get that same intensity from the 2nd unit. Twins drift off into their own zone. Make some changes is what we need. Louis is not the most polished ball player, but he gives 100% effort to the team. Free agent again, after his release by the Pelicans, whose coach is not the brightest bulb. Alvin, when he was our coach, instilled that “TEAM EFFORT” into what I refer to as “that killer bench unit.” Make a 2-for-1 deal. Upgrade our bench small forward by trading both of them to Indy (for Grainger) or get Dud back from the Clip. Heck, they must be desperate if they just signed Hedo. Dud has not worked out for them. Open up a roster spot for Louis. Gogi, Frye & LB will be ecstatic to have him back & so will our fans. Sell tons of Louis jerseys & bobble head doll & even Sarver will be happy about this. This will immediately boost our “TEAM EFFORT.” Make it so Ryan.

    MUST reunite “that killer bench unit.” Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • EBJM

    If you can coach a 25 year-old Plumlee to shoot like Duncan and Nowitzki you are wasting your time on this blog. You should start your own big-mans camp like Pete Newell’s (seriously).

    Nowitzki came over from Germany as a 20 year-old that played like a typical European big. At 21 he started a full season and scored 17.5 points per game against NBA players.

    Tim Duncan came into the league as the college player of the year and immediately earned the nickname, “The Big Fundamental” and his best shot is an “old school” bank shot.

    Pete Newell couldn’t even teach Miles to shoot fall-away jumpers and straight-away bank-shots.

    Are you talking about fantasy basketball leagues?

    If shooting those type of shots were so easy, Miles would have mastered them or even a simple hook shot by now.

    There are reasons players like Jason and Jarron Collins can play in the NBA.

    Maybe big-man coach Mark West is the problem? He couldn’t hit anything but a dunk shot himself.

    Why stop at fall-away jumpers and straight-away bank-shots? Lets send Miles to Houston so Hakeem Olajuwon can teach Miles the “Dream Shake!

  • BCrayZ

    That is funny but sadly true.

    Frye has shown some new wrinkles in his game. Much higher ceiling here.

    WELCOME HOME BLUR!!!! This game, on our home court, further evidences what he will bring to our team. Have Barbosa play with Gogi & Frye. Make it so Jeff.

    MUST start & ALSO finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!