Will Monty Williams make the Phoenix Suns a more fluid team?

Phoenix Suns Steve Nash (Photo by George Bridges/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns Steve Nash (Photo by George Bridges/MCT/MCT via Getty Images) /

In his introductory press conference, new Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams said he wanted to adopt some parts of the San Antonio Spurs’ wear down offense. Is the roster already not that far off from being able to pull it off?

One of the most frustrating aspects of the last few years of Phoenix Suns basketball was an apparent lack of off-the-ball movement on offense. Generally a ball-handler would look to isolate, everyone else would stand around, and unless there was a play literally drawn up, motion would stop.

Or so it seemed.

When I set out to write this post, it was based on Monty Williams‘ comments in his introductory press conference that he wanted to adopt part of what the San Antonio Spurs do on offense with constant movement, wearing down their opponents.

I absolutely love that idea, and his full quote on the matter was as follows:

"“One of the things I did learn in San Antonio was that they’ve got a wear down affect. The ball movement, player movement, would wear teams out. And then in the fourth quarter they would take that Spurs push, and they’d be up 10, 15, and the game would be over. And you can see that with Golden State, the way they beat Portland. The ball movement, player movement, it just wears you out. And so we want to adopt some of those things.”"

Suns fans have been clamoring  for this type of style for many years now, essentially hearkening back to the Steve Nash and Seven Seconds or Less era in which the ball was in constant motion and player isolation would have drawn the ire from a head coach.

But in doing research for this post, where I expected  to note how statistically iso-heavy the Phoenix Suns were last season, I noticed something that I was not expecting – they weren’t that  iso-heavy in 2018-19, and actually finished in the bottom third of the league, 21st overall at only 5.8 possessions, attempting only 5.1 shots out of isolation per game.

For perspective, first place was the Houston Rockets at 20.4% of possessions, while the Utah Jazz were 30th at 3.2%.

Overall, not too bad for the Suns.

Which got me thinking: how easily could they improve upon the foundation they built last season and truly become a San Antonio Spurs-type team that wears their opponent’s down?

My speculation is three-fold:

1. Last year some players would still stand around a lot. How often would Dragan Bender run down the court ahead of the ball and plant himself in a corner never to move? It was one of the most frustrating things to watch. One he realized (and it was often obvious) that the ball was never coming to him, he rarely ever worked the baseline to his advantage and attempt to pick off his defender by sprinting over to the opposite corner. He too never rolled hard when he would be called upon to set a pick for the ball-handler.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

And this wasn’t just Bender (although he was by far the greatest offender of this type of lackadaisical offense), more often than not, Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren wouldn’t move without the ball. They’d slash like crazy if they had possession,  but otherwise they’d stand in their spot like a bump on a log waiting for the ball-handler to come up with something creative – which rarely happened.


2. They need a pass-first point guard. How many animals are there in the animal kingdom who use movement to catch the attention of a mate? I cannot believe that I am actually going to put this analogy into print, but in basketball, a point guard is like the female and the off-ball players are like her potential mates all vying for her attention, ultimately for her to choose one of them.

Imagine a point guard (or at least the ball-handler) scanning the offense, watching all the movement of the four off-ball players in front of him (her?), waiting for the one player who most flourished (is the most attractive) to break away into an open position on the court where the ball can then safely be passed and an open shot can be taken.

Now imagine that the ball-handler has the ball at the top of the key and everyone is standing around watching…

Since Eric Bledsoe bolted, the Suns have not had a primary point guard, a pass-first point guard, who has the offensive makeup to scan the offense in a flash and best get the ball to the open shooter for a scoring opportunity.

While more movement than what occurred last season must take place, a point guard must be acquired, one who can be most qualified to effectively find it’s most attractive passing partner, and get the ball to him in the perfect spot.

3. The Suns need more shooters. Actually, every team (save for maybe Golden State) needs more shooters, and the Warriors have actually proven how great a team can be if they have a group of quality shooters.

While Warren had an incredible shooting year from 3 (42.8%), he only played in 43 games. Troy Daniels, the best pure shooter on the roster for the last two years, shot 38.1%, but inexplicably also only played in 51 games.

Of the consistent players in the 2018-19 rotation, Mikal Bridges (who appeared in all 82 games) led the team in 3-point shooting at only 33.5%. Devin Booker had a down year, shooting only 32.6% while Kelly Oubre and Jackson lagged a hair behind at 32.5% and 32.4%, respectively.

Point guard Tyler Johnson was just behind them at 32.1% while rookie points De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo shot a meager 30.5% and 29.5%.

The aforementioned statue on the court, Dragan Bender, rounded out the primary roster figures at a frigid 21.8%.

The roster needs shooters  in the worst way for a point guard to pass too.

Or a point guard needs the roster to shoot better – however James Jones is able to put the team together this offseason.

A female animal (point guard) might have looked at the four potential passing mates on the court last season and herself flown the coop. Why pass the ball if the receiver can’t shoot? Why pass the ball if no one is moving and making themselves an attractive target (mate?)

Okay, I’m done with all that animal talk.

Must Read. Monty Williams compared himself to a third-world-dictator? Excellent.. light

Years from now, when I think of Igor Kokoskov’s only season as head coach of the Phoenix Suns, I will always wonder if the offensive genius that we had originally been sold on would have been threshed out had he had that point guard the roster still needs, and at least one or two more shooters who he could have designed his offense around.

In the end, Monty Williams will ultimately meet the same fate of his predecessor if he too is never given a competent point guard or shooters on the roster to be passed to. He might state that he wants a fluid offense, but even last season Phoenix was not primarily an isolation squad, they just neither had the shooters to shoot, nor anyone particularly capable of finding players with open shots.