Phoenix Suns must find a way to improve free-throw numbers

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Much has been made of the Phoenix Suns offensive style this offseason, one that’s predicated on  a rather old-fashioned system of living in the mid-range area.

But as many fans sing the chorus of “shoot more threes”, as is the way in modern basketball, perhaps it’d be more favourable to press the idea of shooting more free-throws.

The Phoenix Suns must find a way to improve their free-throw numbers in 2022-23, with the aspect proving a clear weakness in recent times.

The Suns have ranked 29th and 27th in free-throw attempts in each of the last two seasons, an extraordinary fact when you consider they’ve been the best regular season team during this time. This is simply a product of how they play, and it certainly isn’t something that changes during the playoffs.

In the postseason they’ve ranked last and second-last in free-throw attempts, that despite making it to the Finals in 2021. Free-throw numbers aren’t a distinctive factor of success – the Suns have demonstrated that, as have the last two NBA champions in the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors.

However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be an aspect of improvement for Phoenix moving forward. The stylistic factor has impacted even those that have come from outside the organization – until his time at the Suns, Chris Paul’s lowest free-throw attempts was 3.5 per game. Yet his two seasons in Phoenix have yielded averages of 2.6 and 3.1.

Chris Paul at the free-throw line, Phoenix Suns. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Chris Paul at the free-throw line, Phoenix Suns. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

From an individual standpoint, Phoenix have few players who apply the sort of rim pressure that garners trips to the free-throw line. There two best players, Paul and Booker, rely on skill and finesse over athleticism, while Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson are pure perimeter shooters. Mikal Bridges too is a three-and-D wing, although there’s some scope for him to advance his free-throw attempts with even more slashing to the rim.

Deandre Ayton must be considered the main culprit for the Suns lack of attempts. Despite standing at nearly seven foot, Ayton relies heavily on finesse around the basket rather than raw power. While he’s extremely skillful in this aspect, increased aggression has been a point of emphasis we’ve previously discussed.

The Suns don’t need to magically turn into a league-leader in free-throw attempts, but they could certainly do with further advantage of their elite efficiency when there. Phoenix were 7th in free-throw percentage last season and 2nd in 2020-21.

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The beneficiaries can extend further than just the extra points – it gets opposition teams in foul trouble and keeps the Suns offense more versatile and unpredictable. Just as importantly, it can defy drastic momentum shifts when the Suns offense begins to stifle, as it did in their game seven elimination to the Dallas Mavericks last season.