The Phoenix Suns have to commit to their new identity

The Phoenix Suns have struggled to find an identity all season, and now that they have one, they must commit to it.

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets
Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets / Jamie Schwaberow/GettyImages
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One of the many positive characteristics of the Chris Paul era was that the Phoenix Suns never lacked an identity. Each core player had their role clearly delineated, and they excelled in that role.

The Suns play style was slow and methodical, leading to fewer turnovers and complete domination in the clutch. They also consistently fielded top defenses, adding to their grind-it-out approach. 

That sense of identity is something that we may have taken for granted, especially since this year’s team is still trying to find theirs.

That’s less than ideal considering we’re now more than 60 games into the season with the playoffs a month away. 

It’s not a surprise that it’s taking so long. The Suns roster was almost completely revamped this offseason, coaching included. They didn’t have the benefit of playing together for years to form any kind of chemistry. They’ve also dealt with constant injuries to their star players, further stunting their development.

Thus, finding and committing to a certain style of play, something that they can always fall back on in the big moments, may be Frank Vogel’s top priority over the next 20 games. 

Typically, Vogel coached teams can win games with a strong defensive identity, but the Suns just aren’t built to win that way. That’s a consequence of putting together an offensive-oriented “Big 3” who are joined by two more offense-first players in the starting lineup. 

Kevin Durant is the only core player that can be considered an elite defender, and you certainly don’t want him expending all his energy on that end of the floor.

Vogel has always been able to rely on an outstanding defensive anchor, but that's not Jusuf Nurkić's strength. Vogel has also committed to Grayson Allen as his fifth starter, further distancing the Suns from a typical Vogel team.

It’s clear then, that Suns will have to win with an offensive identity, but not like they did in recent years.

Due to the lack of a true point guard, the Suns aren’t going to win games by dicing up teams in the pick and roll like the Paul teams did. While the Paul teams consistently ranked in the top half of the league in pick and roll frequency, this year’s team is ranked 24th in that regard. 

In direct contrast to the Paul years, the Suns are now an extremely high turnover team that is reaching unfathomable levels of ineptitude in fourth quarters and the clutch.

Instead of playing like those recent teams, the current Suns can try to emulate the famous “Seven Seconds or Less" team that revolutionized the NBA with a high speed offense that put an emphasis on taking a lot of threes.

The Suns needing to take more threes is something that we’ve harped on all season, but we’re clearly not alone in wanting that. There seems to be a push and pull between the Suns’ coaching staff and their players. 

There have been numerous occurrences this season in which the Suns manage to get up an acceptable number of threes in a game, followed by post game interviews in which the players say it was a point of emphasis heading into play. Those games are then usually followed by the Suns falling back into the bad habit of not taking enough threes. 

Finally though, it looks like the message may have been received. Over the last 10 games the Suns are averaging 34.2 3s per game. In the last 5 that number jumps to 38. Those numbers are both significantly higher than their season average of 31.8. Time will tell if this is just an anomaly or a true, newfound commitment to taking more threes.  

Playing with pace was the primary attribute of those Steve Nash teams and it’s something that the Suns are also finally doing. Over the last 15 games, they’re playing at the second fastest pace in the league.

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In contrast to the coaches preaching more threes, this seems like something that the Suns players themselves are focused on. After another high turnover game from the team, Bradley Beal said he felt that the Suns were “overpassing” and needed to just take the shots available to them.

That was essentialy the motto of those Nash teams. Doing this can lead to an even higher pace, and of course, more threes taken. It can also help the Suns in the clutch, as there will be less standing around watching the Suns stars play iso ball.

Those positive signs over the last month and half indicate that the Suns have found an identity. Now they just have to commit to it.