Four months ago, it looked like the Phoenix Suns were packing their bags and getting ready to go down the dreaded one way road to tanking. No diversions. No pit-stops. No road blocks. Just straight tanking.
But after 36 games, they’ve surprised everyone, everywhere, by putting themselves in the Playoff race in a tough Western Conference with a 21-15 record – good enough for the seventh seed. If the Suns were in the East, that record would be good enough for the third seed, but…yeah, we’ll just leave it at that.
Anyway, a lot of their success has been due to the system rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek has put in place. With the likes of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee on the roster, Hornacek has got them shooting threes and fast-breaking* more than anyone else in the NBA and so far, its worked wonders.
*If you want to know what makes them so amazing on the fast-break, make sure you check out Mike Prada’s piece, “Speed, persistent pace fuel Suns’ 2-headed dragon” on SB Nation. But if you want to know one of the many ways they get open threes, stick and stay with me for a minute.
Obviously, the Suns free themselves up for good looks from beyond the arc in a variety of ways. For Gerald Green, it mainly consists of step-back heaves, which make old school basketball fans want to cry. For Goran Dragic, the fast-break is his weapon of choice, but when defenders go under screens, he makes them pay. And as for their more traditional three-point shooters like Channing Frye, they run plays involving a lot of screens, which help them get into their sweet spots.
One of those plays is this souped-up pick-and-pop they ran against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
Step One – The Set-Up
As soon as Goran Dragic passes half-court, both Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye set up at either the elbow. Dragic now has a double screen, giving him the option of going either left or right. Presumably, the play is slightly different if he uses Plumlee’s screen because, well, you’ll see. Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker – the shooters – pull their defenders away from the middle of the court by spotting-up in either corner.
Step Two – The Choice
Dragic decides to use Frye’s screen. Instead of chasing him over it, Mike Conley goes underneath the screen, which forces Zach Randolph to hedge because, otherwise, Dragic will quite happily let it fly from three. As this is going on, Channing Frye slips the screen and begins running towards Plumlee at the other elbow. Plumlee takes a step up to get himself into position to set a screen on Randolph.
Step Three – The Execution
Randolph, realising that his man is a pretty deadly three-point shooter, runs to recover after Conley has switched back onto Dragic. However, thanks to Plumlee’s 255 lbs. screen, Randolph gets a little stuck, which is bad news for the Grizzlies. Plumlee’s defender, Kosta Koufus, can’t afford to switch because it would give Miles with a free lane to the basket and if Mike Miller leaves Green, he’ll either get a wide open look from the short corner or a backdoor cut for an alley-oop.
Step Four – Bread and Butter
Dragic makes a perfect pass to Frye, Randolph gives up on the play because he has no chance of contesting the shot and the Suns get a wide-open three. Frye could’ve also shown Miller a pump-fake and then given the ball up to Green if he was in the mood, but he had it rolling in the first quarter, so there’s no surprise that he jacked it up. Plus, he’s wide open. What do you expect from a guy who attempts 5.4 threes per game?
Here’s a video of the play:
Silky smooth, easy and effective. I’m talking about the play, by the way. Not the Phoenix Suns. Although, you could get away with saying the same thing about them.