After two games, the Phoenix Suns offense is sputtering. Their offensive efficiency of 94.2 points per 100 possessions is 28th of 30 teams, their points per game (88.5) is at 27th. Ugh. And that was on two home games to open the season, before a three-game road trip that begins today.
Compare these results to prior Suns teams who were top-10 in offensive efficiency for the past 8 years and it's no wonder you've got scores of hand-wringing fans cringing at what they are witnessing from these Suns. Why deviate from a dominating offense to something that few fans have ever heard of, the 'corner' offense, they ask.
The most efficient shots on the floor are in the painted area (inside 10 feet) and outside the three-point line (outside 23 feet, worth 3 points). The least efficient shot is the mid-range two-pointer. Yet the 'corner' offense appears to feature a lot of weird spacing and mid-range two-point shots. Why wouldn't the Suns go back to their bread and butter, the pick-and-roll? Marcin Gortat was one of the best finishers in the game last season.
"I play a lot of pick and rolls with Marcin. He is diving under the basket and Luis is coming up (popping out to the mid-range area) and his guy is taking Marcin. The open available pass was on that midrange shot for Luis. It's really hard for the defense to recover."
On those plays, so far so good. Dragic, power forward Luis Scola, and Marcin Gortat are killing it (121, 119 and 106 efficiency ratings, respectively), while the peripheral shooters are struggling mightily to start the season.
The problems occur when those three guys aren't taking the shots. And for everyone else on the team, their shots just aren't falling yet.
Jared Dudley's career low efficiency rating (including 1.5 years in Charlotte) was 115 points per 100 possessions. After two games, he is currently sitting at 76. A career three-point shooter over 40%, he has made only 11% (1-9) so far this year. His career-low shooting percentage is .459, and last year as one of the focal points of the weak side offense it was .485. Yet it's only .333 this year.
Dudley always been a smart, steady offensive player. He's not prone to long slumps, just as he won't go off for 30 points. Expect his numbers to rise back to the norm pretty soon.
Even those who are down on Michael Beasley must agree that he will improve. The big thing for him so far is making shots. Prior to this season, his lowest shooting percentage was .445. After two games, it's .333. As inefficient as his offensive game appears, since he loves mid-range 2-point shots, he has always been about 100 points per 100 possessions. Not great, but not terrible either. And if he keeps shooting closer to the basket, it will get even better than that. After two games this season? It's only 87.
Asked how he feels in this new 'corner' offense, you get the feeling those numbers will improve dramatically.
"It's easy," he said. "When you got a guy like Dragic coming of the screen as aggressive and crafty as he is, Scola rolling, there's really no room for a double team."
Is he uneasy in his new role on the Suns?
"No, no, I just missed shots."
Then he dropped the serious expression and quipped, "Somebody just need to move the rim over a little bit."
Beasley mentioned the word 'aggressive' several times in a matter of minutes. He knows what's expected of him.
"This team is going to be successful if I'm aggressive," he said in a tone of self-awareness that's been consistent all fall. "While that might not be the case all the time, it's got to be the majority of the time."
Dragic feels the same way. "He has to be aggressive. He penetrated a couple of times, he made a layup, then it's much easier for us and for him. He's a great player."
Beasley gave credit to his head coach, who sat him in the fourth quarter of game one because he wasn't showing enough aggression on the court. By contrast, in game two he gave a lot more effort, and hence got more playing time. "It just shows he's a man of his word."
This new offense might not be as pretty as their old one, but one guy in particular doesn't want the Suns to rely on a single offensive scheme for the whole game no matter how pretty it is.
"We've got to find a way to do more, different stuff," Luis Scola said with earnest, "If we play (pick and roll) every play, sooner or later, they are going to adjust. They are going to find a way to stop that. If you play that as a part of the system, if you mix it up, that's when you can be really effective out there."
Scola knows that you need to scrap and claw and fight for everything. "When you don't do those things, that's when they get the 50/50 balls, they get the offensive rebounds, they get the calls. There's a lot of karma in the game."
The offense will get better. It has to. The three primary players are playing quite efficiently. It's the secondary and tertiary options who are struggling to make easy shots.
Can the Suns continue to win this way, if things don't get better on offense? Can they win with scrappy play and defensive intensity?
"That's a good question," Dragic answered. "We are solid, play good defense. We are creating open shots, just our shot is not looking good right now. We need JD's points. Usually he makes those shots. Maybe we still need a little bit more time, but we are going to be good."
The shooters just have to make open shots. Even in that terrible fourth quarter in game one, the shots were open. Guys just missed them.
Once the shot-making improves, expect the offense to look a lot prettier. And if you can combine that with scrappy play and solid defense, you've got yourself a good basketball team.