Vol.2, Iss.7: We're In Good Shape

Taking a look at the win over the Bucks, with a focus on the Suns star backcourt & a possible window into the Playoffs.

Something Different This Week…..

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But Let’s Start From The Top…..

In a 125-124 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Phoenix Suns took their biggest scalp of the young NBA season on their way to a 15-9 record. The victory also extended the current winning streak to four, and made it seven wins from their last eight games. But despite all of these little milestones, there was a far more significant achievement left in the wake of the W.

For me, it marked the coming out party of Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

It was the first time both Suns guards scored 25+ in the same game. Going for 30 and 28 respectively. What struck me post game, was how it felt like at least one of the Suns star duo were on the court at all times. It wasn’t just a feeling, it was right. I then wondered if this was the first time it had occurred this season. On that, I was wrong.

In Issue 1 of Volume 2, I threw my support behind the move for CP3 and discussed ‘The Head Of The Snake’. How it could give the Suns dual threats on the court at the same time, while offering the chance to have that danger through at least one guy for all 48 minutes. Back then, it was merely just a theory. But now, we have seen it put into practice.

Phoenix have deployed ‘The Full Stagger’ on three separate occasions this season and the result has been three wins. All against very good opposition in Indiana, Boston and Milwaukee. It’s also been in three games where Cam Payne has been unavailable but let’s save that discussion for later.

It’s still a little early to glean too much from the above. Plus the Suns really wobbled for a stretch there, so the numbers could be a little misleading. But there are a few little trends I’ll let you find for yourself. When you add those to the film, that’s where my attention starts to peak. So SURPRISE, that’s exactly what we are going to do.

Let’s walk through the win over the Bucks to dissect how this key rotation move operates and why it could be so dangerous come Playoff time for the Suns.

Q1. Establish Book & Ayton Early

The first term is all about establishing Booker in a rhythm. Deandre Ayton had 10 first quarter points in this one, but it almost feels like he is simply a beneficiary of the recent change rather than a priority. In my opinion, that’s a good thing.

It starts with Paul directing the traffic and everyone else doing what they are told. In the below, Ayton is directed to go make room for Book. A really smart tiny adjustment from Booker gets himself free. It can’t be stressed enough how important it is for the Suns new Point God to look for Book early in his spots.

Now we get to where DA gets the reward for the attention placed on the Suns star duo. The very next possession, Book gets Ayton back. It’s a play designed to generate a switch, ideally for one of Paul or Book to exploit. But there will be times where it creates even larger holes than that. If Ayton stays engaged, even when the play isn’t drawn up for him, he can be rewarded. And it can’t be stressed enough, how impotant it is for Book and Paul to do so when the opportunity presents itself.

Another recent change I’ve noticed - less forced Post Ups and more Pick & Roll. I’m not totally against Ayton posting his man up on the block. It just needs to be very situation dependant. This change is a nice development though. Instead of forcing the feed or abandoning Ayton altogether, Booker hit the reset button and gets the Big Fella involved in a smarter and frankly more efficient way.

The end of the first quarter is becoming Point Book time. CP3 exits the game (more recently for E’Twuan Moore) and Book assumes the lead ball-handler responsibilities until the buzzer. This has become crucial in throwing teams off their prior defensive instincts, as Book presents a very different challenge to Paul. Sub Ayton out for a shooter and the floor opens up for Book to go to work.

Q2. Hit Them With The 1-2 Combo

Paul replaces Booker at the first break and quarter number two becomes the full stagger experience. They each play around 6 minutes and in this one, they had 15 points between them.

Here we see CP3 start to establish his own scoring game, after taking care of the youngins in the opening period. Without D-Book, Paul is more comfortable running simple high P&R with Ayton - surrounded by three shooters. If the Suns PG touches the paint with very little interference, it’s sweet dreams for the defense. Or nightmares if you’re Bobby Portis.

What we haven’t seen a lot of, is Paul taking and making deep shots off the catch. There has been a shift recently to let others attack in transition off the rebound or even pass ahead to those running the lane. Paul doesn’t think twice here about running straight to the corner and is rewarded for the initiative. Something he should do more, because he’s really damn good with that much space.

Now it’s Booker’s turn. Interestingly neither he or Paul picked up a single assist in the second term. But that’s where numbers can sometimes paint an inaccurate picture. Take the below for example. Booker knows exactly where he wants the ball to go (hint: Mikal Bridges), he just used a conduit to get it there safely. There’s no stat for that.

The reason Book likes to be on the court with another guy who can play-make a little, is because he’s a SG after all. This tends to mean Monty Williams often avoids going full Point Book, but Moore is a nice side kick for a little bit of both. E’Twuan won’t dominate the ball like a more traditional PG, but can make simple reads to get Book the ball where he wants it.

Q3. The Third Is Reserved For CP3

Onto the second half, where the Suns really made their run in this one. Phoenix had 39 points, with Booker (11) and Paul (9) contributing more than half of those between them. Now, I know what you are probably thinking. Yes, Booker outscored Paul in this term and yes, I still stand by what I titled this section.

Why? Well first of all, Paul played just 7 minutes to Book’s 12. He also added 2 assists to Book’s 0. The first of which is below. A perfectly drawn up play to start the half, involving all three of the Suns big guns.

Had to throw a rare defensive highlight in. Not to suggest defense on the Suns is rare, because it is anything but. However, defense leading to offense is something that is infrequently talked about. But you know dear reader, I LOVE IT!

We all know how good Chris Paul is in the mid-range. He’s a master. It’s an absolute joy to watch. I want to highlight the next two plays to illustrate how someone as dangerous as Booker can make it even easier on Paul. Look at where Lopez starts and where he ends, and what takes him there.

Now look at where Booker takes himself. He spaces the floor about as far as anyone possibly can and in turn, takes the Bucks best defender completely out of the play.

Q4. Finding The Perfect Balance

Alright guys and girls, we are almost there. This game is fun though, so it can’t have been hard to re-live some of these moments. Remember how the third was all about Paul finding his rhythm? Well it’s for good reason, as he went on with it here in the final term. Paul (10) and Booker (5) once again scored over half of the total team points.

Where Quarters One and Three are Booker’s chance to play the full twelve minutes, recently the fourth has been all Chris Paul. Literally. With Monty changing his two stint structure for CP3, in favor of him going the distance. And who can blame him when he sets up nice plays like this to start the term?

Book returns after his rest, but there’s a key difference to earlier. Well, two actually. Ayton is still sitting and Paul is out there. Here we see Booker in the same five-out style offense with all shooters, despite CP3s presence. What a luxury to lean on something that you know works, whilst having Paul as your secondary playmaker slash spot up shooter.

A laughable luxury when he can also take over the game and Booker’s only job is to space the floor and kick the ball back to him, when he needs. Make ‘em dance, Chris. Make ‘em dance.

Now remember all the way back at the start when we were talking about dual threats? Well Book and Paul have been doing it on their own in spurts all season, but we’ve rarely seen them do it together. It’s nice to see D-Book play copycat to Paul above and even nicer to see them both involved in each play.

Now we wait…..

I mentioned Cam Payne up top and said we’d get back to him. Now is that time. Coach Williams has only deployed the full stagger structure in three games when Payne has been out. The first of which was the initial missed game directly after Payne’s injury. Now, I like Payne and think he has deserved every minute this season. I also think he has a key role to play for the Suns to grind their way through the regular season.

But I do wonder what his presence does to the mindset of Monty Williams off court and also to the way the team play through their stars on court. I am right now going on record as All In on ‘The Full Stagger’. It doesn’t have to be full time for the rest of the season. But if it’s going to be your ideal rotation come Playoff time, then you sure as hell want to make sure you have enough reps during the season to get it right. This is similar to how I feel about starting Frank Kaminsky right now, but I’ll save that for another day.

Rotations and minute allocations can never be an exact science. The sample size is also still a little too small. But if we go back to the data presented at the beginning of this Issue, I do think we can see some trends that are worth monitoring going forward. Right now, it seems that results are positive when;

  • Booker and Paul play roughly 23 minutes together.

  • Booker plays 15 minutes without Paul.

  • Paul plays 10 minutes without Booker.

The numbers also suggest there is more to keep an eye on when it comes to this. Although Book and Paul together are currently a net negative, that number has been steadily increasing as the season has progressed. Outside of that, Booker without Paul is currently out-performing Paul without Booker - although both are very good - which supports the notion that both need time as the sole operator and at the current ratio that is being played.

For now, I am confident we have recently seen the blue print for how this team is going to play in the Playoffs. And I like what I see. It was the entire appeal to adding a guy of Chris Paul’s calibre and skillset in the first place. To quote Devin Booker, if the Suns go ‘The Full Stagger’ when it matters - We’re In Good Shape.


Overtime…..

Bear with me while I self indulge a little in OT this week, with a couple of extra things I did recently + some great content from others too.

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