Vol.3, Iss.4: The Euro Snap
On the eve of Season 21/22, let's take a deeper look at the Suns pet set play & the many wrinkles Monty Williams has worked in.
Welcome back - it’s been a while! With the NBA Season fast approaching, I thought it might be time to re-connect. Just wanted to take the opportunity to thank all of you again for following along last season. It was a wild & fun ride! While the Suns ultimately fell short, it’s really cool to look back on all the Issues that now document that run forever. Thanks for helping me reach A LOT of my individual goals with this Newsletter. Now we just have one big collective goal left. And I’ll do my best to keep writing when I can, in the hope it’s eventually all about an NBA title winning season.
Time To Travel…..
Phoenix call it ‘Snap’.
Chris Paul dribbles the ball down the court, head up & eyes constantly surveying how the defense is structuring up. The Suns desperately need a bucket. Paul raises his right hand while maintaining his dribble with the left. As CP3s four fingers snap across his thumb, four Phoenix teammates take their cues from the floor general.
Mikal Bridges & Jae Crowder man their stations in the left & right corners, patiently waiting in case their number is called. Deandre Ayton marches towards Paul in lock step, attempting to time the high screen down to the second. All while Devin Booker hovers around the middle of the floor like a predator, patiently waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Quicker than you can snap your fingers, Paul snakes around an Ayton pick while Booker sets a screen of his own. A quick pass & then a shot. The basketball slowly trickles through the twine. At least it was a quick death. But what happened?
That’s the beauty of ‘Snap’.
At first, it’s hard to see it coming & hits you right between the eyes. Eventually you learn to read the signs - the play call, the hand signal, the impending Booker back screen. But that’s still only half the battle. Monty Williams’ pet play is forever evolving & his players are too. Through reading the defense & reacting, one simple play call has a ton of different wrinkles to get to the one desired outcome. A crucial bucket.
It’s the Phoenix Suns go to play & it can kill you in a variety of different ways.
Dissecting The Spain Pick & Roll
‘Snap’ Action #1 - The Spain
What the Suns call ‘Snap’, the majority of the NBA actually call ‘Stack’.
However, you may hear ‘Spain Pick & Roll’ far more often than those other two terms combined. The Spanish National team are the reason for that, as they are recognised as the offense to bring ‘Snap’ into vogue. Funnily enough though, Coach Williams may have been using it with New Orleans even before the Spaniards made it famous.
Maybe we should call it the ‘Monty Pick & Roll’? Whatever you want to call it, the rest comes in threes.
There are three primary players involved - the Point Guard, Center & Shooting Guard. There are also three basic principles - the C starts with a high ball screen, followed by the SG looking to back screen the C’s defender & then the PG chooses the best shot. Which is where we get to the three desired outcomes (*Spoiler Alert* - there’s more) - a dunk for the hard rolling C, a wide open shot for the popping SG or an easy look for the PG who is left on his own.
Let’s start with arguably the most aesthetically pleasing result of ‘Snap’ & the first outcome that tends to come to mind. Please draw your attention to the first clip below.
Play Notes - Notice how Dennis Schroder gets caught on Ayton’s initial screen & Booker’s man sees he is lining up to back screen Andre Drummond. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope feels he has no choice but to help on Paul’s drive. The Lakers two best defenders are glued to the corners. That’s no coincidence. Booker abandons the intended screen & slips to the 3-point line for the open shot. A thing of beauty.
Next up, when Booker decides to stick the screen it often results in a clear lane for Ayton to dive to the hoop.
Play Notes - As Booker screens Brook Lopez, Jrue Holiday does a great job of helping to cut off the drive. But with the big snookered & Jeff Teague still intent on chasing the ball carrier, Ayton is left with an easy challenge of finishing through the late help corner defense.
Finally, we see how the ball-handler can attack out of ‘Snap’ & create a shot for himself.
Play Notes - Rajon Rondo fights over the screen & Ivica Zubac sits back in drop, a perfectly fine defensive strategy against Cam Payne. Except when Booker sets a heavy screen from behind. Patrick Beverley is caught between defending the rock & a hard dive from Dario Saric.
Booker Loves Lisbon
‘Snap’ Action #2 - The Portugal
It is at this point, where you are being asked to take a sharp turn within your imagination before reading on. You see, everything before now was cemented in concrete fact. From here, we are still dealing with reality - it’s just laced with a little harmless fantasy.
Hear me out. If the best possible outcome from running a traditional ‘Snap’ set is a wide open 3 from the top of the key, then that location on the hardwood shall be known as ‘Spain’ from here on out. And if to the best of my current knowledge, the Suns Spain Pick & Roll sequence only has one play-call (‘Snap’) - then how the hell do we define all the read & react variations the Suns players make on that play?
Simple. We name each variation after a country in Europe, based on where it sits on the world map in relation to Spain. Starting with a country directly due West.
Play Notes - When the opposition big sits back in ‘Drop’ & the point of attack defender fights over the screen, Ayton runs straight into another screen on Booker’s man. Occasionally, Book simply pops short of the 3-point line if his defender doesn’t make it through the screen. More frequently though, he will receive the pass & shift smoothly to a familiar territory where he is very much at home - Portugal.
Play Notes - Same play, same team, same series & same result. This time the Clippers switch on the guards but still, Reggie Jackson has to fight over the Ayton screen. Notice how Booker has his eyes up on the catch. Jackson cheats over the screen to attempt to meet Book where he thinks he’s heading. That’s the cue to instead take a trip to a new destination & a shot Booker is more than comfortable making.
Footwork that even Portugal’s best export, Ronaldo, would be proud of.
Bridges From Belfast
‘Snap’ Action #3 - The Ireland
It’s about 1000 miles South-East as the crow flies, from Dublin to Barcelona. You have to take a plane, as there are no bridges. On an NBA basketball court though, it’s less than 30 feet from the corner to the top of the key. Bridges, you ask? Mikal. Or is it McCal?
When the opposition defends ‘Snap’ well, the Suns are forced to reach deep into their bag of tricks. It’s there that the real pot of gold lies.
Play Notes - Clippers again & this time they’ve seen ‘Snap’ coming. Beverley calls it out & ‘Top Locks’ Booker, essentially blocking him from where he wants to get to. Jackson fights over & Zubac sits in ‘Drop’. We’re trapped! Ayton goes to set his second screen but Booker is nowhere to be seen. Never fear, the sneaky Leprechaun is here! LAC might’ve seen Spain but they were yet to visit Ireland.
Play Notes - The Lakers pin the Suns this time but with a different scheme altogether. Drummond comes right up to the level of the screen & sticks to Ayton on the roll. Schroder & Caldwell-Pope switch, resulting in Paul hitting a roadblock. Is that Mikal’s music? You betcha! CP3 is faced with a tricky split but bowls a spare.
Surrender To Paris
‘Snap’ Action #4 - The France
This next wrinkle is a beret-tip to our Parisian friends, purely because Paris is a short trip directly North from Barcelona. And definitely not because it is a bit of a surrender play the Suns have up their sleeves. I wouldn’t stoop that low & shame on you for thinking so!
Play Notes - Paul calls out ‘Snap’ in the backcourt & you can see Phoenix loosely setup to execute the familiar play. But with Holiday pressing high & Giannis Antetokounmpo refusing to be back-screened, it’s time for Booker to call an audible. Book retreats to France right as Paul takes off, leaving Khris Middleton with a choice - follow his man or help on the drive. He chose wrong.
Play Notes - Booker surrenders this time because Drummond sees him coming. All Paul needs is that slight distraction from the job at hand to attack. With the Lakers forced to switch the Pick & Roll, Paul now knows he just has to bide his time in order to find Ayton over Schroder. “Too Small”, he says.
Play Notes - Drummond’s mistake this time isn’t having his head on a swivel but rather biting off more than he can chew. Booker notices the Lakers big step right up to the level of Ayton’s screen. That’s dangerous territory against the Point-God & Book knows there’s no point over-complicating things here. Just get out of the way & let chef CP3 turn the snail into escargot.
All Over Europe
‘Snap’ Action #5 - The European Union
Introducing - the final boss.
When the chips are down, backs are against the wall & all the other Spain variations have been nullified - enter The European Union. This action traverses all over the imaginary map of Europe placed on the half-court. Not only that but it’s full form is all the prior ‘Snap’ elements joining forces to morph into the last enemy.
Play Notes - Keep it simple on the first watch & just track Devin Booker. Rather than run straight into the usual back-screen, Book disguises the play by travelling all over Europe before circling back to the familiar starting position & ending up in Spain.
Play Notes - Now watch again. The Suns run ‘The EU’ out of another familiar starting point - ‘Elbow 52’, which we’ve covered before. While I am yet to uncover it, I am convinced this must have it’s own seperate play-call due to the unique starting point. With Phoenix usually running a whole different set of actions out of ‘Elbow 52’, it creates the perfect disguise for an elaborate sneak ‘Snap’ play. Book sees Jokic up high, so takes himself to France. Ayton takes himself to the rim, with the left no less.
Play Notes - Who can forget this beautiful set out of a timeout? Ayton & Booker go full EU, treating the Nuggets like the United Kingdom trying to re-join the union. Paul pierces through the Denver defense as a result & the last line of resistance is a day-dreaming Michael Porter Jnr. Who you could liken to an unfinished border wall.
What About The New Guys?
Perhaps one of the best features of travelling the world, is the new friends that you make on your journey. With the Phoenix Suns recently adding some fresh faces, the mind immediately wanders & wonders. How might they help this upcoming season, specifically within ‘Snap’?
Let’s start with Landry Shamet. Honestly, where can’t Landry operate within the ‘Snap’ series? It isn’t tough to imagine him in Booker’s role in any one of Spain, Portugal or even France. Nor is it a giant leap to see him flying from Ireland to the top of the key to nail a big 3. But let’s keep it simple & pretend he’s out there in addition to the core trio of Ayton, Booker & Paul with the Suns in need of a late game bucket.
Play Notes - The Bucks switch, switch & switch again. As we’ve seen, any team that has the ability to do that can go a long way to stifling the Suns Spain scheme. But as Booker pops out to drag Giannis away, Ayton rolls & sucks two smaller bodies into the paint with his gravity. Shamet shot 42.3% on catch & shoot 3s last season.
What about JaVale McGee? With the off-season signing, the Suns are able to duplicate Ayton’s role within the ‘Snap’ system from his backup. In recent years, Phoenix seem to have prioritised a contrasting look with Ayton’s immediate reserve. But with Dario Saric out injured, could Monty & his men be doubling down?
Play Notes - Booker makes his way in to pick off the big but with Paul rejecting the screen to go right & Giannis switching, Book abandons the contact to keep the Bucks superstar on the ball. JaVale is able to roll to the bucket with a smaller player on him & finish the play. McGee shot 65% inside 5ft last season, to Ayton’s 71%.
While the Elfrid Payton addition may end up being an inconsequential move for the Suns, he does possess an interesting skillset when it comes to ‘Snap’. If you are willing to throw last season out for Payton (which I can be convinced to do for a few reasons) he did sport 9.3 assists to 2.8 turnovers Per 36 minutes in 2019/20. That compares favourably to Payne’s 7.2 assists to 2.0 turnovers Per 36 last season. Payton should be able to find the targets out of this set for the Suns when needed but can he score like Payne?
Play Notes - As Booker creates confusion creeping towards Marc Gasol’s back, Payton takes off to turn the corner. While his 3 point shot won’t worry defenders, Elfrid can penetrate off his playmaking reputation alone. Season 19/20 Payton & last season Payne both finished around 54% of their shots inside 5 feet. Neither is stellar but Payton may find a role when Phoenix is in a pinch.
Trust me, I know X’s & O’s aren’t for everyone. But if you subscribe to this Newsletter & are still reading this article, I’m going to assume I’ve kept your interest to this point.
The fact is, if there is simply one set the Suns run that you want to be across - it’s ‘Snap’. You may or may not have noticed that every clip above is from the Suns Playoffs run last season. ‘Snap’ was a real feature of that Playoffs & had so many key moments for Phoenix. Just between you & I, the original plan was for this to be a Championship celebrating deep dive. Alas!
Instead, consider this the foundation series of ‘Snap’. It’s good for us all to learn it now because I’ve got a feeling Monty is about to add a few more wrinkles this upcoming season. Be on the look out Phoenix fans. Until next time - Go Suns!
And if you want to watch all of the above clips again uninterrupted, you can click the YouTube link below.
Here’s a quick look at some upcoming important dates on the NBA calendar for the start of the Suns 21/22 NBA Season:
October 4th - Suns Preseason Game @ SAC.
October 6th - Suns Preseason Game vs LAL.
October 10th - Suns Preseason Game @ LAL.
October 13th - Suns Preseason Game vs POR.
October 18th - Extension Deadline for Ayton, Bridges & Shamet.
October 19th - NBA Season Begins.
October 20th - Suns Regular Season Opener vs Nuggets