One Team, One Stat: Phoenix Suns make history as worst team on both offense and defense
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2018-19 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Phoenix Suns, who set a new standard for futility on both ends of the floor.
In the 41 years since the league started counting turnovers in 1977, only three other teams have ranked last on both ends of the floor. The Charlotte Bobcats did it in 2011-12, a lockout-shortened, 66-game season. Prior to that, the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns did it when there were fewer than 30 teams in the league.
So the Suns made history as the first team to rank on both ends of the floor in a 30-team league in an 82-game season. They fired head coach Earl Watson and sent point guard Eric Bledsoe home after they were outscored by more than 40 points in two of their first three games, and things didn’t get much better from that point on.
The Suns had a much better record than the other three teams that have ranked last on both ends of the floor. The 100.8 points they scored per 100 possessions were only 5.3 fewer than the league average, making it only the 61st worst offensive season (among the 1,118 team seasons) of the last 41 years. The 110.6 points they allowed per 100 possessions were only 4.4 more than the league average, making it only the 82nd worst defensive season over the last 41 years.
Still, the Suns record was somewhat inflated. They were 21-61 with the point differential of a 16-66 team. And of course, last on both ends of the floor is what it is.
Offensively, the Suns’ issues started with their inability to shoot. They ranked last in effective field goal percentage (49.5 percent), one of three teams that ranked in the bottom 10 in field goal percentage in the paint (53.1 percent, 24th), mid-range field goal percentage (38.6 percent, 23rd), and 3-point percentage (33.4 percent, 30th).
According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Suns ranked 20th in the percentage of their 3-point attempts that were uncontested and 21st in the percentage of their 3-point attempts that were off the catch. They ranked 16th in the percentage of their 3-point attempts that came from the corners. None of those rankings were great, but none of them were in the bottom five, either. They didn’t take the worst threes.
They just shot them the worst. The 34.6 percent the Suns shot on catch-and-shoot threes ranked 30th. The 33.1 percent they shot on wide-open threes ranked 30th. And the 32.9 percent they shot on above-the-break threes ranked 30th.
The three Suns who attempted the most threes – Troy Daniels, Devin Booker and Dragan Bender – all shot better than the league average (36.2 percent) from beyond the arc. But other Suns combined to shoot a brutal 28.1 percent from 3-point range on almost as many attempts (1,122) as Daniels, Booker and Bender totaled.
On defense, the Suns were the only team that ranked in the bottom 10 in each of the four factors. (Only two other teams – Memphis and New York – ranked in the bottom 10 in three of the four.) They were particularly bad at forcing turnovers (they ranked 28th), preventing layups (only two teams allowed more attempts in the restricted area), and defending the arc (they ranked 26th in opponent 3-point percentage).
The great news is that the Suns are starting from scratch with a new head coach, Igor Kokoskov, who will put in a new system, both on offense and on defense.
Kokoskov comes from Utah, where the Jazz have played much more deliberately the Suns over the last few years. And it will be interesting to see if the new coach breaks the Suns’ streak of 20 straight seasons in the top 10 in pace. Last season, the Jazz did move up from 30th to 25th in pace, but remained in the top five in time of possession.
Replacing Marquese Chriss (29 percent from 3-point range last season) with Ryan Anderson and having Trevor Ariza take some minutes from Josh Jackson (26 percent) and T.J. Warren (22 percent) will help the shooting. And better ball movement will help a team that has assisted on just 52 percent of its buckets, the lowest rate in the league, over the last five years.
On the other end of the floor, Kokoskov won’t have Rudy Gobert. Tyson Chandler is a former Defensive Player of the Year and Ariza has been one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, but both of those guys will be competing for minutes with Lottery picks who need time to develop.
It could be a slow climb, but the Suns have nowhere to go but up.
Note: The above table is based on true possession counts. Other efficiency stats here are based on possession estimates (typically higher than true possession counts).
SUNS NOTES – GENERAL
- Playoff drought of eight straight seasons is the second longest active streak (behind Sacramento’s streak of 12 straight seasons).
- Have ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of the last 20 seasons and in 35 of the 41 seasons since the league started counting turnovers.
- One of two teams – Brooklyn is the other – that have ranked in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in each of the last three seasons.
- Had the league’s worst aggregate bench NetRtg (minus-7.0 points per 100 possessions).
- Were outscored by 15.0 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, the worst mark for any team in any quarter last season. Were the league’s worst team in both the first six minutes and the last six minutes of the first period.
- One of two teams – Boston (28, 27) was the other – with more road wins (11) than home wins (10) last season.
- Had the league’s worst record (1-13) with a rest advantage (when their opponent was playing the second game of a back-to-back and they didn’t play the day before).
SUNS NOTES – OFFENSE
- Saw the league’s second biggest increase in assist percentage, assisting on 55 percent of their baskets (27th in the league), up from 49 percent (29th) last season. But ranked last in assist-turnover ratio (1.35) for the third straight season.
- Had 6.0 shots blocked per game, most in the league.
- Saw the league’s second biggest drop in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 22.5 percent of available offensive boards (14th in the league) last season, down from 26.0 percent (sixth) in 2016-17.
- Were one of three teams that were better offensively on the road (scoring 102.0 points per 100 possessions) than they were at home (99.7).
SUNS NOTES – DEFENSE
- Allowed a league-high 20.7 points per game in transition.
- Opponents shot a league-high 42.6 percent from mid-range.
- Saw the league’s biggest drop in opponent free throw rate, from 33.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field (second highest mark in the league) in ’16-17 to 27.7 (fifth highest) last season. Still, that was the fifth straight season they ranked in the bottom 10.
- Saw the league’s second biggest drop in opponent turnover percentage, forcing just 13.1 (28th in the league) last season, down from 14.4 per 100 possessions (14th) in 2016-17.
SUNS NOTES – LINEUPS
- 47 percent of minutes, the third highest rate in the league, were played by rookies or second-year players.
- Ranked last in both aggregate starters NetRtg and aggregate bench NetRtg.
- Most-used lineup played just 155 minutes together, the fewest for any team’s most-used lineup last season.
- Their most-used four-man combination was Booker, Warren, Chriss, Chandler, and they outscored their opponents by 38 points in 323 minutes with those four on the floor together. They were otherwise outscored by 806 points in 3,615 minutes.
- Were outscored by 13.9 points per 100 possessions with Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson on the floor together. That was the worst on-court NetRtg among the league’s 250 most-used two-man combinations.
- Averaged 104.7 possessions per 48 minutes with Booker on the floor. That was the second highest on-court pace mark among 285 players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 games or more.
SUNS NOTES – INDIVIDUAL
- Ryan Anderson had an effective field goal percentage of 61 percent on the road and 51 percent at home. That was the second biggest road vs. home difference in effective field goal percentage among 213 players with at least 200 field goal attempts both at home and on the road.
- Trevor Ariza took 94 percent of his shots from the restricted area (23 percent) or 3-point range (71 percent). That was the highest rate among 180 players with at least 500 total field goal attempts.
- Ariza ranked second with 81 corner threes and has ranked first or second in corner threes in each of the last five seasons. He’s one of six players who have made at least 100 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in each of the last five seasons.
- 94 percent of Dragan Bender‘s jump shots were catch-and-shoot jumpers, according to Second Spectrum tracking. That was the fourth highest rate among 230 players who attempted at least 200 jumpers.
- Devin Booker was one of two players (Bradley Beal was the other) to average at least five points per game on drives, five points per game on catch-and-shoot jumpers, and at least five points per game on pull-up jumpers last season.
- Booker has seen an increase in usage rate (the percentage of his team’s possessions he used while he was on the floor) in each season and ranked eighth last season (among players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 games or more) at 31 percent.
- Only 10 percent of Troy Daniels‘ shots came in the paint. That was the lowest rate among 180 players with at least 500 total field goal attempts. 80 percent of his shots came from 3-point range, the second highest rate among that same group. His 10.2 3-point attempts per 36 minutes ranked fifth among 275 players who played at least 1,000 total minutes.
- Josh Jackson had an effective field goal percentage of 34.8 percent as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, according to Synergy tracking. That was the worst mark among 104 players with at least 100 pick-and-roll-ball-handler field goal attempts.
- Jackson passed just 17.7 percent of the time on drives, the lowest rate among players who averaged at least 5 drives per game.
- Jackson had an assist-turnover ratio of 0.82, the third lowest mark among the top 50 players in usage rate. T.J. Warren had the seventh lowest (1.00), with both the second lowest assist ratio (he recorded assists on just 6.3 percent of his possessions) and the second lowest turnover ratio (6.3 per 100 possessions) among the group.
- 24.0 percent of Warren’s points (305/1,271) were fast break points. That was the highest rate among 219 players who scored at least 500 total points last season. Ariza (23.8 percent) had the second highest rate.
NBA TV’s Suns preview premieres at 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Sept. 27.
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