Phoenix Suns: Acquiring an Impactful Point Guard Should Be a Priority

Houston Rockets, NBA, Phoenix Suns, Trevor Ariza
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

‘3-and-D’ Wing Players Need a Reliable Facilitator

The Suns’ two biggest off-season moves outside of selecting DeAndre Ayton was probably the draft night trade for Mikal Bridges and the signing of Trevor Ariza in free agency. Both players fit the mold of a ‘3-and-D’ wing player, and that player archetype is dependent on the facilitation of the playmaking from their teammates.

It will be a severe difference for Ariza by going from one of the league’s elite offenses that were led by phenomenal facilitators like James Harden and Chris Paul to the Suns, who were probably the league’s worst offense last season. Devin Booker can break down defenses with his scoring ability, but he is not near the level of a facilitator as Harden or Paul.

To look a bit beyond the surface, Ariza had excellent efficiency as a scorer last season as he produced 1.062 points per possession, which ranked 43rd out of the 219 players with at least 500 possessions. His success was built on his heavy involvement in spot-up and transition. For reference, he had 39% of his possession come in spot-up, and 26.6% of his possessions come in transition.

Let’s look a little further. Ariza had 75.2% of his spot-up possessions end with a no dribble jumper, and he produced 1.237 points per possession, which ranked 4th in the NBA among the 16 players with at least 200 of these possessions. It is great to have a reliable catch-and-shoot threat like Ariza that you can rely on, but you have to be able to collapse the defense and effectively execute passes to create these shots.

It does get a bit concerning when you break down his catch-and-shoot efficiency. He had 53.9% of his 293 catch-and-shoot attempts come as guarded and he produced only 0.962 points per possession on those shots, which 26th out of the 29 players with at least 150 of these possessions. Meanwhile, he produced 1.333 points per possession on unguarded attempts and ranked 27th out of the 88 players with at least 100 of these possessions.

Meanwhile, only 11.9% of his spot-up plays ended in a drive to the basket and his output of 1 point per possession ranked 48th out of the 73 players with at least 30 of these possessions. He will need to ramp up his frequency of these drives mostly because he will be playing far more at the power forward spot and he can attack the slower closeouts from that position.

What indeed shows how reliant Ariza is on his catch-and-shoot opportunities is that only 4.9% of his spot-up possessions ended in a dribble jumper, and he missed every single one of those 14 shot attempts. At least it should help Ariza to get clean spot-up opportunities by playing at the power forward spot since those players are slower than small forwards.

It’s essential to have a reliable facilitator for transition opportunities too, especially for Ariza. He had 26.6% of his possessions come in transition last season, and his output of 1.313 points per possessions ranked 2nd in the NBA among the 75 players with at least 150 of these possessions. He only had 17.4% of his transition possessions come as a ball handler.

Mikal Bridges benefited from playing at Villanova with Jalen Brunson and their half-court offense last season, and the team’s offensive prowess should not be understated. The Wildcats produced 1.1 points per possession, and that led all 351 NCAA Division I teams by a 0.017 margin. While that context is important and having a facilitator is crucial to help Bridges receive clean shot attempts, there are some differences between him and Ariza. 

Let’s start with the production that Bridges had in spot-up situations. He had 30.9% of his offensive possessions come from spot-up, and his output of 1.337 points per possessions ranked 9th in the NCAA out of the 317 players with at least 150 of these possessions. Under any circumstances, it would help a player who relies on spot-up offense so much to have a strong facilitation impact from his team to receive clean attempts.

The spot-up tendencies for Bridges were very similar to Ariza. He had 75.8% of his spot-up possessions end in a no dribble jumper, and his output of 1.467 points per possession ranked 4th out of the 48 NCAA players with at least 125 of these possessions. It is crucial that the Suns manage to create clean opportunities to help him have a comfortable transition to the NBA.

Bridges thrived at knocking down contested catch-and-shoot jumpers, unlike Ariza. He had 63.8% of his catch-and-shoot attempts come as guarded and produced 1.407 points per possession, which ranked 5th in the NCAA out of the 224 players with at least 100 of these possessions. As for unguarded attempts, he produced 1.297 points per possession and that ranked 147th out of the 359 players with at least 50 of these possessions.

Another difference between Bridges and Ariza is that Bridges has shown potential to be effective at knocking down jumpers off the dribble and is a better lane penetrator. While it may have only accounted for 7.3% of his spot-up plays, he produced 1 point per possession on dribble jumpers, and that is indeed a good foundation. He also drove to the basket out of spot-up 11.2% of the time and produced an impressive 1.3 points per possession.

While it was a small sample size, another potential difference between Bridges and Ariza, if it holds up, is that Bridges has shown some real signs of being a knockdown shooter when coming around screens. For reference, Bridges had 5.4% of his possession last season coming in off-screen sequences and he produced 1.29 points per possession, which ranked 84th in the NCAA out of the 1,219 players with least 30 of these possessions.

As for transition plays, they accounted for 18.1% of Bridges’ offensive possessions, and his output of 1.337 points per possession ranked 8th in the NCAA out of the 894 players with at least 100 of these possessions. It is worth noting that while he showed good signs as a transition ball handler, those particular sequences accounted for only 26% of his transition plays last season.

Regardless of whether Mikal Bridges can convert on catch-and-shoot jumpers well with a hand in his face, it’s important to have talent around him to simplify the game for him by creating clean shots through facilitation. The same certainly applies for Trevor Ariza too. Both players are very reliant on their off-ball abilities and a strong point guard can go a long way.

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