PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns are still learning to play together after the offseason additions of post man Tyson Chandler and rookie three-point shooter Devin Booker to slide into their latest incarnation of a dual point-guard attack.
Five games in, that’s the way it should be.
The Suns’ three victories are a starting point.
“Right now, our offensive game is probably like my golf game — two of the three things are there,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We’re getting the point-guard penetration and we’re getting the big (man to) roll to the basket. Now we just need the shooting to go.”
Hornacek was speaking specifically about three-point field goals, the shot the Suns had some difficulty converting at the end of last year and the shot that could add the final layer to what could be a top-level attack this season.
Ask, and ye shall receive.
The Suns took a step forward in finding the range in a 118-87 victory over the DeMarcus Cousins-less Sacramento Kings at the Talking Stick Resort Arena on Wednesday.
While Cousins’s absence provided some interior opportunities for the Suns, it also quickened the Kings on the perimeter, inasmuch as coach George Karl used small forward Rudy Gay at the 4 and started point guards Rajon Rondo and Darren Collison to match up against the Suns’ twosome of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight.
That group proved no impediment for the Suns, who made a season-high 14 threes in 23 attempts, their best outside shooting performance of the season.
“If we can get threes to drop, that will be big for us, because we’re going to be a team that gets out in transition and tries to get some easy baskets,” Knight said. “We’ve got some guys who can knock down shots. Sometimes the ball doesn’t fall, but a lot of times it will. Our guys work on it consistently, so I’m confident that they will knock those shots down.”
The Suns had made only 30 threes and shot 28.8 percent from long range in the first four games, 23rd in the league in percentage, figures worth noting inasmuch as some of the attempts were uncontested because of the penetration and extra passes created by Bledsoe and Knight. That dragged the Suns’ true shooting percentage (including the value of the three) to 44.5 percent, 25th overall.
It wasn’t something that overly concerned Hornacek — Knight was a 39 percent three-pointer shooter last season. Tucker, who has worked to make the corner his spot, shot 35 percent. Bledsoe made 40 percent in his last season with the Clippers, and rookie Devin Booker made 41 percent from the shorter college distance at Kentucky.
“A lot of them are wide open. You can’t complain with that,” Hornacek said. “We know our guys will make them. We see it in practice. Again, it’s early. Everybody is trying to impress early and sometimes if you are not making them, all of a sudden you are pressing a little bit. You are hoping they go in rather than just shooting with that confidence. We feel we are better shooters than what we have shown so far.”
They were Wednesday. Tucker was 3-for-4. Knight was 3-of-6. Bledsoe was 2-of-4 and reserve point guard Ronnie Price was 2-of-3. Threes by Knight and Tucker keyed an 11-0 run when the Suns broke a tie at 55 and gradually pulled away. Tucker also made a 22-footer from the right baseline as halftime expired, giving the Suns a 49-40 lead.
“Bottom line they made shots,” Sacramento guard Rajon Rondo said. “They came out of a timeout and made some shot and we got stuck.”
Tucker, on the three-point barrage: “It was funny. It was like ‘Oh, Lord, maybe they are not going to fall.’ But when ‘Bled’ got going, it was kind of in cycles. It was good to see everybody get going a little bit. You have your spells. You just keep shooting. Keep getting to your spots. Just having that confidence to keep at it.”
The Suns shot a season-high 54.2 percent from the field, and the three-point accuracy didn’t hurt. Bledsoe led six Suns in double figures with 19 points, while Knight had 17 and reserve center Alex Len had 16. Reserve forward T.J. Warren had 13 points and made a three, and Tucker finished with 19 points.
The Suns will not change their approach, which will include the three. When Bledsoe and Knight penetrate, they can use Chandler on the high pick-and roll. If the defense collapses, an extra pass or two can swing the ball to an open three-point shooter, whether that’s Tucker or Booker in the corner or just about anyone on the wing.
“We’re going to keep shooting and keep finding them, because that’s what we do,” Tucker said. “Sooner or later they will fall, and tonight they were definitely falling.”