Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, the Phoenix Suns take the spotlight.
Context: The Suns have hit the ground running.
Heading into their matchup with the Toronto Raptors, the Suns are tied with the LA Clippers for the best record in the Western Conference at 5-2. They have the fourth-best net rating in the league (7.3) off of the strength of the 12th-ranked offence and third-ranked defence.
The season is still incredibly young so there's only so much you can take away from those numbers, but there's a lot to be encouraged by how the Suns have come out of the gates, particularly the chemistry between Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Neither one of them has even popped yet, but they're already proving to be a handful together.
There's one particular play the Suns run that weaponizes the three of them at the same time. You know what that means - roll the tape!
Breakdown: The play is already in motion before Paul even reaches halfcourt.
While Paul brings the ball up, Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder park themselves in opposite corners while Booker sets a backscreen for Ayton around the free throw line.
It doesn't appear as though Ayton's defender, Richaun Holmes, knows what's coming.
Sure enough, Holmes gets caught up in Booker's screen, forcing Booker's defender, Harrison Barnes, to hang back to prevent Ayton from rolling to the basket unmanned.
Barnes and Holmes end up switching ... but there's a lapse in communication.
Booker takes advantage by immediately popping to the top of the 3-point line.
Holmes closes out but not in time to prevent Booker from getting a clean look at a 3-pointer.
Why it matters: This has become a pretty common play in the NBA, known as "Stack" or "Spain P&R." The thing that makes it so difficult to stop when the Suns run it is that it plays to the strengths of Paul, Booker and Ayton, not just one or two of them.
For Ayton, it gets him rolling to the basket. As I wrote prior to the season, Ayton might not be the most athletic centre in the league, but he's still a massive target around the basket, has great hands and can play above the rim. Had there been any sort of daylight, Paul would have lobbed the ball towards the basket for Ayton.
The second option for Ayton is to attack a smaller defender in the post if they switch.
This particular possession ended with Booker getting a wide open 3, but check out the deep post position Ayton was able to establish against Barnes:
Ayton ranked in only the 21st percentile in post-up efficiency last season but ranked in the 75th percentile as a rookie. His problem? He rarely gets to the free throw line and can fall in love with his jumper. Otherwise, he has a soft touch and impressive footwork for his size. Had Booker given him the ball that close to the basket, he would've almost certainly created a high percentage look for himself.
The play is the inverse for Booker, setting him up for a look from the perimeter rather than the basket. Booker has developed into far more than a shooter, but he's still one of the league's better three-level scorers, both off the catch and off the dribble. If there is a lapse in communication like there was on this possession, he can sneak his way into a catch-and-shoot 3, a shot he converted at a 39.3 percent clip last season.
If that option isn't available, Booker can attack his own mismatch.
According to NBA.com, only 12 players scored more points in isolation than Booker last season. He was highly efficient, ranking in the 68th percentile with an average of 0.95 points per isolation possession.
Had Holmes switched onto him sooner, Booker would've had an opportunity to attack a slower-footed centre on an island.
Booker isn't only a threat to score to himself in those situations either. If the defence collapses, they run the risk of leaving Bridges, Crowder or Paul, each of whom are capable 3-point shooters.
Booker has the reputation of being one of the league's best scorers, but he's also become a solid passer.
Last but not least, Paul.
Most teams that run "Stack" or "Spain P&R" begin with the big man setting the screen on the point guard. The Suns didn't on this possession, but they could have. You probably don't need me to tell you that Paul has long been and still is one of the best pick-and-roll scorers in the league.
Alternatively, it could turn into a pick-and-roll with Ayton with one side of the court completely clear or a small-small pick-and-roll with Booker setting a screen on Paul. The latter would give Booker or Paul plenty of space to attack a mismatch in isolation with Bridges and Crowder camping out on the 3-point line and Ayton hanging around the dunker spot.
In other words, the possibilities are endless. We've only seen the Suns score off of a few of those options through seven games, but based on how effective it's already been, it's safe to assume that there's a lot more of this to come.
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