January 30, 2015
The Suns' bench features a backcourt averaging more points per game than a third of the NBA's starting backcourts.
That makes for a starter-quality duo in reserves Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green, who were starting most of their respective teams' games last season.
As strong as the Suns' bench scoring punch was last season, having two guards as the NBA's top scoring bench duo has created a new dynamic for the Suns this season. Instead of Markieff Morris as the primary scoring reserve, occasionally with Green, the Suns now have a rare bench pairing who can spot up, create shots and finish in transition.
"Typically, when benches come in, you want to find a way to get them good shots," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "Those guys (reserves) typically don't create their own shots."
Thomas is averaging 15.4 points, second among reserves. Green is averaging 13.4 points to be sixth.
Each ranks in the top 20 of all NBA players for the "scoring rate" statistic. Green averages 30.0 points per 48 minutes, tied for 13th, and Thomas is at 29.1, tied for 17th. Only three other reserves are in the top 20: Golden State's Marreese Speights, Philadelphia's Louis Williams and the Los Angeles Clippers' Jamal Crawford.
"It puts a lot of pressure on other teams," Hornacek said. "We feel like our bench has been a strength. That's big to give our starters enough rest where they come back in, they're nice and fresh and play hard at all times. Isaiah and Gerald play off each other with Brandan (Wright) rolling to the basket and Marcus (Morris) out there to shoot. There are some good weapons."
The Suns lead the NBA in bench scoring with 43.9 points per game (4.9 more than they had last season) and for made 3-pointers with 5.4 per game.
Thomas and Green are responsible for most of that work, especially with the hot streak Thomas has enjoyed since having fluid drained from his shooting hand in relation to off-season wrist surgery. Thomas has made 19 of 37 3s in the past five games, the most prolific stretch of his career.
Thomas said his hand's health has been the biggest difference but said he is being put in positions to thrive and that his pre- and post-practice extra shooting has paid off. Thomas has played off teammates' pick-and-rolls often for shots, a change from his early-season scoring that mostly came off drives and drawing fouls.
"I've got to go back to that, though," said Thomas, who is in a full-time reserve role for the first time in his career. "I can't just settle and shoot jumpers. Last game, I got caught in that a little bit. I'm shooting jumpers a little bit too much. The shots are going in but I've still got to mix it up. That'll make it tougher for the defense to know what I'm doing."
Since the 1993-94 season, Thomas and Green are the only bench teammates to each average at least 13 points except for bench duos from tonight's visitor, Chicago - last season (D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson) and 2007-08 (Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni).
"It's tough for guys to guard us," Thomas said. "That's what this organization envisioned and we're trying to do the best we can."