Phoenix Suns issues go beyond free throws and personal fouls disparity

Duane Rankin
Arizona Republic

LOS ANGELES – The Phoenix Suns remain fourth in the West despite injuries, different starting lineups, changing ownership, multiple trades – and disparities when it comes to fouls called and free throws.

They’re next to last in the NBA in fewest free throw attempts allowed at 25.9 a game, 28th in free throw attempts at 21.5 and 26th in fewest fouls per game at 21.5.

Monty Williams just reached his boiling point after watching the Lakers going 36-of-46 from the line and his Suns finish 15-of-20 in Wednesday’s 122-111 loss at Arena.

"I don't care how you slice it, it's happening too much," Williams said. "Other teams are reaching, other teams are hitting and we're not getting the same call and I'm tired of it. It's old.”

The game wasn’t just about free throws, though.

Here are five takeaways as the Suns (38-34), who are 1-5 in their last six games, are just two games ahead of seventh-seeded Minnesota (37-37) and eighth-seeded Oklahoma City (36-36) in the Western Conference.

Defense badly missing Bridges

Being called for fouls can take away a team’s aggressiveness on defense, but the Suns just aren’t keeping the ball in front.

Austin Reaves not only got to the basket, but at one point he made the same move of going left, crossing right and finding an open man in the lane for a layup.

So that’s a knock on the perimeter and interior defense.

The Lakers (36-37) shot 55.7% from the field, going 8-of-17 from 3. It’s one thing to lose the battle at the line, but the Suns compounded matters with bad defense.

The Suns don’t have Mikal Bridges to bottle up a perimeter player. He’s now doing that in Brooklyn as well as putting up career numbers on the offensive end.

'That's it':Monty Williams fumes over free-throw disparity after Suns loss to Lakers

Durant covers up flaws

The Suns got one of the best players to ever do it in Kevin Durant in the blockbuster deal with Brooklyn, but they traded away a great on-ball defender in Bridges and an improving defender in Cam Johnson, who can also knock down 3s.

Durant is the ultimate scorer and can defend, but he’s out with an injury right now.

The two-time finals MVP is scheduled for a re-evaluation next week for a left ankle sprain he suffered in a pregame workout on March 8 before what would’ve been his Suns home debut.

Bridges doesn’t miss games.

The Suns have allowed at least 122 points in five of their last eight games. They lost four of those.

The win was at Dallas when Durant scored a game-high 37 with the game-winning shot.

Still seeking respect

With Durant out, Phoenix doesn’t have anyone outside of Devin Booker who consistently gets to the line.

Then again, the Lakers are still without LeBron James (foot). As bad as it was at the line, could've been worse had the NBA's all-time leading scorer been on the floor for the Lakers.

Maybe Deandre Ayton could've made up for the free throws for Phoenix, but he’s out with a right hip contusion – and the Suns big is only averaging 2.6 attempts per game for his career.

Ayton is averaging a career-best three attempts this season, but someone with his size and athleticism should have a more permanent residency at the line.

The Suns are a jump-shooting team. Period.

Now, could the referees blow the whistle more when teams deny Paul the inbound pass by leaning on him? Sure.

Could Booker go to the line even more? Yep. He went 10-of-12 Wednesday in scoring a game-high 33 points, but probably earned more trips.

The Suns have felt they're not getting any respect when considering their recent run of success. They believe Booker, one of the game’s best players, isn't getting any respect.

That’s really the issue here.

The fouls are one thing. The free throws are something else, but the respect factor has them wondering what they have to do to earn enough of it to attempt more free throws.

End of half

Booker tied the game at 46-46 with 4:36 left in the half.

The Suns didn’t score for nearly four minutes as the Lakers went on a 12-0 run which Booker finally ended with free throws with 44.8 seconds left in the second quarter.

They were lucky to only trail by seven at the break, 59-52, but Williams decided to play T.J. Warren and Terrence Ross, two guys more known for their offense, instead of Ish Wainright and Damion Lee, two guys who are better defenders.

Williams said after Tuesday’s practice he’s looking to go with a more “concise rotation” moving forward after playing 12 guys in Sunday’s loss at OKC.

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Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves (left) shoots as Phoenix Suns forward Darius Bazley defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game on March 22, 2023, in Los Angeles.

Eleven players saw action Wednesday although one, Darius Bazley, only played 97 seconds.   

Whoever Williams plays, Landry Shamet has to be part of that rotation.

He’s the one guy off the bench who can not only score as he had 15 points, going 3-of-8 on 3s in his second game back after missing two months with a foot injury, but can also defend.

If Warren and Ross are going to get minutes, they must guard better. Warren seemed to find a rhythm in the second half as he scored six points, but Ross shot 1-of-6 for 3 points.

That’s not enough for either guy.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (left) and Phoenix Suns forward T.J. Warren reach for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game on March 22, 2023, in Los Angeles.

Right there, but…

Trailing by as many as 12 points in the third, Phoenix got within one, 99-98, with 7:29 left in the fourth as Lakers coach Darvin Ham called a timeout after a Warren putback of his own miss.

Then they proceeded to give up a 3-point play as Warren fouled D’Angelo Russell on a basket.

That was the first of the Lakers scoring on five straight possessions either from the field or the line in a 12-4 run to take a 111-102 lead with 4:52 left.

While either Anthony Davis, Reaves and Russell were scoring as the three combined for 78 points for the game, the Suns went 1-of-5 from the field during that stretch.

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Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves, right, shoots as Phoenix Suns center Jock Landale defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game on March 22, 2023, in Los Angeles.

Phoenix never got closer than nine.

The Suns, whether it’s their starters or the bench, are all having trouble keeping the ball in front.

While the free throws and fouls are glaring problems, Phoenix has plenty of other issues that if they’re not careful will lead to them having to come out of the play-in tournament to make the playoffs.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.