The transformation is finally complete for Raja Bell. He’s been reprogrammed, or "D’Anton-ized" if you will, and become another full-fledged member of the Suns’ shooting gallery.
Sure, Bell still prides himself on defense and playing both ends of the floor. He still loves taking a charge and finding the open man with a pass. But the days when the sixthyear pro would pass up an open jumper — or even weigh the option — are becoming a distant memory.
Bell has hit the 20-point mark in three of the last five games — including a 30-point explosion in Denver when he took 15 3-pointers (hitting eight) and played 58 minutes in a triple-overtime loss to the Nuggets. He had 25 points and hit 5-of-6 beyond the arc in Saturday’s 115-106 win over Cleveland and is 16-for-27 (59.2 percent) from 3-point range over the last three games.
OK, so he’s not quite Eddie House trigger-happy yet. But his conscience is waning. After carefully selecting many of the 398 3-pointers in his five-year NBA career, Bell leads the Suns with 185 3-pointers in 38 games — more than any other Sun — and has made a team-best 41 percent of them (76).
"I’m definitely feeling more comfortable and looking to make the most of my opportunities," said Bell, who is playing more than 38 minutes a game and not looking the least bit affected by it. "If it’s a gray area, I’m now more apt to attack than I was earlier.
"I’d say I was a little bashful early, yeah. I was uncomfortable with some of the shots I was shooting. But the more you play this style and the more those same shots keep popping up, the more they feel like good shots that you are passing on."
That’s exactly what Suns coach Mike D’Antoni wants to hear. While Bell was a little embarrassed when he saw the stat sheet after the Denver game, the coach made it a point to tell him that he was excited. "He said he wanted me to do it again," Bell said. "When you hear that . . . it’s like, ‘OK, let’s do it again.’ "
In the last five games, Bell has averaged 20.2 points, and his 3-point field goal percentage (55.6) is better than his overall percentage (52.9).
"That’s a shot he’s made throughout his career and one of the reasons why we went after him so hard," D’Antoni said. "Yes, we love the defense and the hardnosed game he has . . . but we wanted someone who could and would shoot, too."
And Bell has done it while routinely taking on the opposition’s best scorer. And while there is little that can be done to keep the Kobe Bryants, Manu Ginobilis and LeBron Jameses from putting up numbers, making them earn the points is something the Suns have lacked in the past.
"The great thing about him is he doesn’t pride himself solely on scoring," Suns guard Steve Nash said. "He’s a team player and he comes to play hard every night, whether he’s getting his looks or not."
BONUS SHOT: After beating Golden State Thursday, the Suns are eyeing four wins in eight days over Pacific Division rivals. They have road games at Sacramento (tonight) and the L.A. Clippers (Wednesday), and a home game with the Lakers (Friday).
"They are bigger games for the other teams because they’re chasing us, but we’d love to have a big week here and put more room between us and them," D’Antoni said.
"They aren’t easy games, but they are all get-able."