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Old 04-09-2007, 09:53 AM   #1
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Default Suns improved on D

Suns improved on D, at lineBy Ric Bucher
ESPN The Magazine

Chances are if the Phoenix Suns win the 2007 NBA Championship, the images used to capture that feat won't be Amare Stoudemire standing at the free-throw line and Steve Nash taking a charge. Although they should be.
While everyone still considers the Suns an up-tempo team that doesn't have enough defense to get past any opponent who can throttle down the pace, this past week's results (if not the entire season) would suggest otherwise.

Remember how the Lakers took a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Suns in last year's first round by slowing down the tempo and thereby disengaging Phoenix's runaway train of an offense? They tried and, to a certain extent, accomplished the same feat Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center and never had a chance, losing 115-107, a result far more decisive than the final score might indicate.

That's because of two primary reasons. One, the Suns' defense is dramatically better than last year. In the past week, against the Spurs and Lakers, I watched them play stifling D for minutes at a time, exerting more energy at that end of the floor than on offense. As heretical it may sound, Phoenix's defense is reasonably close to the level played by the two Western powers everyone likes to tout as defensive juggernauts, San Antonio and Dallas. Scoff if you like, but the most important statistic, defensive field-goal percentage, bears it out:

Suns are at 45.74. San Antonio: 44.04. Dallas: 44.72. Yes, Phoenix is still behind the other two -- but it's not as far behind as it was last year.
Perhaps more important, though, is the second element: the Suns have closed the gap in scoring from the free-throw line. Thanks, largely, to Amare.

I found it rather amusing last year when quite a few voices attributed Phoenix's defensive problems to Stoudemire's absence due to knee surgery. Here's a newsflash: Stoudemire was a terrible defender. Don't be misled by a few blocked shots. That's one out of six categories a defensive player is rated by, and Amare was well below average in at least four of them.

(To be fair, he's played his best D this season, though it still isn't anywhere near the level of, say, Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan.)

It's my contention that Phoenix's biggest weakness last year actually wasn't their defense, but the fact that they scored a league-low 14 points from the free-throw line. The most high-powered offense in the league went limp in a grind-it-out contest for that very reason. With the game inevitably slowing down in the postseason and the NBA on a mission to defy its image of letting the game get more physical in the playoffs, not having a player who could force contact around the rim was as crippling as Phoenix's myriad injuries.

And that's where Stoudemire makes the biggest difference, as he demonstrated Sunday against the Lakers. By his standards, his 19 points and nine rebounds were relatively quiet, but the numbers deserving to be in neon represented his work from the line: 7 of 9, helping the Suns outscore the Lakers in free throws, 29-14.

Not to tread on Hollinger's territory, but here's the short of it: the Suns were 3 ½ points behind San Antonio, the next lowest team in free-throw scoring, last season. The Suns are last again this year, with one huge caveat: they're averaging 17.9 points from the line, only .2 behind the Spurs and 2.2 behind the Mavs.
Yes, they lost to the San Antonio Spurs Thursday in a boat race, 92-85, their offense as about as anemic as it has been all season. Take that result and extrapolate it into meaning that if the Spurs and Suns meet in the postseason, as they almost assuredly will, San Antonio will once again come out on top. What I liked is that the Suns competed at that pace, something they couldn't have done last year. If anyone can knock off the Suns, it's San Antonio, but I'm not going to bank on them outshooting the Suns 18-6 from beyond the three-point arc or holding Nash and Barbosa to a combined 11 for 32.
Or holding Stoudemire to 1 for 5 shooting from the free-throw line.
Granted, I could give you more intangible reasons for believing in Phoenix, such as the improved comfort Raja Bell has with the Suns' system or Stoudemire having developed a midrange jumper or Nash having ratcheted his efficiency another notch.

But for those fearful of abandoning old thinking for new, those whose instincts have them uneasy about putting their faith in the Suns' style, I offer these numbers as a security blanket. It still takes a leap of faith -- but only a small step in logic.

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.
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Old 04-09-2007, 10:03 AM   #2
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Any team that can give up 150 points to any team on any given night, doesn't play enough defense to convince me. How about that for logic? When Phoenix loses, its usually pretty ugly on the D end. How about tackling playing D when it matters, like the playoffs. I would love to see them keep up this new so-called "D" when their coach plays about 6 players every game. When you run at 150% on the offense, you play 40 mpg, you Are gonna have to give up some on the defensive end unless they slow the offense. Love to see Nash do anything slow......oh wait, he does, when he breaks down every playoffs.
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Old 04-09-2007, 10:11 AM   #3
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Quote:
As heretical it may sound, Phoenix's defense is reasonably close to the level played by the two Western powers everyone likes to tout as defensive juggernauts, San Antonio and Dallas. Scoff if you like, but the most important statistic, defensive field-goal percentage, bears it out:

Suns are at 45.74. San Antonio: 44.04. Dallas: 44.72. Yes, Phoenix is still behind the other two -- but it's not as far behind as it was last year.
What good is defensive fg% when you can't control the defensive glass?
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Old 04-09-2007, 10:33 AM   #4
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media propaganda
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Old 04-09-2007, 10:38 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dirno2000
What good is defensive fg% when you can't control the defensive glass?

Not that I agree with the article but doesn't this work in the case of the article though? If they didn't give up so many rebounds wouldn't that make their defensive field goal percentage even better?

I thought the media use to all ways harshly criticize for the Mavs defense due to how many points they gave up but no media outlet ever brought up the fact that the faster pace game allowed more shot attempts. Seems they've changed their ways a bit. I will say though Marion and Raja Bell are definately damn good defenders.
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Old 04-09-2007, 10:41 AM   #6
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i wouldn't go so far as to say phoenix is a good defensive team, but they're not terrible, either.

regardless, they gave up 107 points on 48% shooting yesterday...that's not exactly special. It's odd that Bucher would pick such a game to highlight their D.
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Old 04-09-2007, 11:16 AM   #7
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Hey, D'Antoni is teaching a new style of defense that is sure to get the opponent thinking of how to get out of this coverage.

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Old 04-09-2007, 12:01 PM   #8
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There's a hand in the cookie jar if I ever saw one.
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Old 04-09-2007, 12:31 PM   #9
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The guy in the background is totally enjoying the Marion/Parker fisting.
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Old 04-09-2007, 01:01 PM   #10
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Ric Bucher..He may actually be 100% correct, but he has so little credibility that I'd have to spend 10 hours rechecking all of his facts and making sure something wasn't snuck in there.
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Old 04-09-2007, 02:23 PM   #11
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The Suns are the most excitting team in the nba but they can't make stops. They need a 10 or 12 point lead in the last two or three minutes. You must make stops, you must have a center and you have to play defense to win a title. Phx is excitting but will not win a title this year. First round exit or second round exit against a very tough and good Spurs team.

If Nash can get his team out of the west and into the finals he will impress me as much or way up there with some of the best i have seen in the game but i feel it is almost impossible. This is not a knock on Nash but it is their style and to sell tickets for the reg season and i sure enjoy watching them, excitting type play.
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Old 04-09-2007, 02:27 PM   #12
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This all reminds me of the arguments in 2003 that the Mavericks played good Defense.
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Old 04-09-2007, 02:28 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Janett_Reno
The Suns are the most excitting team in the nba but they can't make stops.
Does Not Compute.

[Ager's block]Stops are exciting.[/Ager's block]
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Old 04-09-2007, 02:29 PM   #14
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Teams are going to pressure Nash, especially SA. When we had Nash, they really gave him problems. If they shut him down, the series is over. The only article that should be written are the ones on "how Phoenix is going to lose in the second round." We can sit all day examining the Suns and their improved "defense." None of it matters in the end.
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Old 04-09-2007, 06:57 PM   #15
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lol spurs fans on spurstalk are getting annoyed with ESPN's constant lovefest with the Suns as well.
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Old 04-09-2007, 08:43 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dtownsfinest
Not that I agree with the article but doesn't this work in the case of the article though? If they didn't give up so many rebounds wouldn't that make their defensive field goal percentage even better?
It probably would. The point is that they do give up a ton of offensive rebounds and that leads to more possessions where they have to make two stops instead of just one. In that sense, defensive rebounding really is a defensive stat but Bucher ignored it in order to make his point.
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Old 04-09-2007, 09:45 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by left texas
Hey, D'Antoni is teaching a new style of defense that is sure to get the opponent thinking of how to get out of this coverage.






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Old 04-09-2007, 09:54 PM   #18
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Stackattack, is that you? Come on, don't be shy, your signature is Avery and Stack havin some love, after all. Never know right? jk
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Old 04-10-2007, 12:04 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StackAttack
Of course, that guy can't actually see what's going on from his angle.
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Old 04-10-2007, 11:57 AM   #20
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The Suns have the players to be a solid defensive team. However, D'antoni's system doesn't put a premium on the defensive side of the court as compared to Avery's for example.

Both coaches value the defensive rebound, but where Avery may send 2 or 3 guys to crash the defensive board, D'antoni will send 1 or 2 to crash the board and instead send the third player down the court for a transition basket. This results in more fast break points, but also more offensive rebounds given up.

Both coaches want to get stops, but D'antoni will allow teams to score quickly at times for the sake of speeding up the tempo of a game which feeds into the Suns style of play.

In short, The Suns can be solid defensive team, and may very well be better than last year, but their system can be exploited as it sacrifices defensive stops to the gods of tempo and the up-and-down game.

Will this system win a title? Hasn't proven to be the case so far.
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Old 04-10-2007, 05:51 PM   #21
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Yeah, they've got the pieces to be solid. Marion and Bell are both All-Defensive candidates, and Amare's above average as a help defender.
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Old 04-11-2007, 05:44 AM   #22
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The Suns haven't improved on defense that's a bunch of hooey. When the other team doesn't shoot well it's not improved D. They said the same thing in 2003 about us and it was wrong then too.

The last part of the year is no time to be judging how good a team is in any area. You have teams that are mathematically out and teams like us that are mathematically done until the playoffs. This is regular season trash time take away a few key games.

I don't know about the Spurs but our defensive field goal percentage is quite inflated. Anyone that's been watching has seen that we've run into quite a few teams that just had great shooting nights... eyes closed, doubled, one hand.. it's going in. Nothing you can do about that.

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Old 04-11-2007, 11:07 AM   #23
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We all know that stats can be used to make any argument. The fact that a team drops a few percentage points on opponents FG% can mean that they have improved on defense, OR it can also mean that their opponents are just not as good on offense at they were last year.

So, the stats must also be backed up by objective observation over time. The Mavs didn't become a good defense over night. It took 2.5 seasons of commitment to get where they are now.

Have the Suns had the same commitment to defense between this year and last?

If not, does that necessarily mean that they haven't improved?

It is my observation, that the presence of a shot blocker has improved the Suns ability ot defend. The question will be if they will be committed to focusing on defense throughout the playoffs. If the regular season is used as evidence, then my answer would be no.

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