In general, the only way for a team to excel at both offense and defense is to have a huge positive point differential. This a concomitant circumstance of being a good team. Good teams outscore their opponents. They score more points, so they are better on offense. They give up less, so they are better on defense.
An average offensive team that’s great on defense can accomplish this. Likewise, an average defensive team that’s great on offense can achieve the feat. The Suns for many years have done the latter to differing degrees of success, but it appears that the 2009-10 playoff run was the Suns turn to the jump the shark and the true wizard of AZ (Sir Steve) was left high and dry by management mere moments after performing the perilous feat.
We’ve heard the offense is worse. We’ve heard the defense is better. We’ve heard there is actually still more room for improvement on the defensive end than the offensive. We’ve heard that Alvin Gentry shops at The Clotherie.
What are we to make of all of this? Trudge forward to let me obfuscate the subject even further with everyone’s favorite form of prevarication – statistics!
Average shooting percentages are down to 44.2% this year from 45.9% last year. Last year 16 teams shot at least 46.0% from the field. This year only 7 teams are shooting at that same clip.
League wide, scoring is at 94.5 points per game. Last year scoring was at 99.6 points per game. In 2009-10 it was 100.5. That’s a 5.1 point per game drop off from last year (6.0 points from 2 years ago). With every team scoring 5.1 points less per game, that’s actually 10.2 less points in each contest.
Just last season, 18 teams averaged at least 99.0 points per game. This year only 4 teams are attaining that modest level of proficiency. Four. Is this paucity of scoring related to a renascent focus on defense across the league? I don’t think so. I think it’s bad offense. Some noxious combination of lockout influenced events that are deleterious to scoring – missed practices and offseason events, poor physical training and stamina, ad nauseum…
I think it’s important to consider factors such as these and determine what is adventitious and what is actually an influencing factor inherent to the analysis. While some adjustments to data are equivocal, I believe this particular one actually disambiguates the situation.
The Suns are scoring 92.9 points per game and allowing 94.7. If we adjust these values based on the lockout statistical correction factor (I just made that up, but doesn’t it sound cool?), that would put the Suns at 98.0 ppg for and 99.8 ppg against.
2009-10 – 110.2 points scored (1st), 105.3 points allowed (26th), .492 fg% (1st), .452 fg% allowed (11th)
2010-11 – 105.0 points scored (4th), 105.9 points allowed (29th), .470 fg% (7th), .472 fg% allowed (25th)
2011-12 – 92.9 points scored (18th), 94.7 points allowed (17th), .451 fg% (12th), .442 fg% allowed (16th)
So even though the Suns allowed quite a few more points in 2009-10 than this year, if we adjust the numbers to compensate for the lscf (acronym implemented) the argument can be made that the 2009-10 team was performing similar to this year’s team in terms of defense. The conclusion I draw from this is that the defense has improved from near the bottom of the league to about the middle of the pack (from last year to this year), but that the 11.2 points per game reduction is misleading based on league scoring trends.
Using that same concept, the Suns would still be scoring less, but the field goal percentage would be closer to last year’s number. By any measure it is a far cry from the high octane team from 2009-10. What the data suggests to me is that the team has regressed from near the top of the league last year towards a middling offensive output this season.
Now let’s look at offensive and defensive efficiency to see if the conclusions developed above coincide.
2009-10 – 112.7 pts/100 for (1st), 106.9 pts/100 allowed (19th)
2010-11 – 107.0 pts/100 for (9th), 107.4 pts/100 allowed (25th)
2011-12 – 99.8 pts/100 for (16th), 101.0 pts/100 allowed (20th)
This suggests that the offense has gotten progressively worse while the defense, which suffered last season, has gone back up to about the 2009-10 level. This adjusts for pace, so I don’t think it is impractical by any measure when one considers the point differential of the team from those years and factors in the lscf. The Suns scoring is down, the Suns scoring is down relative to their opposition. The Suns defense is allowing less points, the Suns defense is performing better with respect to other teams (compared to last year).
It’s not surprising that many fans watching Suns basketball think that the team is struggling offensively. The team has gone from a dazzling dynamo at the zenith of the league averaging 110.2 points per game to a more pedestrian and prosaic version that plods its way to 92.9. The loss of 17.3 points per game (about 16% of the team’s scoring) is painfully obvious. The Suns have become a mediocre offense with no legitimate late game closers. This difference has been punctuated by an overall paucity in scoring created by the lockout. But is this the team’s biggest problem?
Maybe Suns fans have become so inculcated in a specific style that they can’t see the forest for the trees? While the Nash era Suns provided plenty of exhilarating moments and memories, they failed to win a championship. Maybe defense should be made a cynosure in terms of building the next version of Suns basketball? On the other hand, the team is performing as well defensively as they have at any time in recent history. Can Turner realistically hope to get more blood from a turnip or is it more practical to think that the Suns best hope for improvement would be to maintain the current defensive production while the offense returns to a level closer to last year?
All in all I think the statistical evidence I’ve compiled fairly depicts the reality of the situation.
The Suns have average to below average talent. They are average offensively. They are average defensively. They should probably be about an average team. Coaching, effort, and an indomitable will can only carry a team so far. To get the rest of the way they need talent.
Hopefully the Suns will get more sometime soon.