If the Suns want to make the playoffs, they will have to be one of the better defensive teams in the NBA.
So far this season, the Phoenix Suns defense is marginally better than last year in terms of points per possession, a measure that evens the playing field among teams that play at different pace. Last year, the Suns finished 15th in defensive efficiency. This year they are 11th after the first 16 games.
The Suns play at one of the league's fastest paces, currently ranking 4th overall, with 96.4 possessions per game. Last year, they were 8th in the league at 95.6 possessions per game. Not much difference, as you can see, but still an uptick. The Golden State Warriors play at the league's fastest pace (98.7 poss/gm) while the New York Knicks play at the slowest (89.7 poss/gm).
Measuring defense in terms of points per possession levels the playing field for better comparison of defenses. The Suns give up the 24th most points per game overall, but surrender the 11th fewest points per possession.
Frankly, if they would just stop putting opponents on the free throw line, their defense would be even better. The Suns are 24th in offensive rebounds allowed and 30th in free throws allowed. The offensive rebounds are a byproduct of playing a smaller lineup and being such a threat on fast breaks. In a pick your poison philosophy, opponents are sometimes selling out on getting offensive rebounds to limit the Suns transition opportunities.
It's the shooting fouls, resulting in free throws, that could be limited without changing the personnel.
"If you're a split second late, you're going to foul," coach Hornacek said. "Earlier in this season, we weren't even in that position to foul. A lots of times we looked at the tape and on the weak side our guys were way over. Now at least they are pinching in, they are at least in the vicinity. Now we just do a better job of getting there a split second earlier and we'll eliminate that."
"You need go-to guys defensively," Hornacek said of closing out games. "Last year it was P.J. in that role, sometimes he would be on even a guard at the end of a game. P.J. we can still do that. Eric [Bledsoe] is stepped up into that role where he can handle a guard at the end of the game. He can get over screens very well."
Bledsoe has the team's best Defensive Win Shares among the guards, and last year was by far the best point guard defender in terms of ESPN's Defensive "Real Plus/Minus", a new tool to determine defensive effectiveness.
The Suns are always going to play smaller than their opponents. Markieff Morris is slightly undersized at PF and Miles Plumlee is slightly undersized at C most of the time. The Suns like to go even smaller, too, with Markieff playing center to get more scoring on the floor. Only Alex Len has plenty of length, and even he isn't the thickest guy on the court.
For the Suns to make the playoffs, they will need to be a better defensive team. They have already negated the rebounding deficiencies by grabbing nearly as many total boards as the opponent (though both numbers are really high because of the Suns' fast pace). Now they need to limit the opponent's free throws that make it that much easier to score.
Watch the Suns' defensive rating this season. If they can get into the Top 10 consistently while maintaining a Top 10 offense, the playoffs should be eminently reachable.
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The annual voting for hottest online/digital brands and sites is closing on Dec 1. Vox/SB Nation is still in the running for three of the awards.
They've whittled the voting pool down to a shortlist of 3 nominees for each category. Vox is still in the running for our 3 original categories: Hottest Digital Publication, Hottest in Native Advertising,and Hottest in Sports.
Please vote, and vote often (no limit per person): Vote here
I will be highly disappointed if SB Nation loses out to ESPN or Fansided in the Sports category
Revisiting a couple classics.
We've featured several Suns ornaments the last few weeks. This is just one of many. If you look hard enough you'll find your favorite player. KJ is $13 after shipping.
Six days left on this game worn merchandise. Seller reports that Markieff Morris wore this on the bench during black history month. Bidding is now at $13.
We've featured this jersey on Suns Swag before, and it appears to be the same one. $235 if you want to own this Suns jersey that never made it to the court.
This t-shirt features nothing more than Steve Nash's face, and I think it's hilarious. If you also think it's hilarious, you can add it to your wardrobe for less than $13.
This masterpiece is an extra large and new with the tags still attached. If you can scrape together $200 bucks, it's yours.
Little more than a day left on this item. No bids as of Thursday night. This autographed pennant includes a COA. Bidding starts with a ten dollar bill.
For stress relief when things aren't going your way. I tend to just use alcohol. I won't judge though. Sixteen bucks after shipping.
$109 is where the bidding starts. $225 if you want to buy it now. $11.25 for shipping. I'll let you do the math. Collection includes Barkley, Van Arsdale, Adams, Johnson, and Chambers.
We featured this several months ago, but at the time the item was empty. Twenty bucks gets you this piece filled with Wild Country aftershave. I couldn't make that up.
Less than twelve bucks if you want to remember Nash taking off from Phoenix to head to Los Angeles. Can be had for as little as $9.
The Phoenix Suns beat the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday in a thrilling offensive display by both teams. The Suns pulled it out with some Gerald Green wizardry.