Prior to the season, new head coach Jeff Hornacek and new defensive coordinator Mike Longabardi spoke to Bright Side about their plans to turn a bad defense and worse offense into strengths. So far, the results are there on both sides of the ball.

The Phoenix Suns have had great success so far this season on the defensive end, molding 10 new players into a cohesive unit that boasts a Top 10 defense. At the same time, they run a very efficient offense heavy on dunks, layups and threes.

The Suns don't give up easy shots, but they do generate easy ones on the other end.

The Suns' play this year perfectly mirrors the preseason rhetoric of the new GM, coach and defensive coordinator. When they were hired, they talked about a fast offense and stingy defense. But usually, offseason talk of shakeups and scheme changes result in more talk than action. Except this time it's actually happening.

That the Phoenix Suns are just 7-6 overall is an indictment of their late-game offensive execution in the half court and lack of a closer, yet they are one of the only teams in the league to hold a fourth quarter lead in 12 of their first 13 games.

How are the Suns doing it? With an 8th-ranked defense that defends the three-point line and rim at a high level, and an opportunistic offense that leads the league in fast-break points, is 9th in three-point attempts and 11th in three-point percentage (37.3%).

Offense

Coach Hornacek wanted the team to take more efficient shots - from the three-point line and at the rim, rather than mid range. The reason being that conversion rates are higher the closer you are to the rim, and that the higher points behind the arc makes up for that lower shooting % so far out. Everything in the middle is a waste of time.

League averages in the 2013-14 season:

  • 55% (league average at rim - dunks, layups, hooks, putbacks) on 2-point shots = 1.1 points per attempt
  • 38% (league average from 5-20 feet) on 2-point shots = 0.7 points per attempt
  • 35% (league average on 3 point shots) on 3s = 1.05 points per attempt

Clearly, there's more value in shots at the rim or from behind the 3-point line. Hornacek had the right idea, of course. And so far, the results are very promising.

The Suns are a small team, but they have already:

  • made 59% of their shots at the rim, though only the 11th fewest attempts in the league
  • taken the league's 3rd fewest shots from 5-20 feet (short to mid range), behind only Houston and Miami
  • taken the league's 5th most three-pointers, making 37% of them

"When you look at the good teams," Hornacek said over the summer, exclusively to Bright Side. "They either have the shot or they're creating something for somebody else. Consequently, they'll get more open looks which will help their percentages. I think that every guy that you saw on this team last year can have a better shooting percentage in the coming year."

Evidence of this actually happening, as shown in this chart. Of the players in Suns' regular rotation, seven of them were in the NBA last year. Only Ish Smith has seen a drop in shooting percentage.

Screen_shot_2013-11-25_at_6

Markieff Morris and Gerald Green are the biggest improvements, and it's easy to see how. Both are taking more of the best shots on the court, just as designed.

Many of the team's close shots are thanks to the league-leading fast break scoring team that feeds on back court steals that create fast break points at the rim. Otherwise, the Suns are very pedestrian in the half-court as teams pack the paint to stop Bledsoe and Dragic and don't have a quality post-up presence down low.

Still, the coaching staff works to maximize what they have. The Suns have the league's 8th-ranked "Effective" field goal % and "True" shooting % (which give credit to 3-pointers over 2-pointers) thanks to the heaving diet of fast breaks and three-pointers.

"When we look at things now with analytics, you see that the effective field goal percentages are 51%," Hornacek said in an exclusive interview with Bright Side over the summer, in preparation for the season. "That's why a bunch of these teams are shooting a ton of threes because they get more value for their shot."

The key to this offense has been the success of the three-point shot. The point guards often drive to the hole to draw the defense, and then pass the ball back to the weak side for an open three behind the backs of the defenders. Dragic and Bledsoe are very quick and good at scoring near the rim, forcing the defense to adjust.

But all of this is moot if the guys can't make the three pointers.

This season, the "tanking" Suns have made 10+ three-pointers in each of their last five games, and made 10+ 3s seven times already in 13 games

This season, the "tanking" Suns have made 10+ three-pointers in each of their last five games, and made 10+ 3s seven times already in 13 games overall for a season average of 37.2% (9th overall) on 9.6 makes a game. Last year, by contrast, the Suns only made 10+ three pointers fives times all year, sinking only 32% of their tries.

But while the Suns are working toward more efficient shots, they are turning the ball over at an alarming rate which hurts their offensive results (just 17th in points per possession, which includes those that end in turnovers).

If the Suns could cut down their turnovers, their offense could be even more effective just by doing what they are already doing today.

The scheme is clearly working.

Defense

"If you don't take a good shot on offense, it's going to hurt you on defense," assistant coach and defensive coordinator Mike Longabardi said to Bright Side before the season. "Likewise, if you don't play good defense, you're going to get a worse shot on offense."

It's the defense that has carried the Suns this year, grounded in defending the three point line and the rim. The very shots that the Suns want to take are the shots the Suns want to stop the other team from taking (and making) as well.

"The team that gets the most easy shots is the one that wins," Longabardi said. "So your job on defense is to make it hard for the other team to score."

The Suns have given up the league's third-fewest three-point attempts and second-lowest three-point percentage
  • As a unit, the Suns have given up the league's third-fewest three-point attempts (17.5 per game) and allowed only a 32.9% conversion rate (2nd in the league). Any Suns fan can see that opponent is rarely getting an open three, quite the contrast from last season.
  • At the rim (shots within four feet of the basket), the Suns are allowing the league's fifth lowest conversion rate (53.8%) despite opponents taking a league-average number of attempts (400).
  • Opponents are taking a lot of midrange shots, however, which if you remember the chart above is the worst shot on the court.
  • Overall, the Suns have held their opponents to the league's 6th lowest field goal percentage (43.4%) on all shots.

Seems elementary, right? Defend the shots you don't want them to take while leaving the bad shots open. Boston did that for the last several years, and now the Suns are doing it behind Longabardi's schemes.

Last year, however, the Suns were dead last in three point field goal defense (.388) and tied for 25th in eFG% (.512) against. They limited the opponents' three-point attempts okay (4th in league, allowing only 17.9 per game), but their poor rotations left those shots wide, wide open.

After allowing five of their first 13 opponents to shoot better than 50% in a game, this year's Suns have not allowed any of their opponents this season to exceed that mark.

Asked about the difference between last year and this year, in terms of attention to defense in practice, P.J. Tucker calls it "night and day".

Summary

These Suns are not the most talented set of players to ever wear Suns uniforms. There is not a multi-time All-Star on the roster, and their best two players have shared the court only four times in 13 games. They are inexperienced, with each man playing a bigger role than they've ever played before.

But these Suns are buying into a great scheme, orchestrated by the Suns coaching staff, and playing as hard as they can.

The results speak for themselves: top 10 defense + opportunistic, fast break offense = more success than expected.

Phoenix may have went through a few too many series of ebbs and flows, but for the most part in a 104-96 road victory against the Orlando Magic, Jeff Hornacek’s team was in control. Even when...

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The Suns were able to improve to 7-6 on the season, and 2-0 on their road trip after beating the Orlando Magic tonight 104-96, before heading to Miami tomorrow night to face the reigning champs.

The Suns started the first quarter with Goran Dragic attacking the rim and Gerald Green letting it fly from beyond the arc.  Green shot three of five from deep and led the Suns in scoring with 13 points to start the game.  For the Magic it was a combination of Vucevic and Afflalo leading the charge, with 6 and 4 points, respectively.  The Suns were able to break out to an early lead, 31-21 at the end of the first quarter, shooting 50% from the field and 40% from deep, while holding the Magic to just 41% shooting and 17% from beyond the arc.

The second quarter started with the mostly second unit of Smith, the Morrii, Goodwin, and Plumlee.  Marcus Morris and Ish Smith got off to a quick start on offense, and Ish showed impressive hustle to chase down a transition basket to get the block from behind as well.  The Magic began to make some plays of their own though, going on a 9-2 run to cut the lead to just 6, before Hornacek called a timeout to stop their momentum, and quickly replaced Ish and Goodwin with Dragic and Green.

The Suns and Magic traded baskets for a while, and Orlando was able to keep it close initially, until the Suns were able to capitalize on some bad shots and sloppy play from the Magic to push the lead back up to 10 with about three minutes to go in the first half.  Orlando continued to fight back though and never let the Suns pull away, and kept Phoenix within reach with a lead of 53-44 going into the half.

Gerald Green led the Suns with 15 points on 6-10 shooting to go along with 6 rebounds and 2 steals.  For the Magic, it was Andrew Nicholson leading the way with 10 points and 5 rebounds.  The Suns shot 46% from the field and 35% from three, while the Magic shot 42% and 30% from deep.  The Suns out-rebounded the Magic 25-23, and won the turnover battle 4-7 in the first half as well.

The second half started with the first unit once again of Dragic, Green, Tucker, Frye, and Plumlee.  The Suns started out a little flat and sloppy offensively, and the Magic were able to once again make a mini-run to narrow the gap to within 5 early, before the Suns came storming back once again to push the lead back up to 10 about halfway through the third.

However, Nikola Vucevic was able to hit some nice 15-foot jumpers, and Aaron Afflalo was fouled behind the arc and suddenly the Magic were down by only three.  Gerald Green and Markieff Morris were able to provide just enough offense to keep Orlando at bay, and a fast break basket from Dragic to Tucker helped the Suns re-gain momentum and keep the Magic at bay to maintain an 80-72 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The Magic once again took advantage of the Suns' second unit to start the final quarter, as Phoenix was unable to get much going initially with the line-up of Smith, Goodwin, the Morrii, and Frye.  But Hornacek was patient, and the second unit was finally able to clamp down defensively and also start making some impressive plays on offense as well.

Still, the Magic were able to begin clawing their way back and Dragic and Green came in to replace Smith and Goodwin.  However, the Magic kept pressing on and once again closed the lead to just three points with around four minutes to go in the game.

Just when it looked like the Suns were destined to blow another game by falling apart in the fourth quarter, Channing Frye made some nice plays inside to score when the Suns needed it most, and the Dragon was unleashed...taking over at the end of the fourth quarter with a huge three and another jump shot to seal the deal; as the Suns were able to beat the Magic 104-96.

The Good:

  • Goran Dragic had a great overall game scoring 23 points, including a huge three with just over a minute left to all but ice the game.  Dragic also efficiently quarterbacked the offense dishing out 13 assists while committing 0 turnovers
  • Gerald Green - He was not only the Suns' second leading scorer with 20, but an efficient one at that.  He shot 8-15 from the field including 4-9 from deep...to go along with his 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.
  • The Morrii - Marcus Morris once again provided the Suns with much needed efficiency and rebounding off the bench.  He scored 16 points on 7-13 shooting and also grabbed 7 boards.  Not only that, but Keef was able to contribute nicely once again with 12 points of his own on 6-11 shooting and also grabbing 6 rebounds as well.
  • Channing Frye contributed meaningful minutes and helped the Suns close out the game in place of Plumlee (perhaps to avoid any Hack-a-Miles strategy), and Frye was able to get it done...registering 14 points on 6-15 shooting and also grabbing 7 boards.

The Bad:

  • Interior defense, especially on Nikola Vucevic who punished the Suns inside and kept the Suns from distancing themselves throughout the game.
  • Archie Goodwin - Goodwin played 13 minutes yet failed to make an impact tonight, going 0-1 from the field and registering one rebound as his only stat.  Nothing to worry about though, these are rookie growing pains as expected.

The Ugly:

  • Nothing...Enjoy it!

This afternoon, the Suns will take on the Orlando Magic in a Sunday showdown before heading off to play the reigning champions, the Miami Heat, on Monday. Will the Suns be able to take advantage of this very winnable game?

What: Phoenix Suns @ Orlando Magic

Where: Amway Center - Orlando, FL

When: 4:00 p.m. (AZ)

Watch: FSAZ (Locally) , NBA TV

The 6-6 Phoenix Suns will take on the 4-8 Orlando Magic in game two of their three-game road trip, which will culminate with a game against the Miami Heat on Monday.

The Suns finally broke their four game losing streak with a win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night. However, it was an ugly game in which the Suns completely fell apart in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, the Magic are coming off an impressive showing against the Miami Heat in which they were leading throughout most of the game, but lost at the end by two points.

Stats:

Suns:


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Eric Bledsoe 9 34.8 6.9 13.8 50.0 1.1 3.8 29.4 5.6 6.7 83.3 0.6 4.0 4.6 6.8 3.9 1.8 0.1 2.0 20.4
Goran Dragic 9 32.1 5.6 12.4 44.6 0.8 2.9 26.9 3.8 5.0 75.6 0.2 2.3 2.6 5.7 3.0 1.0 0.1 2.6 15.7
Gerald Green 12 27.8 5.3 10.9 48.1 2.5 6.0 41.7 1.8 2.4 75.9 0.7 1.9 2.6 1.3 2.1 0.5 0.6 2.9 14.8
Markieff Morris 11 25.8 4.5 9.2 49.5 0.5 1.0 45.5 2.4 3.1 76.5 1.3 4.5 5.7 1.6 1.3 1.5 0.2 2.2 11.9
Miles Plumlee 12 30.5 4.7 9.4 49.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 2.7 37.5 2.4 6.6 9.0 0.4 1.5 0.4 2.1 2.7 10.3
Marcus Morris 12 22.8 3.3 7.2 46.5 1.3 3.0 44.4 1.8 2.3 75.0 1.6 4.1 5.7 0.9 2.3 1.2 0.2 2.1 9.8
P.J. Tucker 12 31.1 3.6 7.5 47.8 1.5 2.8 54.5 0.9 1.3 68.8 1.4 3.1 4.5 1.8 1.5 1.3 0.3 2.4 9.6
Channing Frye 12 24.8 3.0 7.8 38.7 1.3 3.8 35.6 0.9 1.1 84.6 0.8 3.8 4.7 0.3 0.9 0.8 0.8 3.1 8.3
Archie Goodwin 11 13.1 1.9 5.0 38.2 0.2 1.5 12.5 0.5 0.7 62.5 0.4 1.6 2.0 0.6 1.1 0.6 0.5 0.7 4.5
Dionte Christmas 8 8.9 1.1 2.6 42.9 0.5 1.4 36.4 0.4 0.5 75.0 0.4 1.4 1.8 0.1 0.4 0.3 0.0 1.0 3.1
Ish Smith 9 12.1 1.1 3.8 29.4 0.1 0.9 12.5 0.3 0.3 100.0 0.1 1.1 1.2 2.3 1.0 0.8 0.1 0.8 2.7
Alex Len 4 7.8 0.8 1.8 42.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.5 50.0 1.3 0.5 1.8 0.3 0.8 0.5 0.5 2.0 1.8
Viacheslav Kravtsov 4 3.8 0.3 0.5 50.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.5 50.0 0.5 0.5 1.0 0.0 0.8 0.0 0.0 0.8 0.8


Magic:


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Arron Afflalo 12 37.0 7.4 15.3 48.6 2.9 5.6 52.2 4.3 5.3 82.5 0.3 4.7 4.9 4.6 2.5 0.8 0.1 1.9 22.1
Glen Davis 1 26.0 7.0 13.0 53.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 6.0 8.0 75.0 2.0 3.0 5.0 1.0 2.0 2.0 0.0 4.0 20.0
Nikola Vucevic 12 33.4 6.1 11.3 53.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.4 3.3 74.4 3.6 7.2 10.8 2.6 2.4 1.3 0.9 3.3 14.6
Victor Oladipo 12 26.4 4.4 11.1 39.8 1.0 2.7 37.5 3.0 3.9 76.6 0.3 3.7 4.0 3.3 4.1 1.7 0.6 2.5 12.8
Jameer Nelson 12 31.8 4.4 11.7 37.9 2.2 6.3 34.2 1.4 1.6 89.5 0.5 3.3 3.8 5.8 3.2 0.7 0.1 2.0 12.4
Moe Harkless 12 29.3 3.3 7.7 42.4 0.8 2.1 36.0 1.6 3.2 50.0 1.7 2.8 4.4 1.0 1.5 1.4 0.5 2.2 8.8
Andrew Nicholson 12 18.4 3.7 7.8 47.3 0.3 1.6 21.1 1.1 1.5 72.2 1.0 4.3 5.3 0.3 1.1 0.3 0.4 2.5 8.8
E`Twaun Moore 12 21.9 2.8 5.7 48.5 0.9 1.8 50.0 0.8 0.8 90.0 0.3 1.1 1.4 1.5 0.9 0.8 0.2 2.0 7.2
Jason Maxiell 11 21.1 2.5 5.4 47.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.8 44.4 0.9 2.4 3.3 0.4 0.6 0.3 0.7 2.1 5.5
Kyle O`Quinn 9 13.4 2.2 4.1 54.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.9 1.1 80.0 1.1 3.2 4.3 0.7 0.8 0.2 1.1 2.0 5.3
Solomon Jones 5 11.0 0.8 1.8 44.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.0 1.6 1.4 3.0 0.2 0.4 0.4 0.4 1.6 1.6
Ronnie Price 7 7.4 0.7 1.6 45.5 0.1 0.4 33.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 1.1 1.7 0.9 0.3 0.4 0.1 1.0 1.6
Doron Lamb 3 11.3 0.3 2.0 16.7 0.3 1.7 20.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.3 1.0 0.7 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.0


Probable Starting Line-Ups:

Suns:

G - Goran Dragic

G - Gerald Green

F - P.J. Tucker

F - Channing Frye

C - Miles Plumlee



Magic:

G - Jameer Nelson

G - Victor Oladipo

F - Aaron Afflalo

F - Maurice Harkless

C - Nikola Vucevic

Keys to the Game:

The Suns are coming off an ugly win, and the Magic are coming off an impressive loss. The biggest advantage for the Suns is that they have had a full day of rest, while the Magic will be playing their second night of a back-to-back. Therefor, the Suns need to take advantage of this by pushing the pace and out-hustling the Magic for loose balls and rebounds.

The other major key is turnovers. The Suns must take care of the ball and find a way to minimize their turnovers, especially in the 4th quarter. they had 21 against the Bobcats on Friday...way too many.

On the plus side, the Suns are ranked first in the NBA in fast break points, averaging 22.5 per game...which also accounts for 22.6% of the total team offense. This is an area the Suns should continue to exploit tonight against the Magic, who are also prone to turning the ball over, averaging 18.25 of them per game.

According to Paul Coro, it's looking very unlikely that Eric Bledsoe suits up for this game, so the Suns will most likely be without him once again. The Suns have had a great deal of difficulty closing out games without him, but they will have to find a way to find a way to do so tonight if they find themselves with the lead going into the 4th quarter, as they can't afford to let another winnable game slip through their hands at the last moment.

Time: 4:00 MST TV: NBATV Friday nigh in Charlotte, the Suns finally snapped their streak of losing winnable games at four. Phoenix will have another opportunity for a W tonight as they take on the...

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