The 2013-2014 Suns perimeter was one of the best rebounding units in the league... The 2014-2015 Suns perimeter will need to be one of the best in the league.

In this hyper athletic NBA that we are all living in today the traditions in which the game was built upon have nearly all been shattered. Basketball is basketball, in its truest sense, the game has not changed and the team with the most points at the end, wins.

Traditional teams with traditional big men are rare, despite the San Antonio Spurs winning the 2014 NBA Championship, they are rare.

Big men are more perimeter oriented and less skilled in the paint. Less banging, less physicality, and with that, less traditional big men in the league overall. For every Tim Duncan, DeMarcus Cousins, or Al Jefferson there are a dozen stretch-fours that shooting threes and dribble the ball all around the court like they were destined to be a guard. That has a residual effect on rebounding strategy; both defensive and offensive.

"The game the same, it just got more fierce."

Slim Charles always had a way with words that most just do not. Simple and sweet, but for perimeter players it is the case.

The league is more athletic on the perimeter and there are teams that lean heavily on their perimeter players rebounding the ball because of this change in the dynamic of the game. In 2013-2014 there were 12 NBA teams that saw 30% or more of their total rebounds come from their starting perimeter units. Only four teams (Minnesota, Memphis, Cleveland, and Milwaukee) had their perimeter units account for less than 25% of the teams total rebounds. Nearly every team in the NBA had 25% of their rebounds come from three players that spend the bulk of their time free-throw line extended on the defensive end.

Team Perimeter Rebounding Percentage 13-14

The game got more fierce.

For the Phoenix Suns it is a strength, and a necessity, to be strong on the glass with their perimeter trio of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and P.J. Tucker.


Last season those three second in the Western Conference (behind Oklahoma City) and sixth in the entire league (Washington, New York, Indiana, and Miami) overall as a perimeter rebounding unit. With a thin front line of big men who last year were not known as big time rebounders the perimeter stepped up and did more with less than just about any other team in the league. Miles Plumlee (7.8) and Channing Frye (5.1) accounted for 30% of the teams total rebounds as a front line that was put together over the off-season with limited expectations.

"Bigs have a tough job," Head Coach Jeff Hornacek on team rebounding philosophy. "They are going in there usually against a big guy trying to grab a board, shoving, pushing, and we are asking the bigs to hold those guys off the boards. To block out. That's when the guards should have an easy run for it with the ball bouncing up there and everybody wrestling you should go and get it."

Plumlee, while an energetic rebounder and athlete, is not a sound rebounder from a technique standpoint and is largely responsible for protecting the rim. A lot of his missed opportunities to close out defensive possessions come while protecting the rim and going after shot block attempts leading to a lot of open rebounds for the opponents on the offensive glass and pressure on the guards to get their first..

Frye, while an improved defender over time and with the size to be a good rebounder, that was just not his role for this team. He was out there to spread the floor and be a threat to shoot teams out of games creating mismatches.

Both the Suns big men last year were momentum changers with either the shot-blocking and dunks from Plumlee and the shooting from Frye. Neither were great rebounders in a traditional sense of the word. The game changed and for the Suns to be an effective rebounding team the system called for the guards, the perimeter, to step-up on the glass and finish off defensive possessions with timely rebounding. For the first third of the season or so Dragic, Bledsoe, and Tucker did just that and then, when Bledsoe went down, Gerald Green stepped in doing an adequate job in that role.

During Green's 48 games as a starter in place of either Dragic or Bledsoe the Suns were still a very good rebounding perimeter trio pulling down 30.4% of the teams rebounds.

Rebounding Percentages Perimeter 13-14

With Bledsoe they were Top Six (33.5%) in the league as a rebounding trio on the perimeter.

"That is one emphasis we have especially our bigger guards, Gerald (Green), Marcus (Morris), and P.J. (Tucker) on the wings," Coach Hornacek continues on team rebounding philosophy. "That doesn't excuse Isaiah (Thomas), or Goran (Dragic), or Eric (Bledsoe) they have to get in there too"

This year? That burden is going to be more pronounced and falls on the perimeter even more than last year. There is no more Frye, more pressure on Plumlee, and very thin depth on the front-line.

"It is, it is. We don't have a lot of bigs this year," Tucker on the importance of the perimeter rebounding the ball this season. "Losing Channing (Frye) is a hurdle a bit down there in the interior."That thin front-line that Tucker is alluding to consists of Plumlee, Markieff Morris, Anthony Tolliver, Alex Len, and Shavlik Randolph. All of which were on the roster last year outside of Tolliver, who is not a player known for stacking up rebounds, and now all the returning players have to step into larger roles to alleviate the burden off the perimeter.

"So me, Marcus (Morris), Gerald (Green), and even Eric (Bledsoe) and Goran (Dragic) have to come down and get those boards. It is going to be huge especially when we go against those traditional east coast teams that got bigs. We have to get down there and board."

A big part of the rebounding came from the athleticism of Bledsoe on the perimeter.


Sure, Bledsoe is undersized and not the biggest point guard in the league let alone at the shooting guard position where he plays some, but he lives up to the nickname "Baby LeBron" with his intensity and athleticism on the glass. Of all the shooting guards across the league (yes, Bledsoe is the teams shooting guard) Bledsoe wad the fifth highest rebounding percentage with 11.0% and overall was tied for seventh among guards in general. At 6'1" there are very few athletes with the combination of rebounding and defensive ability that Bledsoe has with his size. Look at the guards that had higher rebounding percentage -- Lance Stephenson, Michael Carter-Williams, Russell Westbrook, Dwayne Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Bradley Beal.

"If your playing 30-35 minutes a game you should get 4-5 rebounds as a point guard," Coach Hornacek.

He stirs the drink on the glass. Bledsoe is as important to the teams overall rebounding as any perimeter player in the league. With Bledsoe and Tucker on the glass the Suns have the tools to be a good rebounding team.

Last year those two rebounded on the same level as LeBron and Wade, as Carmelo and Shumpert, George and Stevenson, and the top rebounding groups on the perimeter group that make a mark on games. Despite his size Bledsoe has been great on the glass, defending either guard position, and even protecting the rim with timely blocked shots when needed.

So far this pre-season the team has been led by Marcus Morris (7), P.J. Tucker (10), Earl Barron (10), and Markieff Morris (7) in rebounds through the four games. Those were the game highs through four games.

During this pre-season the Suns have a collective 167 rebounds (132 defensive) in four games and the perimeter has been rotated outside of the two lead guards so the numbers are skewed to an extent. The primary perimeter trio is making up for only 19.7% of the overall rebounds (22.7% defensive rebounds) while the likely starting duo of Plumlee and Markieff are combining for 19.7% of the total rebounds and 19.7% of the defensive rebounds. The units are equal. It has been a free market on the glass with parity the potential starters making up 39.7% of the overall rebounds and the bench shouldering 60.3% of the load.

Rebounding is the conclusion to a quality defensive possession.

The philosophy that Coach Hornacek and the Suns are employing with having the big men serve as path clearing machines moving the opponents out of the way for a perimeter player to close out the defensive possession. It is a bold strategy and can work, but also sells out the offensive rebounding position for the big men opening up Pandora's Box for second chance points and multiple possessions.

The Suns were a good defensive team last year and an above average rebounding team. They also gave up the eighth most (11.3 per game) offensive rebounds and the most third most (14.2 per game) second chance points.

Nine of the Top 10 defensive rebounding teams in the league last year were in the playoffs. The teams defense looks to have improved from last year in the pre-season from the eye test of lateral movement, quickness, and creating turnovers. The Suns will be a better defensive team this season, but have to close out the quality of play with a rebound, whether from a guard or a big man, but numbers don't lie it will likely be a perimeter player.

No one knows quite what to make of the Phoenix Suns' three-headed guard rotation.

No one knows quite what to make of mad scientist Ryan McDonough's image of an NBA team. As General Manager of the Phoenix Suns, he has invested heavily in point guards - moreso than any team in recent or long-term memory. He inherited Goran Dragic, traded for Eric Bledsoe, drafted Tyler Ennis in the first round and signed Isaiah Thomas this summer.

Even their own players are a bit skeptical.

"Who knows," Isaiah Thomas said to the media just before training camp. "We'll see how it works out."

That skepticism is prevalent all over the NBA. Veteran point guard Tony Parker - who physically profiles perfectly with the Suns contingent, and has had super-sub Manu Ginobili for more than a decade  - is scratching his head too.

"I thought maybe Phoenix didn't know if Bledsoe was going to stay so they're just assuming and signed Thomas," Parker said. "Now they have three good point guards so it's going to be tough. They're going to play with a lot of guards. There's going to be a lot of pick-and-rolls and it's going to be hard to guard them."

This after Parker watched the three-headed monster score 51 points against his depleted team, including an 11-2 run while sharing the floor late in the first half.

Why the skepticism? The NBA has always found a three-headed guard rotation to be beneficial. Golden State has enjoyed good third-guy play Jarrett Jack two years ago, and signed Shawn Livingston to a big deal this offseason because they miss that threat off the bench. The Spurs have had Manu Ginobili coming off the bench for a decade. The Clippers rely on Jamal Crawford.

Thomas should strive to be to the Suns what Crawford is to the Clippers. The 6'6" Crawford is a part-time playmaker, most-time shooter who annually ranks highly on the Sixth Man of the Year tote board.

Crawford has made as much as $10 million in a season on the back of a Sixth Man award in 2009-10, and then won it again last season for the Clippers. He hasn't started regularly since 2008-09, yet has earned 30 minutes per game while scoring 17 points and dishing three assists. He gets his 30 because he spots at PG and SG seamlessly, and can work alongside the starters or bench players.

With Jack, Ginobili and Crawford as perfect examples, why such skepticism of the Suns paying Isaiah Thomas $6 million per year to fill a similar role?

Thomas scores in bunches and is a better passer than any of them, while his defense is no worse.

It could be a size issue. Jack is a burly 6'3" and had 6'8" Klay Thompson alongside him much of the time. Ginobili and Crawford are both 6'6".

None of three guards in the three-man Suns weave is over 6'3", so the universe only thinks of them as point guards. Goran Dragic is the biggest of the three at 6'3" which is great for a point guard but undersized for a shooting guard. Eric Bledsoe is 6'1", but like Thomas that's only on tall days. In their preseason picture with 4th point guard Tyler Ennis, who measured just a few months ago at 6'2" in shoes, Bledsoe is clearly more than an inch shorter than Ennis.

But does size really matter?

All three can score in bunches from anywhere on the floor. All three can set up their teammates. All three get out in transition on makes and misses, and can create turnovers in the opponents' back court to open the game even further.

On the defensive end, all three Suns guards can control their man on the perimeter. Bledsoe, especially, is a vice grip on opposing guards. Dragic has better athleticism and lateral movement than most give him credit for. Neither was abused by the opponent. In fact, together they helped the Suns play excellent defense, going 23-11 with a plus-9.4 point differential per 100 possessions.

With Thomas rotating in, you might worry about a decline in defense. But Thomas has good lateral quickness himself. He mitigates his size disadvantage with quickness and when he's locked in he can be a real pest. He's no downgrade from last year's backup guards on that end: Gerald Green and Ish Smith.

Forget the size issue. Forget that Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas all profile as point guards because they are relatively short by NBA standards and know how to pass a ball.

They are going to be deadly together. Let the NBA players, coaches and front offices keep scratching their heads. The more they scratch, the more the Suns will run over their team in an 82-game schedule.

The key to making the playoffs is to win games. The key to winning games is to create mismatches you can win.

No one else will be playing the way the Suns play, so opponents won't be ready for them on most nights. It's an 82-game schedule with very little preparation by the players from game to game. When the Suns show them a different look, they won't be able to handle it.

It's all about that mismatch.

Welcome to a new weekly feature at Valley of the Suns. Every Friday, I will answer reader questions from the week in a mailbag form. You can leave your questions for next week in the comments section...

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Phoenix’s 121-90 preseason win against San Antonio saw coach Jeff Hornacek tighten the grip on the rotation, tinker with small ball and Robert Sarver offer an apology. It also gave us a first...

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The league is trying different ways to save wear and tear on players without losing any revenue. One such idea is to shorten the game. Yet, there is more bad than good with that idea.

Members of the Phoenix Suns staff, at varying levels of the organization, are skeptical about the NBA's experiment with a 44-minute game. The NBA has sanctioned the Brooklyn Nets - Boston Celtics preseason game next week to run 11-minute quarters for a total of 44 minutes.

"I don't like the 44 minute game," coach Jeff Hornacek said before the San Antonio game. "I know that was discussed at the [coaches] meetings. I don't why you would shorten it. You have rosters up to 15 players, you dress thirteen of them, you have plenty of guys to play."

Indeed. One former Suns player said recently that "minutes are a player's most important commodity".

Players like Gerald Green and Isaiah Thomas, who combined for 102 starts last season, project to come off the bench for the Phoenix Suns this season. They already must face the likelihood of getting fewer minutes this season than last (28.4 and 34.7, respectively). If you shorten the game, the guys who will get fewer minutes are more likely the bench players, not the stars.

"The rest of the game is going to be more important," Hornacek said. "You're probably going to lean on the stars even more now because you don't have the time to make it up."

Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby echoed the same sentiment in an exclusive interview with Bright Side.

"I think if you have fewer minutes," he said, "The star players may play a greater percentage of those minutes because there's more at stake. I'm not sure it's the right solution."

A shorter game could squeeze out the middle class of the NBA.

Why would the NBA even consider shortening the game in the first place? The total dollars spent on salaries is predetermined in the CBA, so fewer minutes won't diminish those expenses.

The NBA, for their part, has not put a lot of messaging into the reasoning for the experiment. They mention improving the flow of the game and being forward-thinking, but the Suns' Babby applied a different possible benefit.

"Part of what we need to be focusing in is the health of the players," Babby said. "Whether the season is too long, or the games are too long, we've got to try to find ways to keep players healthier. And to that extent I support it. What I like about it is the willingness of the league to experiment and get ahead of the issues."

Babby expounded on the need for player health.

"For us, a related point is getting our players enough rest over the summer," he said. "We were vigilant in making sure the guys, young and old, were taking time off and that we were not working them too hard and they were not working themselves too hard.

"They have to get better over the summer, and we put an emphasis on player development, but they have to get some rest because the long term health of the players is the most important thing."

There is still no clear reasoning provided for the shorter game. Players don't like it. Coaches don't like it. And even front office folks are skeptical.

But if the desire of the players is to shorten the season to maintain their health, you can bet the owners would be much more amenable to shorter games than fewer games. Fewer games means fewer dollars.

"Let's be candid about it," Babby told Bright Side. "All of it's about the revenues that are generated from the games and whether or not there would have to be a diminution of the revenues in order to shorten the season.

"That's the balance. We now have 41 home games. If we had 30 we'd have less opportunities to create revenue and that's what drives everything in the business in terms of player salaries and everything else. Theoretically it's a good idea, but in practicality smarter people than me would have to figure out the math."

Ahh, the salaries. Fewer games means less revenues. Less revenues means lower salaries. Ergo, players won't ultimately push for fewer games if it impacts their bank accounts. Who would?

In fact, I'll float my own idea out there that would result in the owners and players making even more money rather than less. By cutting out 4 minutes per game, to get closer to college and international game length, a team would save three games worth of wear and tear on the players' bodies by the end of the season.

So why not lengthen the season by those three games, to an 85-game season? That way, players would end of with the same total minutes over the course of the season and the league could increase revenues at the same time.

It's all about the money, right?

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