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.
It is evidently time to play the blame game here in the desert. Our favorite collective of professional basketball players are losing in horrific, depressing fashion, and the calls are coming from all angles with ideas on how to right the ship. I agree it is time for Robin Lopez to find some new surroundings. I agree the team has basically two consistently good players . But I also agree this team wasn't constructed to win, but rather, to raise some hopes, fill some seats, and keep us quiet until next season when the Suns front office and ownership will allegedly spend some money and completely rebuild this team into a Western Conference contender.
Yet the recent efforts of Sarver, Babby, and Blanks to fill the roster have been pathetic. They were medicore attempts to sign mediocre players to mediocre money. Don't blame Alvin Gentry for failing to find the right mix of players to form a rotation. When you have a roster chock-full 'o career journeymen and role players, how can anyone expect this team to be good? Here are just a few examples as to why the Suns are not a good team right now, thanks to Sarver, Babby & Blanks (sounds like a law firm you see on the back of a phone book, ya?):
Did BBS add these three to a mix of mediocre role players to team with Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Marcin Gortat and say "Hell yeah, we're going to the playoffs baby!!!!!!???" Anything's possible, right? Wrong. Have you ever emptied out the fridge and tossed a bunch of leftovers in a pot with the hopes you end up with something delightfully tasty?
As much as this season has proven to be a disaster thus far, the seeds of the 2012's failure were sewn back when STAT left town, Sarver brought in a career player agent as an NBA executive, and hired a GM who had never been a GM before. The result: the preposterous signings of Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress, and Hakim Warrick. Some of us bought into it. After all, we love our team, we weren't so so jaded as to think that the suits were setting us up for frustration and apathy: Hedo could play out of position and take up some of the slack left by a 20/10 guy, Childress could re-adapt to the NBA and could actually make a jump shot, Hakim Warrick could do something else, other than dunk. WRONG...
And to make up for that trio of suck, someone of another trio: BBS, attempted to make some lemonade out of lemons by shipping one of them to Florida. But let's be honest, you, me, and my 10 year old could have thought to pick up the phone and call Orlando to inquire about Marcin Gortat. It wasn't like he was a diamond in the rough, he was simply stuck behind one of the best centers in the game. I don't give BBS credit for that deal, I thank the Magic for their generosity.
Now, here we sit, looking for answers after watching two former Suns light up the present Suns in back to back games. Here's one idea that was bound to start cropping up:
Maybe this situation would feel different if Nash wanted to end his career in Phoenix. But there's no evidence he'll accept the direction and pay cut coming from the new regime. And judging by the declining attendance at US Airways Center, where a famous buzz has been replaced by a sense of mourning, there is no proof that sentimentality is still selling on Planet Orange.
Well, I have a better idea. DON'T. Why? Because he is Steve Nash. And Steve Nash didn't destroy the franchise, Robert Sarver did. HOW? By letting talent walk-Amar'e Stoudemire, Steve Kerr, Rick Welts, etc. I hate looking back and saying "What if..." or "I told you so..." Maybe not offering that last guaranteed year was a smart thing when attempting to sign STAT, maybe there was no way to keep Welts from his significant other and family in Northern Cal, and maybe, just maybe Kerr really did need to spend more time with his family. Alright, I can accept that (although I do not believe it). But what I cannot, and do not accept, is why the talent that made this franchise so great both upstairs and on the hardwood was not replaced by equal or at least potentially equal talent.
Mr. Bickley and many others are calling on the Suns to trade Nash, tank the season, and draft the next great thing. Because the NBA champion Mavericks were built through the draft right? Because Mark Cuban and Co. were brilliant enough to draft Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, and even Dirk Nowitzki. And the Lakers drafted Kobe Bryant right? And Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom? the Celtics drafted KG, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo right? The Heat drafted LeBron and Bosh (OK they drafted Wade). You get my point, champions aren't drafted, they are constructed. Let's face it, do we trust the Suns brass to draft Chris Paul or are they more likely to draft the distant cousin of Nicholas Tskitishvili?
Yes, the 2012 draft is deep. Maybe there's something or someone great in there that the Suns braintrust can pick out, and maybe, just maybe in 5 or 6 years that player will pan out and lead the Suns to the promised land. In the meantime?
Futility, Ugliness, Losing
Trading Steve Nash is not the answer to any problem. It makes the problem worse. You think attendance is down now? Try this team without Nash. Watch them go from 6-11 to 6-35. How many games are you as a fan going to attend? How many jerseys are you going to buy? Are you going to cancel your league pass? Are you going to bother listening to Tom Leander's drivel on TV while watching the Pietrus-level talent the Suns get in return?
Here's another point from Mr. Bickley:
Already the owner is stigmatized for deconstructing a championship-caliber team. Imagine if another All-Star leaves without a whiff of compensation in return.
I completely disagree with this statement. Imagine if our memory as Suns fans is Nash being traded for Jameer Nelson or a late first round pick, or hell, ANYONE. The return for Nash will never provide the franchise with what Nash has provided: Wins, excitement, class, and not to mention a future Hall of Fame member wearing a Suns jersey. And imagine being the guy or draft pick who we all remember as the return for Nash. He or they are destined for failure.
Letting Nash finish his contract and walk is the ONLY classy move Sarver can make. Further, it's the only way he can do anything positive for his reputation. In that case he can say "Steve wanted to move on. We tried to keep him but we couldn't." Would the average fan believe that? Probably not, but it's better than looking as though you thought you were getting fair return with a 2nd round pick and Jason Terry.
Unless the Suns are honoring Nash's trade request (if he makes one-which he has not, and will not), the idea of trading the best player you have is nothing more than an act out of frustration-"The team sucks, let's nuke it." It is irrational decision making and bad for any business. It doesn't improve your situation, it makes it worse. Kind of like drinking coffee when you're drunk. IT DOESN'T SOBER YOU UP, IT JUST MAKES YOU JITTERY AND DRUNK, which my friends, is not a good combination.
There is a lot of speculation on what will happen to Robin Lopez in the next few months. Rather than create an open dialogue on a hundred different possibilities, I thought I would narrow it down to one particular, realistic scenario for us to consider in this article.
I know we Suns fans are holding out for a better deal (Houston's Courtney Lee maybe, or Memphis' OJ Mayo, or just a late #1 pick), but today I just wanted to find out which of the "Houston 4" you'd want if we had no other offers and had to choose one.
The Suns have a recent history of being able to work with the Houston Rockets. Last year's trade was a bust for the Suns - Goran Dragic and a late #1 for Aaron Brooks - but at least we know the two teams can work together.
We are not here to talk about that trade. Really, we're not. We are here today to talk about trading Robin Lopez for one of the "Houston 4" - four lottery picks from the 2009 draft who were just told yesterday that they would be unrestricted free agents this summer. These are all young guys with talent who just couldn't make their careers happen yet. Kinda like Robin Lopez.
I know there are potentially other, better trades out there for Lopez. But you have to understand that the better the trade is for the Suns standpoint, the less likely it's going to happen. It's most likely that the best the Suns can do with Lopez is to trade him for a 2-month trial on someone else who, if they play well, the Suns would own that player's Bird Rights and would have recent familiarity with their "fit". At worst, the Suns still get the cap space this summer.
Hit the jump for a rundown of each of the 4, and then vote on your fave.
2009 #2 overall pick (by Memphis): Hasheem Thabeet
Measurements: 7'3", 263 lbs. Age 24. Shot-blocking machine who, in limited minutes, has shown the ability to block shots and rebound the ball. His problem is his motor, and probably his basketball IQ. He has poor instincts on both ends of the floor and is foul-prone. No post game. Houston is DESPERATE for a C, yet Thabeet gets zero playing time. And this for 2 different coaches (Adelman and McHale). Only appeared in 2 games this season.
2009 #6 overall pick (by Minnesota): Jonny Flynn
Measurements: 6'0", 185 lbs. Age 22. Quick, reputation for pick-and-roll ballhandling, but more of a shoot-first PG with poor decision-making. Does not draw contact, poor shooter, poor finisher. Terrible defensive player due to his lack size and strength. Graduated college with a great shot-making resume, but obviously has not translated to the NBA. When he was drafted, all I think could think of was Acie Law. While he profiles like Aaron Brooks, he's not even close in NBA talent.
Measurements: 6'10", 235 lbs. Age 24. Was a star at U of A and considered a potential steal by New York - then eventually traded to Houston in a package for Tracy McGrady's expiring contract. Hill is has been a part-time starter for Houston this year, though Sam Dalembert is going to take that spot any time now. Lacks strength and ball skills. Softer than he looks. Poor defensive player, poor production in his minutes, but can block a few shots (while fouling like crazy). The only power forward worse than Hill last year in +/- numbers? Hakim Warrick. Ugh.
Measurements: 6'6", 235 lbs. Age 24. Probably the best overall set of basketball skills in the bunch. He's very athletic, can create shots for others, rebounds well for a shooting guard. Can do a little of everything on the court. However, he can't make shots with consistency in the NBA and is turnover-prone. And worst of all, he has shown an uncoachable attitude, getting stuck to the end of the bench in each of his stops.
All of these guys are young and talented, but every one has disappointed his current team. There's a chance that another new environment would allow them to flourish, but there's also the chance that the Suns would just let them walk at the end of the year the way Houston wants to. And that means we got nothing for Lopez.
Footnote: everyone praised Houston GM Daryl Morey for stockpiling young talent. Well, most of that young talent is being simply let go for nothing this summer. The four above, plus Courtney Lee and Goran Dragic. All acquired through trade. All young and talented. All gone for nothing.