Fans of the desert team are used to viewing defense as that intermission between offensive plays, but that should change this year as the Suns are playing an active, energetic defense that bring the crowd to it's feet all by itself.

The Phoenix Suns, picked by many as the worst team in the West, have come out of the gates sporting the league's 5th best defense after six games.

Sure, the sample size is small. But in the desert you learn to appreciate that glimmering pond of fresh water on the horizon whether it's really an oasis or not.

Suns fans are not used to seeing defense played so effectively. Rather, we are used to treating that half of the game as a necessary evil to get to the other end.

This year, though, the defensive end is a joy to watch.

"We want to run," point guard Goran Dragic says, "but we have to get the stops, get the rebounds first."

Well, duh. We've heard Suns teams beating that drum for about 45 years now but they have rarely turned that dream into a consistent reality.

Yet this season, the Suns' defense has helped the team to a 4-2 start, first in the Pacific division, on the back of the league's 5th-rated defense.

Again, take this with a grain of salt because of the small sample size. But the sample size is small for all 30 NBA teams and the Suns had more turnover - 10 players, an entire coaching staff - than most, so the 'continuity' argument goes out the window.

The eye test

What I see on the court is aggressive defense on the ball handler, along with consistent rotations and even some really good second-level rotations (rotating to the rotating player's man).

For prior Suns teams, the latter rotation was always their achilles' heel, often leaving a weak-side three-point shooter or cutter. This year, you don't see a lot of open weak-side players free to create their own open shot. You see rotations that bottle up the other teams to the point that you wonder why they aren't passing enough, or executing well.

This will, of course, get tougher over the course of the season as teams' offensive efficiency improves like it always does. But the Suns offense (14th overall) will improve as well, and all you have to do is be a little better than the other guys each night.

"We have to make sure we get onto them and close out under control so they're not just driving by us and making extra passes," Hornacek said before the Denver game on Friday.

The stats

On a high level, the Suns defensive marks are pretty good.

  • Opponent field goal % is 7th overall: 42.8%
  • Opponents three-point % is 10th overall: 33.3%
  • Rebounding is 12th overall: 44.6 per game
  • Steals are 8th overall: 7.3 per game
  • Defensive Efficiency (points per possession) is 5th overall: 99.1 points per 100 possessions

Compare those numbers to last season and you almost have to laugh. Remember the times when the Suns were disgustingly giving up 42% on threes? Or 27th or worse year over year in rebounding?

Defending the rim

While we all can see the aggressive nature of the perimeter defenders, we must also appreciate the defense being played in the paint. Opponents are not scoring will at the basket, and that can be attributed to paint defenders Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris.

Frye (40.5%), Plumlee (40.6%) and Morris (43.8%) are all among the Top 20 players in the league at defending the rim, among players getting at least 20 minutes per game and defending at least four shots at the rim. I used the filters to create an apples-to-apples comparison among regular NBA rotation players.

"We have [Plumlee] out there in position to take one or two steps and get a block or alter the shot," Hornacek said. "You put the guys in the right spots, but if they don't have the instincts they will be slow to close out. He does a great job of reading when to block the shot and when to not."

It all starts with having a shot-blocker in the middle.

"We're all about teamwork here. [Plumlee] feels if he goes for a block, that someone's going to get his man and block his guy out so he's comfortable with going."

Grabbing contested rebounds

Once the shot is up and the ball caroms off the rim, someone has to rebound it. The Suns are among the best in the league at grabbing that contested rebound (securing the rebound with a defender within 3.5 feet).

"They can't fall asleep," Hornacek said of team defense. "They know if Miles goes for the block, they have to crack down. There's going to be a miss and a loose ball somewhere, and they're anticipating that well."

In fact, P.J. Tucker is 6th in the league at contested rebound rate (an opponent within 3.5 feet of him) among those playing at least 25 minutes with at least 4 games played, grabbing 48.5% of them. Miles Plumlee is 12th (45.5%) and Markieff Morris is 53rd (30.6%).

Markieff's numbers aren't great, but they are better than such luminaries as Serge Ibaka, David West, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol at this point.


These are just two of the new defensive numbers being made available this season by the NBA thanks to the league-wide use of the SportVu cameras. SportVu records every play from six different angles, allowing teams to aggregate the results and, in part, better define the "how" behind a quality defense that was never able to be tracked before.

As you can see, the Suns are doing the little things well that result in quality defense, which in turn results in gritty wins and helps the team maintain their poise under pressure.

Whether that continues or not remains to be seen, yet the principles instilled by defensive coordinator Mike Longabardi and the rest of the coaching staff are those that are usually sustainable over the long haul.

Welcome to the first weekly installment of the "Phoenix Suns Player of the Week" series. This new feature will replace the "Suns Weekly Player Rankings" from last season, which may have been a bit too comprehensive given the lack of quality talent on the roster at the time.

This new weekly feature will facilitate the ability to focus in on the players who really deserve the attention, while omitting those who are barely worth mentioning...At least until they earn their way into the list. This will begin with an examination of the top three candidates as determined by their play in the weekly games, and culminate with a winner based on not only stats, but also on their importance to the team...which is sometimes difficult to measure with numbers alone.

So without further ado, here is a look at the first three candidates:

The Finalists

Eric Bledsoe aka "Mr. 4th Quarter"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 20.5 FG%: .572 Assists: 8.25 Steals: 2.25 Rebounds: 3.75

Eric Bledsoe has been the highest scoring player on the team thus far, and also the most clutch with his ability to seemingly take over games in the 4th quarter, and put the team on his back when it matters the most.

In addition to leading the Suns in scoring, Bledsoe is also leading the team in assists and steals. Now that may change once Dragic is healthy and back in the line up, but there's no question that Bledsoe has been everything the Suns could have hoped for and more.

Markieff Morris aka "The Philly Phoenix"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 18.4 FG%: .583 Assists: 2.0 Steals: 1.5 Rebounds: 7.5

Just when Suns fans were ready to give up on Markieff Morris after starting his third season with the same inconsistent play that he exhibited in his first two seasons, Markieff suddenly rose from the ashes this week with very impressive play off the bench that included less jump-shots, more dunks, and an aggressive, physical style of play.

Markieff played the best game of his career this week in San Antonio going 11-13 from the field and tying his career high with 23 points...but he wasn't finished. In the very next game, he went 10-13 from the field and got to the line frequently where he shot 7-8 for a new career high of 28 points, to go along with his 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists. This was the best week in Markieff's young NBA career, and he made a huge difference for the Suns with his new-found style of big-man basketball.

Miles Plumlee aka "Double-Doublee"

Weekly Stat Averages:

Points: 10.75 FG%: .480 Blocks: 1.25 Rebounds: 6.75

Not only do the Suns appear to have a new fan favorite in town with Miles Plumlee, but he is proving to be one of the biggest surprises in the NBA as a whole this season. Plumlee is leading the Suns in double-doubles, and although he is only 55 minutes removed from being a rookie this season, he has become one of the most important players on the team.

The Frequent Flyer (I refuse to call him Plumdog) had one bad game offensively this week against OKC which significantly lowered his averages. However, even when he isn't scoring the ball or getting credited for rebounds and blocks, he is doing a lot of really good things on the court and making a huge difference when he's on the floor. Plumlee's numbers this week do not tell the entire story, as anyone who watched him play can attest to. He has had an outstanding week and has been one of the biggest keys to the Suns success thus far.

The Player of the Week

Markieff Morris

Keef deserves the player of the week award for stringing together the three best games of his career in a row, and improving in each of them. This is the player the Suns were hoping for when they drafted him in 2011, and if he can continue to play at this level, or even close to it, he can make a huge difference for this team. Markieff has seemingly readjusted his focus from being a stretch four to playing more in the low post. He has only taken two thee-point shots thus far in the season, and has done the majority of his scoring at the rim and at the foul line...which is exactly what the organization and fans have been waiting to see from him.

Who knows if Markieff can continue to reinvent himself into the efficient low-post scoring and rebounding machine that he has become over the past few games, but he deserves credit for his impressive turnaround after what appeared to be another lackluster start to the season. Keef gave the Suns an added dimension of toughness and efficiency in and around the post that they haven't been able to get from him before. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for the new and improved Markieff Morris.

Who do you think deserved to be named the Phoenix Suns Player of the Week?

  593 votes | Results

The Phoenix Suns are 4-2 in the young season, with their only losses being on the road to San Antonio and Oklahoma City without their best player, Goran Dragic, in the lineup.

After the Spurs beat the Suns in the final minute in true Spursian fashion, color Tony Parker impressed. "A lot of people they really don't believe in Phoenix. I think they're pretty good," he said after the game.

The Suns have the league's 5th-ranked defense in terms of points-per-possession and 12th ranked offense. This from a team universally predicted to finish in the cellar of the West.

"Everybody's counting us out," P.J. Tucker said after Friday's win over Denver. "Everybody."

Before that game, Denver coach Brian Shaw was worried. One of his keys to the game was to take the Phoenix Suns seriously. He explained that sometimes NBA players don't get as keyed up for a team without a marquee player, but that he hoped his team wouldn't fall into that trap.

Denver came out flat, losing the first half by 17 and the fourth quarter by 14 under the snowball called the Phoenix Suns.

"We want people to keep taking us lightly," shooting guard Gerald Green said after the game when told of Shaw's comments. "Go ahead and take us lightly."

To be clear, Shaw wasn't dissing the Suns. On the contrary, he was simply stating his concern that players sometimes pick and choose the games they get most excited for. To no one's surprise, the Phoenix Suns are not yet a team that scares its opponents.

"I think that we can even click even more," Green said of the potential to get better. "It's kind of scary to think what our potential is and I don't think everybody realizes what we really can do. I think that game by game we surprise each other."

P.J. Tucker is one of only four players who went through last season's debacle, so it's instructive to get his take on all of this excitement. Kris and I asked him to compare this season's spirit or "vibe" with last season at this time.

"We had the same high hopes last year," he said with a chuckle. "We thought we were a good team last year and we were going to win. Even the first 20 games when we were losing a little bit, we were still thinking we were going to turn it on. It's still the same, I think."

The Suns started the season 7-8 before losing a ton of games by Christmas and eventually losing their coach in January. Tucker warns that the season is too early to call, but he really likes what he sees from the team.

"There's a lot of focus," he said. "Everybody's coming in, playing hard, playing like it's their last game. I love the group, how we're playing together. Everybody sharing the ball, right there together."

Last week, after the Suns opener, point guard Goran Dragic had the same warning not to get too excited this early.

Coach Hornacek, on the other hand, isn't jaded from last season. He's impressed with the team's resilience and brought up a new buzz word that must make the President of Basketball Operations smile.

"Typically, the young guys get panicked and it gets even worse," Hornacek said of their recovery from getting blitzed in the third quarter on Friday. "But our guys are not doing that and that's a great sign. They stay with it, they stay composed even though we have a young team.

"That's a great sign for the future," he continued. "To see these guys already have it. Usually, it takes a few years where they grab their composure and poise - that's one of Lon Babby's "Five Ps" is poise. If we can continue to do that it makes is easier on us coaches."

The season is still young, but this team just feels a lot more focused and together than at any time a year ago. Win or lose, they have each other's backs.

#LeaguePassAlert It’s official. The Suns are the most entertaining team in the NBA. Though the season is still young, the Suns are already old pros at keeping the drama night in and night out. Their...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

The Phoenix rode Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee to a great win over the Nuggets that saw both teams take big leads, one after the other.

The Nuggets made a final run with a couple of threes to cut the lead to four, but Eric Bledsoe made a big layup in traffic and then a long straight-away three to seal the win.

Bledsoe finished with 15 points, 9 assists and 3 steals. Markieff Morris had a career high 28 points with 9 rebounds, and Miles Plumlee had 18 and 11. Marcus Morris had 11 points himself, only the third time the twins have both had double digit scoring games on the same team together.

The Suns started the game hot by scoring at the rim and from the three-point line with consistency, racing to a 24-13 lead before the Nuggets woke up. The players were really focused on getting their shots either going to the rim or rotating into an open three.

Nuggets briefly took the lead 36-35 early in the second quarter off 3 straight steals (turning into 7 points) by the hyper athletic Anthony Randolph. Randolph can't do much with a basketball, but he's got some serious length to disrupt passing lanes.

But then the Suns settled back down to two alley-oop dunks and a three, quickly retaking a 9-point lead and forcing a Nugget timeout. At this point, Gerald Green makes the All-Suns team. That guy is playing like a man possessed.

The Nuggets stayed in the game by shooting well - making 59% of their shots despite an 8-point deficit halfway through the second quarter.

By late in the second quarter, the Suns had forced the Nuggets to play pretty small by putting Channing Frye at the 5-spot and spreading the floor with the Morris brothers, Gerald Grean and Bledsoe out there. That's a tough team to defend with their length and shooting ability.

Still, the Nuggets kept themselves in the game with shooting and hustle, though they spent a lot more time trying and missing midrange shots once the Suns D settled down.

And then Dionte Christmas turned into "the Polar Express" on a fast break layup that signaled a second-quarter rout was on.

By halftime, the Suns lead was 17, the last two points on a "Mozgov". That poor guy. After getting nutmegged a couple years ago by Blake Griffin, Mozgov was twice crossed up by Miles Plumlee for reverse layups and then Markieff Morris rose to the "13th floor" over top of Mozgov for a putback slam on a Suns missed free throw. It was glorious.

In the first half, the Suns outscored the Nuggets 64-47, outrebounded them 27 to 18, out-assisted them 14 to 8, outblocked them 3 to 0 and outstole the ball 5-3.

Markieff Morris had 14 points and 5 rebounds by halftime, while Miles Plumlee had 9 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. Suns leading scorer Eric Bledsoe had only 4 points as he was happy setting up for others, racking up 7 assists in the first half alone.

This was a clear and present pasting through halftime.

Next question: can the Suns handle success?

Well, the Suns came out flat to start the second half while the Nuggets started on a 12-5 run before Hornacek called a timeout to focus the guys. Curious to see if they can "turn it back on".

Denver tried to come back with Darrell Arthur and Anthony Randolph on their front line. And it worked. Denver went on a 27-3 run at one point, and took a whopping 10-point lead before the Suns could take a breath. Ty Lawson had 21 points in that run alone. Crazy stuff. The Suns just couldn't stop the bleeding.

Luckily, the Suns started with a 17-point lead and woke up a bit at the end to cut the Denver lead to 3.

At the end of the quarter, Ish Smith made a 3-point play the old fashioned way, and then made a steal for a fastbreak layup by Markieff Morris. Morris was so excited, he drew the crowd to its feet by waving his arms in a real, live "Make Some Noise" moment.

Still, Ty Lawson outscored the entire Suns team 21-20 in the third.

The Suns quickly tied the game on a Marcus Morris 3 and three stops (sandwiching two other Morris jumper misses). The Suns were fortunate that Denver couldn't keep their momentum.

The scoring bounced back and forth for much of the 4th quarter. Markieff Morris had a career high 25 points with eight minutes to go. He was hot. And then he showed how focused he was by dumping off a pass to Miles Plumlee for an easy layup rather than driving into a charge call.

The Suns finally grabbed a 5-point lead at 100-95 on a 3 by the other Morris. Really, these last three games are what the prior regime thought they might be getting when they acquired the Morrii. These guys are such a mismatch because they can move, dribble, shoot and make shots while rebounding and defending on the other end. When they are engaged. Somehow, Hornacek has them engaged more than any prior NBA coach could do. Maybe it's the Kendall Marshall trade/release. Maybe it's just them growing up. Or maybe it's the right coaching. Whatever it is, I like these Morrii.

In the end, the Suns regrouped and finished the game on a high after dropping to a 10-point deficit. The crowd was quite excited, spurred on by inspired Suns basketball.

Page 1001 of 2116


Web Links

Sponsored Ads