Come on guys, guard someone!  (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

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Come on guys, guard someone! (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

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Monday was a day of rest for the Phoenix Suns. Tuesday was a day of practice. Enough practice that even Allen Iverson somewhere in Turkey is complaining about it. The guys showed about early for an extended film session which prompted this quote from the venerable Grant Hill.

"We had a good look at the film and film doesn't lie."

Film Don't Lie.

What he's talking about is the worst in the league defense that's a result poor communication, blown assignments, poor effort and too many offensive rebounds allowed thanks to ball watching. We've heard this story before and I am guessing we will continue to hear this story until it gets better. I still insist that it's a positive sign that we are hearing this story instead of some cover-up that has to be revealed via Wiki-leaks. 

Players today were all asked (by Bob Young) if the defensive issues were effort or X's and O's. Everyone agreed it was a little bit of everything with Steve Nash winning the award for language parsing.

"It's a bit of both. I think any time you're not where you are supposed to be there's a break down in effort. Concentration is effort and focus so I think we've got work to do at both," Nash said.

Clear now?

The point is, the Suns are very much aware of how bad they've been defensively. Gentry even had a print out comparing last year's defensive numbers such as opponent FG% and defensive rebounding to this year. He let his team know that last place isn't going to cut it and didn't sugar coat it with talk about how good the offense is. He's not that interested in that.

"As good as we are offensively, if we can't secure the basketball and we can't guard better than we're guarding (now) we're going to struggle," Gentry said.

Scoring 133 points and 44 in the fourth quarter didn't matter. What mattered was giving up seven offensive rebounds to Shelden Williams in the third quarter and proof that when the team played better defense for what was described as an eight minute stretch, that they were able to get back in the game. With defense. 

Here's shocker for you, speaking of defense. According to Synergy, the best individual defender on the Suns team this season in isolation situations with a rating that's "Excellent" and who is only giving up .60 points per isolation possession is....wait for it....OK, you can guess now but the answer is after the jump ...

Steve Nash

I know, right! 

According to Synergy, in 20 defensive possessions tracked (which is 6th most on the team, high being Grant Hill with 30), Nash's opponent has only shot 38.5% from the field and has a turnover rate of 25%!

I didn't totally believe these numbers so I clicked the "20" hyper-link and watched all 25 clips they showed me. That's right, it said 20 possessions but showed me 25 clips. I have no idea what that means. Anyway, Nash does do a decent job staying in front of his man but of course his man was mostly guys like Mike Conley and Mike Bibby and not Derrick Rose who gets covered by Grant Hill.  

So, you know. Lets just call this a fun anomaly for now and move on to what folks had to saw after today's long practice session.

Grant Hill

Grant said he didn't feel so good and he certainly didn't look well at all. Head cold, flu, whatever. He practiced of course, because he's Grant Hill. 

Listen for yourself, he even sounds sick. Audio: Grant Hill practice 113010

  • He was happy to have some practice time. Practice, it matters.
  • The team watched film and had a "defensive" practice. They made some changes to the defensive schemes. Hopefully that means a return to hedging the screen and roll hard instead of passively going under screens 
  • "It's one thing if you stick to the script and execute and do what you're supposed to do defensively, it's hard enough stopping guys in this league, but when you don't it just breaks down things and makes it very difficult."
  • Team responded well and was energetic during practice
  • "There's no place to go but up, so we'll see what happens."
Hakim Warrick
  • The difference playing with the starters is mostly about playing against guys that are fresh versus either tired opposition starters or their reserve players. In a nut shell, it's harder
  • Aside from missing three point-blank layups, Hak thought it was an OK start. He felt he did better rebounding the ball. 
  • About those missed layups he said, "One of those days. It happens." 
  • I say the same thing when I make a typo or misspell something expect except it's more like, "Every day. It happens."
  • "Most of the time, pretty much all of the time, I'm going to be giving up size so I just got to try and use my body, use my length and keep them from banging me and just be aggressive. Continue to work them, offensively run them and wear them down and just keep them off the offensive glass," Warrick said about his own defense
  • Warrick communicated about the importance of communication on defense:
  • "It's a team thing. The big guys got to communicate with the guards because most of the times they can't see the pick coming. We're the back of the defense and we've got to be the quarterback or the linebacker to be able to calls things out and let them know. The weak side help definitely has to do a better job of protecting the rim when a guy gets beat, being able to come and trusting that guy that he's going to be there behind you to help and try and get that block or take that charge."
  • See that -- communication and trust. Those same two things pop up again and again when you talk about defense
  • Warrick said he tries to be vocal on the court but he's not as vocal as he should be, "It's something I'm working on."
  • It is still a process for the new guys to get used to playing together on the defensive end as well as the offensive end. I've heard some broadcasters -- Scott Williams perhaps -- say that defense is just about playing hard and it shouldn't matter who you are playing with but I totally disagree. Great defensive teams move together on the floor and that takes time. You have to play on a string and you can't do that if you don't know what everyone else on the string is going to do. That lead to passive play and mental mistakes IMHO

Steve Nash
  • "Our defense has been terrible recently. We obviously need time, we haven't had a lot of practice time and need time to correct all the details that we've let slide after the first few weeks of the season."
  • Steve is now the third person (others being Hill and Gentry) to talk about the need to follow the game plan and not go off the reservation. "We need to do what we do well, not think that we can reinvent something."
  • Nash said he's getting better physically after struggling the past few weeks
  • "It's hard to be under .500 after a month no matter what we've done. (It's) disappointing and we've got to find a way to do better."
  • How's the chemistry? "I think we've made some strides but we've got a long ways to go. We don't have the same chemistry we had last year but as the same time last year we had some ups and downs too and fought through them and really found ourselves."
  • Steve's latest commercial venture was in the building shooting a commercial. This is for the Parrot Drone thing which you can check out here on Faceboook. Steve said they called and "wanted us to make a spot for them so we shot some stuff for them." Steve said "we" -- as in his production company -- shot the initial stuff for them and they were in doing some follow up today
  • The press release I got from the their PR people said "NBA star Steve Nash announced a new partnership with Parrot..As part of the partnership, Nash has recorded a series of videos, which will be available to view on the AR.Drone Facebook page."

Alvin Gentry
  • Gentry's focus specifically was on containing the ball but still mostly focused on the rebounding. He's not happy about being dead last in defensive FG% and puts a lot of that blame on giving up second chance opportunities. He claims that the Suns are holding opponents to about 41% shooting on their initial attempts and the easy 2nd chance opportunities have made the overall number a league-worst 49.1% (one full point worse than the Clippers)
  • Asked if there was a ceiling for how good this team could be on the glass given their size, Gentry wanted no part of that excuse. "I expect for them to secure the rebound if we have a good defensive possession. We don't have any excuses. If you're undersized then you have to do a better job boxing out. If you're a little bit slower then you have to do a better job boxing out...We don't have a ceiling. You put ceilings on your team and it gives everybody an out. We expect to secure the ball after we've had a good defensive stance."
  • The problem, according to Gentry, is the Suns have become "ball watchers". You can see this in most of the offensive rebounds the Nuggets got in the third quarter of Sunday's game. The Suns standing flat footed staring up at the rim instead of looking around to find a body to box out. (See example below)
  • Gentry pointed out once again that rebounding doesn't take a lot of basketball talent and almost named some guys (ahem, Reggie Evans) but stopped himself
  • "We have to find a way to get better. We have who we have here. We can't go out and say we'll just wait until we get Dennis Rodman."
  • Gentry went to the - if everyone just finds a way to grab one more rebound we will be good - card
  • Gentry is not interested in using the zone more. He doesn't like to use the zone and thinks they need to be good in man-to-man. The Lakers series was basically a fluke
  •  Gentry wouldn't say for sure if he would keep Warrick in the starting lineup. "Maybe," he said
  • "We're going to try people until we're able to rebound the basketball," Gentry said about the rotation tinkering with guys like Barron or Clark
  • .Robin is coming along but won't be rushed back but he will help with the rebounding when he gets back. "He's averaging almost five rebounds in 17 minutes. If we can keep him on the floor for 28 or 32 minutes, possibility that could be a big help in that area."
  •  Gentry wouldn't give a timeline for his return but he did warn that even when he gets back it will take him two or three weeks to get back into game shape


Gani Lawal update:

Gani Lawal Impresses In D-League But Inconsistency Still An Issue - SB Nation Arizona
Gani Lawal is already halfway through his ten-game trip to Iowa, and the results have been erratic, to say the least. His back-to-back set against Tulsa over the weekend could not possibly have had two more contrasting outcomes.

 

Don't forget the Suns Tweetup on Dec 10. It will be very cool

Join me, @JaredDudley619, at the 3rd Annual @PhoenixSunsTweetup on Friday, December 10! With this special offer, you'll get:

  • Early entry into @USAirwaysCenter to watch the Suns warm up
  • A discount on "Twitter Tailgate" dinner & drink specials
  • An exclusive #SunsTweetup t-shirt (VOTE NOW!)
  • Group seating, so you'll be with your fellow tweeps
  • Twitter contests & prizes throughout the night
  • A special performance by the Dial @DancingDads
  • Social media snacks from @popchipsaz
  • A private postgame Q&A with me, @JaredDudley619!

 


Example of ball watching and getting out-worked for a rebound by J.R. Smith of all people.

1) The shot goes up from the far corner. All Five Suns are in good rebounding position around the rim. Well, four Suns. Hedo is side-by-side with Nene but that's not the issue. Take note of the Nuggets player way up at the top of the arc. Note where he appears to be headed.

Oreb_-_nugs_medium

2) Here the ball has bounced off the rim and is about to come down. Three Suns are staring up at it. Warrick seems poised to leap. Nene (and Hedo) have retreated to the other end. But there's J.R. Smith somehow getting closer to the ball.

Oreb_-_nugs_2_medium

3) And of course you already know that Smith leaped past Warrick to get the put back and foul. Now granted, it was a great hustle play by Smith (weird) but the Suns can't exactly blame being small for this extra 3 points. If a Suns player would have noted Smith flying in, it would have been easy enough to box him out. But when everyone is staring up at the ball, this is what happens.

Oreb_-_nugs_3_medium





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The Case for Earl Clark

Is he getting hosed by the Suns? Someone certainly thinks so


The goal of the Suns defense is never to see a happy J.R. Smith. Is that too much to ask? (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

More photos » Barry Gutierrez - AP

The goal of the Suns defense is never to see a happy J.R. Smith. Is that too much to ask? (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

Browse more photos »

Normally, I would start with a recitation of the stats and other evidence supporting the notion that the Phoenix Suns are not a good defensive team, but I think we can all agree on that. The questions is why, and, more importantly, is it a fundamental flaw or a correctable situation?

Roster flaws

There is a built-in excuse for how poorly the Suns are defending, if you choose to go there.

Robin Lopez, out with injury (again), is sorely missed on the defensive end of the floor. When he was in the game, Robin was able to defend the other team's best low post offensive player without needing help of a double team. The Suns were already behind the eight ball at the power forward position with two undersized players (Turkoglu and Warrick) before asking Frye to move into the starting lineup. Any team forced to double a mediocre NBA center like Denver's Nene is working its way out of a deep defensive hole.

The depth at the center position was something we knew about before the season started: 

Phoenix Suns 2010-11 Season Preview: So Many Questions - SB Nation Arizona
As crazy as it sounds, though, the Suns are better prepared to survive the loss of Nash or Hill than Robin Lopez.. 

With no Robin, the Suns move Channing Frye to the starting center position, which means they have no inside presence at all.

To paraphrase Jared Dudley, the Suns need Robin Lopez both healthy and playing at a near All-Star level to get back into the hunt for a chance to play the Lakers again in the Western Conference Finals. 

Beyond the lack of quality depth at center, the lack of length and beef at power forward, the Suns still have Steve Nash on the floor. It's not like any point guard in the league has been able to stay in front of Derrick Rose (just ask Rajon Rondo about that), but when the Suns have to try and hide Nash by playing him somewhere else, it can create issues like we saw in the Bulls game. 

The Suns put Hill on Rose and J-Rich on Deng and Nash on Korver and all three of those guys ended up putting up big numbers. And speaking of J-Rich, he's trying and he's better than he's been but the guy just isn't a good defensive player. Josh Childress has been disappointing with his on-ball defense which leave Jared Dudley who at times does good but can't stay with quicker guys.

The bright spot, as we all know, has been Channing Frye of all people. He's done about everything you could ask of him and then some. But let's face it, when Channing Frye is your best big paint defender, you have a problem.

No excuses

The Suns have to play smarter, harder and faster to make up for what they don't have. This means 100% hustle. It means super sharp rotations. And it means getting the little things right like preventing a post player from splitting a double team or spinning baseline away from the help.

These are the things the Suns haven't been doing lately and these things are both inexcusable and correctable. Here's an example:

1) The Clippers run a very simple little play designed to free up Cook for a shot. They run Gomes off a Cook screen and across the lane. Childress fights through the Cook screen and Barron bumps Gomes to slow him down. At this point either Barron needs to stick with Cook and float out or they need to switch so Barron takes Gomes and Childress takes Cook.

Suns_vs_clips_-_blown_switch_1_medium

2) The Suns do neither and both Josh and Earl B. end up on Gomes. The Clippers point guard sets a screen on Dragic which prevents him from following Cook either. But really the issue is Childress and Barron both defending the same man, Gomes.

Suns_vs_clips_-_blown_switch_2_medium

3) Cook gets space to catch, set and shoot. Dragic does his best to release from his man and contest the shot but he's got no real chance given the amount of space he has to cover and Cook's high release point.

Suns_vs_clips_-_blown_switch_3_medium

There's countless examples of these types of blown plays. You can understand a bit if Barron and Josh aren't on the same page, this is probably the first time they've played together, but it's not like this is the exception.

Another, simpler example is Warrick not pressuring Cook out past the three point line. This is just an example of passive defense instead of the kind of disruptive, aggressive play Gentry said he wants this season.

This isn't Kevin Durant or even Dirk Nowitzki who are threats to put the ball on the deck and drive by if you pressure too hard. This is Brian Cook. You want him to try and put the ball on the floor so why not pressure him a bit more even if he's two feet behind the line?

Suns_vs_clips_-_cook_open_medium

I asked Gentry on Saturday before the team flew to Denver about these type of blown plays.

"Well, we haven't done a good job with that. We have to be more consistent with that, understanding the game plan and then sticking to it and not making it up as we go along...I don't think it's losing focus. It's a communication thing. We've just got to communicate better with each other on the court," he said.

What's most frustrating is that the Suns were doing these things better to start the season. The rotations were better and the aggressiveness was there. Now they are playing tentative and lacking the two basic principles of good defense: trust and communication.

Good news

As long as Robin Lopez is out and/or not able to play with the same speed and explosiveness that he had last year due to the back injury / weakened right leg, the Suns are going to have issues inside. We can play the what-if-we-trade-so-and-so-for-such-and-such game until the cows come home, but as most coaches like to point out, you do the best with what you have and leave the rest up to the front office. 

The Suns finally have a couple days off and will certainly get in some good practice time on Tuesday and Wednesday before going to Oakland to face the Warriors on Thursday. They are taking Monday off to get some rest after the 10 games in 17 days stretch and I am sure will be spending a lot of time working on fixing what's fixable and not much time (hopefully) sulking about what they don't have -- leave that up to the internets, that's what we're here for.

As I've said time and again, one thing you can be proud of with this Suns team is they don't run from their problems. They don't make excuses and more than anything, that gives me some hope that they will be able to improve their defense and get back on the same page. If you need proof of that, just read the quotes from after the Denver game.

This team is better than we've seen over the last few weeks and as long as they don't quit or stop believing in each other, they will at least reach their potential and possibly a bit more. They don't have the players to be a great defensive team, but they can and should be much better than we've seen lately. 


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