On his weekly call-in to KTAR, err arizonasports 620, Phoenix Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter was asked why he's had such a tough time shoring up the Suns defense. Hunter replied that they have had to spend a surprising amount of time on basics, rather than fine-tuning.
"One of the things in particular is that guys didn't understand the strong side and weak side," Hunter said to Burns and Gambo. "The strong side is where the ball is, and the weak side is where the ball isn't. If I turn and go the other way, then I become the weak side.
"I see why sometimes we don't rotate the right way, it's because we don't understand the difference between the strong side and weak side."
Wow. How is this even possible, that guys don't know a difference like that? You learn that pretty young, I believe.
The radio guys periodically went back to this story on Friday, Doug Franz even calling his elementary school daughters (who answered the question wrong too) and suggested a potential motivation for Hunter to say something so unbelievable was to make himself look better.
Hunter has no filters, doesn't know what's right to say and what's wrong to say. He's just a guy trying to coach a team, and when they're playing bad he's not afraid to say why. Even if it means throwing his players under a bus.
Whether he's trying to make himself look better, I doubt it. He's not really cared what the media think. He knows that fans are frustrated with him mainly because of the results, and that they will be back when the team is winning again. He's not Alvin Gentry, who garnered media and fan loyalty even in a losing situation.
Part of the reason fans loved Gentry was because he coached the last winning Suns team. The same would be true of any coach. If the Suns are winning and Hunter is this honest, fans will call it endearing and refreshing. But when the Suns are losing and Hunter is this honest, fans call it annoying and disrespectful.
I digress. Back to the strong-side/weak-side revelation.
Maybe Hunter is just cluing us in to the realities of coaching kids who came up through the AAU circuit and weren't taught as many basics as we might think.
When I heard the interview, it sounded to me that Hunter was talking about the live-action nuances of having to recognize as quickly as possible when you change from strong to weak. All it takes is the ball swinging away from your side of the court. When a player passes cross-court, the positioning and rotation you were just executing changes on a dime. Now you're defending the weak side. Then the ball gets popped into the middle and you have to decide - did I just become a strong-side defender or am I still a weak-side defender?
But I'm not a coach, so I enlisted the help of a fellow media member, Randy Hill, who has coached and developed players for decades in California and Arizona. Hill has made observations all season from the little that the media is allowed to see.
I didn't hear the interview with Lindsey, but reading the text and having talked with him about Xs and Os in general leads me to believe his frustration has more to do with certain players not comprehending what strong-weak adjustments should be made in the immediate aftermath of ball reversals, dribble penetration, blitz-type action when the Suns go "black' on PNR, etc.
Hill, guessing that the biggest focus of BSotS readers would be on Beasley and the Morri, went on to say that Bill Self (Kansas) and Frank Martin (K-State) would have drilled the concept of "strong" and "weak" sides in college just fine, but that every defensive system has different reaction to each action.
Hill went on to say that Hunter's defensive scheme is a lot different than the system under Alvin Gentry, and that Hunter appears to have more of a defensive plan than the previous regime.
I do know the pack-line-style defense he's attempting to implement in the middle of the season has significantly different rules for help responsibilities than the (cough) system the Suns used before Alvin left the building. According to some of the more experienced Suns, Hunter does spend considerably more practice minutes attempting to install these concepts.
Alvin Gentry's staff spent more time on offense, and less time on positioning and footwork of the defense. The Suns organization has never been a defensive juggernaut, and Gentry didn't really attempt to change that perception.
When I asked a veteran perimeter player if these things were drilled in training camp, the player said he didn't really know -- bigs and guards rarely worked on specific defensive maneuvers on the same end of the floor.
We can debate ad nauseum the merits of completely changing a defensive scheme mid-season, but it is what it is. The Suns were one of the worst defensive teams in the league the last few years, so I can see why Hunter might want to scrap what they used to do.
With the younger guys, that's apparently been a battle. We've observed the fight between Hunter and Michael Beasley, and Hunter and Marcus Morris. There have probably been others that didn't leak to the media, but we can note that Markieff Morris - while still out of position a lot - has garnered more minutes in the past month than either his brother or SuperCool. Kieff seems to have committed.
Hunter is holding them accountable, and basing playing time more on their focus and effort in practice than we might think is warranted.
The results are poor, that's for sure. But Hunter did have the Suns at 8-13 before Marcin Gortat went down to injury and Jermaine O'Neal started missing time. It's tough to implement Hunter's defense without a post, rim-protecting presence down low and without a committed rotation to the coach's schemes.
In last week's NBA Draft Lottery Watch, I predicted the Phoenix Suns would remain in the 3rd lottery spot "ahead" of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although The Suns' record is what I expected, the Cavs managed to win only one game last week (instead of going 2-2 like I thought), which now effectively ties them with Phoenix for the third spot...more on that in a bit.
In regards to the 8th seed playoff race, the Lakers also did better than expected going 3-1 on the week with two gritty 4th quarter comebacks against both the Portland Trailblazers and the Golden State Warriors. Although the Utah Jazz did their part by going 2-1 on the week and only losing to the Thunder, The Lakers are in control for the time being and ahead of the Jazz by one game with only two games left to play. But with Kobe now officially out for the rest of the season, and two games left against Western Conference playoff teams, they are still anything but safe.
Today, the Phoenix Suns are currently tied for the third position for the 2013 NBA Draft. Here is a look at the bottom five teams and their current records, as well as a look at their final upcoming games, and some predictions on where they could end up.
Last week the Pistons went 3-0, including a surprising win over the Bulls. However, the Pistons now face two tough teams to finish off the season, and should lose them both either finishing in the 5th or 6th lottery spot depending on the Sacramento Kings.
Final games: 4/14 @ Philadelphia 76ers, 4/15 vs Miami Heat, 4/17 @ Charlotte Bobcats
The Cavaliers have continued their losing ways even after the return of Kyrie Irving. They are now tied with Phoenix for the 3rd lottery spot, and if both teams end up tied will split their chances and flip a coin to determine who gets 137 or 138 chances in the lottery. However, with their final game against the Bobcats, the Cavs would be hard pressed to lose even if they tried, so assuming they go 1-2 in the final games of the season, they should finish in the 4th spot if Phoenix loses out.
The Suns are now in the home stretch of their disappointing year. And with two games left against quality opponents, we have likely seen them win their last game. If the Suns lose out and Cleveland wins just one game, they will be in the 3rd lottery spot. If the Suns and Cavs both lose out, they will split the difference with the smallest advantage being determined by a coin flip, as explained above.
The Magic are are as bad as ever, and unless the Heat decide to rest all of their starters during the final game, they have little shot of winning another game this season. They likely finish 20-62, good for the 2nd place in the lottery.
Final Games: 4/15 vs. New York Knicks, 4/17 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Although the Bobcats actually won a game last night, they are still at the bottom. They have two games left to play and will likely lose both of them. Keep an eye on that final game against Cleveland, the Suns need the Bobcats to lose in order to sit alone in third place...Not that they have much chance of doing otherwise.
Right now, the Los Angeles Lakers are one game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference Playoffs, with the Dallas Mavericks now eliminated from the race. However, with two games to play for the Lakers with no Kobe, and against some stiff competition, the Jazz are still very much alive.
Final games: 4/14 vs. San Antonio Spurs, 4/17 vs. Houston Rockets
The Lakers are still a dangerous team even without Kobe. They still have the best rebounding and defensive center in the league, along with a skilled 4 who can score from anywhere. The other things they have going for them is both of these games are at home, and they have either one or two days of rest before them as well. That said, they have not been good at all this season against Western Conference playoff teams (or the Suns)...and the effect of losing their fiercest competitor and best player cannot be minimized. Still, I expect the Lakers to go 1-1 and finish the season 44-38, good enough to better the Jazz and make it into the playoffs as the 8th seed.
Final games: 4/15 @ Minnesota Timberwolves, 4/17 @ Memphis Grizzlies
The Jazz are now in desperation mode. They basically have to win out to make the playoffs while hoping the Lakers lose at least one of their remaining two games. The good news for the Jazz is I believe the Lakers will lose one game. The bad news is they have two road games ahead of them...one against a Minnesota team they barely beat at home on Friday night, and the other against a very good Grizzlies team who is in a dog fight with the Clippers and Nuggets for the 3-5th playoff spots. The Jazz could actually lose both of these games. Still, I think they get a win against Minnesota but will lose to the Grizzlies. If the Lakers win at least one game this week, which I think they will, that won't be enough to get in the playoffs.
Feel free to voice your opinions and predictions in the comments below!