For the most part, the Suns are playing better defense. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

At the end of last season, the Phoenix Suns decided that they needed a new focus on defense, so they hired Elston Turner as their lead assistant and "defensive coordinator".

Likely, given the existing crop of offensively-challenged players at the coaching staff's disposal, improving the defense was seen as the only way to stay competitive. But in the larger scheme and longer range plan, the Suns front office decided that having a solid, predictable and adaptable defensive scheme would serve the team well into the future.

Remember when Marcin Gortat arrived a year ago and declared the Suns' defense to be the worst in the league? He was right.

Unfortunately, Elston Turner's hands have been tied by the NBA lockout. There was no offseason player development, and training camp was no longer than the blink of an eye. But those aren't the worst outcomes of the lockout. The worst outcome of the lockout, from the standpoint of implementing a new scheme, is the utter lack of practice during the season. Nearly every day is a game day, travel day or mandated off day. So there is hardly any time to teach lessons and correct mistakes.

But having any scheme at all seems to be an improvement over last season. By the numbers, compared to the rest of the league, the Phoenix Suns are right in the middle of the pack in points-per-possession. This means that, on a possession by possession basis, the Suns are better than half the league in stopping the opponent.

So why are they still in the bottom third of the league in overall defense? Because they still can't rebound the ball (24th in defensive rebound rate), only securing the rebound 72%of the time when an opponent misses. It's frustrating when your solid defense has forced a miss, but then you give them another chance.

Marcin Gortat has the 8th highest defensive rebound rate among NBA Centers. Channing Frye is 17th and Markieff Morris is 22nd among Power Forwards in defensive rebound rate. Those three guys play 75% of the minutes on the front line. So why are the Suns so friggin bad at rebounding as a team?

Hit the jump for some fancy pictures.

Let's use some stats from to illustrate where the Suns fall short in the rebounding.


Look at the 'Reb' column in the middle to get your answer. In terms of rebounding prowess, the Suns fall short at every single position on the floor.

The PFs (-0.1) and SFs (-0.2) pretty much hold their own but aren't good enough to net in the positive.

Marcin Gortat is 8th in the NBA in defensive rebounding % at Center, yet the Suns lose almost a rebound per game at the center position? How is that? Because Robin Lopez is the worst rebounding C in the game among qualifiers - 50th overall.

We could all have guessed that most opposing point guards are better rebounders than Nash (30th), Price (46th) and Telfair (not ranked, but worse than Price). So there's no surprise the Suns net 1.3 fewer rebounds per game than those three.

The most disappointing net loss, after the center position, is at shooting guard. Between Dudley, Brown and Redd, you'd think the Suns could come close to holding their own on rebounding since they know they're already losing ground on offense. But no. The Suns lose big time in this comparison (-0.9 rebounds per game), with every player near the bottom of the pack in defensive rebound rate.

If rebounding is the Suns' achilles heel, their defense is at least improving this season over last season. The Suns are better in nearly every category except, you guessed it, points allowed on offensive rebounds.

See the pretty charts below. Click on any of the graphs to make them bigger.

Suns' 2011-12 defensive numbers, thanks to


Across the board, the numbers are better than the 2010-11 version of their defense (below). Looking inside the numbers, this year the Suns are much better at defending the pick-and-roll primarily because they their scheme is forcing a lot more jump shots (pick-and-pop) because the lane is more effectively blocked. It's the points off 'offensive rebounds' that are killing this team relative to any time in the past.

2010-11 defensive numbers:


And even compared to the WCF run in 2009-10, this defense isn't bad by comparison:


As you can see, the Suns in 2009-10 were better at post-up defense (thanks Lou!), but much worse at defending the pick-and-roll (thank again, Lou!).

So overall, I have not written anything you didn't already know. The Suns just cannot rebound the ball with any modicum of predictability. Not one position on the floor is a net positive, unless Gortat plays 48 minutes a game.

But at least the Suns are forcing a lot more misses than we're used to seeing. Progress.

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Feb 25, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Western Conference forward Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks (left), Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns (right) chat during the 2012 NBA All-Star team practice session at the Orange County Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

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Phoenix Suns players Aaron Brooks (0), Channing Frye (8) and Jared Dudley walk to the bench during a time out against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half of an NBA basketball game at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Sunday, April 3, 2011. Brooks and Frye led the Suns with 14 points each as they lost to the Spurs 114-97.(AP Photo/ Bahram Mark Sobhani)

While Kenyon Martin, JR Smith and Wilson Chandler have all either returned to the NBA from China or laid the groundwork to do so, all signs point to Sun backup PG Aaron Brooks sitting out the entire NBA season.

In NBA terms, Brooks is currently a restricted free agent. His rookie NBA contract expired officially expired on June 30, 2011, though the Suns retain exclusive rights on the third-year player. Brooks can sign an offer sheet from an NBA competitor, but the Suns have the right to match it and keep him. Brooks cannot go anywhere else in the NBA without the Suns express approval.

He was able to sign in China, though, during the NBA lockout. At the moment, Brooks is leading the #1-seed (and 4-time defending champion) Guandong Tigers to a 2-0 advantage in the first round of the Chinese Basketball League (CBA) playoffs. The Tigers are the favorite to win the title, almost certainly meaning they will play into late March, and Brooks is their best player. He leads the team in PPG (21.2), assists (4.7), steals (1.9) and free-throw % (84.9), and is second in 3-pt % (41.6) and third in field-goal % (54.0).

Brooks was one of four major NBA players who signed lucrative but exclusive contracts with Chinese basketball teams before the lockout ended, meaning they could not re-sign with an NBA team prior to ending of their Chinese team's season. Kenyon Martin, JR Smith and Wilson Chandler have all wiggled out of their team's plans anyway (Chandler doing so on the eve of his team's playoff run).

Will Brooks follow Chandler, Smith and Martin's lead, leaving his #1-seeded team in a lurch during their playoff run? So far, no. Don't expect Brooks to return to the US any earlier than late March.

And don't expect him to sign another NBA contract until at least July 1, 2012.

While Martin and Smith were unrestricted free agents, able to sign with any NBA team of their choosing, Wilson Chandler and Aaron Brooks are restricted. Their rights are held by Denver and Phoenix, respectively.

As restricted free agents, the only way Chandler and Brooks can leave their current NBA team for another NBA team is to sign an "offer sheet". The "offer sheet" becomes a contract within 3 days, with the original team having the right to take it on or allowing the new team to take it. However, offer sheets can only be tendered by March 1 of any league year, and this year is no different.

So, if Brooks and Chandler are not back in the states (and cleared by FIBA to re-join the NBA) by March 1, the players have only two remaining choices

  • sit out the entire NBA season and become restricted AGAIN this summer
  • or, re-sign with their current team.

The current team can offer a multi-year contract to keep the player long-term, or just give them a one-year contract and let them walk away on July 1 with no compensation. Obviously, the latter option is the worst one for the team.

Denver knows this and is playing hardball. They have told Chandler he has only two options - sign a reasonable, long-term deal (backup money) right now, or sit out the season and try it again this summer as a restricted free agent. Either way, Denver is keeping control.

Chandler's only play is to garner an offer sheet from another team by March 1. With that deadline only a few days away, Wilson Chandler just bailed on his Chinese team on the eve of the playoffs.

Chandler Wilson (203-F-87, college: De Paul) of the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions has been told by Lions Management that he can come back in the NBA as soon as the Lions clinched a playoff spot. The Lions are the 6 seed in the CBA playoffs which begin next Thursday. In addition to missing the playoffs, Chandler is also going to miss the all-star game as well.

The Lions management had put the onus on Chandler to make the decision whether he is going to stay with the Lions for the playoffs because they didnt want him in a poor mindset as the playoffs progressed.

If Chandler receives FIBA clearance by March 1, he can try to garner an offer sheet from some team with cap room to drive up Denver's price.

But with Arron Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari already signed to long-term deals on the wing, Denver likely doesn't want to tie up another big chunk in a bench player. And, few NBA teams have the cap room this season anyway to offer a big contract to Chandler.

So an unreasonable offer sheet is not likely. Sitting out the NBA season is likely Chandler's best financial option, and he can't even enjoy a playoff run in China.

The Phoenix Suns have the same level of control over Aaron Brooks.

It appears that Brooks realizes this, and has decided to ride out the Chinese season through the playoffs. There are worse things than winning a championship as a team's best player.

By doing so, he will miss the NBA offer-sheet deadline (March 1) and the trade deadline (March 15) entirely. By the time his team's season is likely done in late March, there will only be a month of Suns games left and only one possible NBA suitor for his services.

If the Suns offer a prorated contract for the remainder of this season, he can become unrestricted this summer. But why would the Suns do this? Why get only a month of play and then let Brooks go anywhere he wants this summer for nothing in return?

The Suns could sign Brooks to a long-term deal this March, but that seems almost impossible. The Suns are not signing anyone to long-term deals at this time. Even Steve Nash is waiting for the summer to unfold.

Alternately, the Suns can just let Brooks dangle on the vine (with no other NBA options) for a month, and then start the restricted free agency process all over again this summer. That way, they retain maximum options with him. If they let Steve Nash go this summer, they have the right to bring Brooks back as a PG option. If they keep Nash, then Brooks is an asset as a viable PG option for many NBA teams.

While neither side has spoken of the other to the media, all signs point to Aaron Brooks sitting out the rest of the NBA season.

What should the Suns do with Aaron Brooks when his Chinese team's season ends in late March?

  349 votes | Results

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