Suns Become Top 10 Defensive Team
Posted: Jan. 9, 2012
Don’t look now, but the run-and-gun Suns are now a Top 10 defensive team. Re-read it as much as you’d like, but it’s not a typo.
Sure, the season is only 8-games old and there’s a long way to go, but the defensive culture has begun to change around US Airways Center, and it didn’t seem to take long to accomplish. Last season, the Suns finished second-worst in the league in points allowed, defensive rebounding and rebounding.
Thus far, despite an abbreviated preseason, the Suns are seventh in the league in points allowed and defensive field goal percentage, while ranking 11th overall in rebounding.
“We’ve done well defensively, but we’ve worked hard on it though,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said. “We spend most of our time on defense and I think (Suns assistant coach) Elston (Turner) has done a really good job and the players are responding.”
Suns swingman Jared Dudley believes one of the main factors in the turnaround has been the amount of practice time spent on defense. Last season, Dudley estimated that the team spent about 30 percent of practice on defense, whereas this season, the Suns focus at least 60 percent of an individual practice session on defensive strategies.
But it’s not just the amount of time being spent.
“I think we’re spending more time than we did in the past,” Nash said. “But I also think we’re a little more detailed-oriented. We know exactly what’s expected of us and the players are doing a good job.”
Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Suns were giving up 14.6 points a game less than last season’s club. That marks the greatest upswing in the NBA this season.
One of the reasons is that Turner, who was brought aboard the coaching staff specifically to improve the Suns on the defensive end this season, has worked with Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry to simplify their defensive schemes.
“We’re running just one pick-and-roll coverage and covering the post one certain way,” Dudley said. “Before, when you had three or four ways of covering, you’d get mixed up on the coverages.”
The simplification of strategies has kept everyone on the same page and increased the accountability amongst the players.
“Because of that we can pick out right away who is in the right spot in the rotation and who is not,” Gentry said. “It lets us and all the players know who’s done their job.”
That means that if a Suns player isn’t in the right position defensively, he’ll probably find himself sitting next to Gentry.
“It’s not a punishment,” the Suns Head Coach explained. “It’s the rule.”
Although investing time defensively has paid dividends, Gentry believes that much of that improvement on D has occurred, ironically, because of what the Suns have done to shore up issues on the offensive end.
“The biggest difference from last year, if you want to know the truth, is that our turnovers are really down and we’re rebounding better,” he said. “Because of that, we’re not giving up easy baskets. Before we hired Elston he said, 'Coach, I’ve looked at a lot of your games, and I don’t think it’s so much your defense as it is rebounding and turning the ball over.'”
With the Suns ranking sixth overall in fewest turnovers, they are giving up less uncontested layups. Less high-percentage shots has translated to allowing fewer points in the paint and owning a better defensive field goal percentage.
Although the defensive transformation has begun, Nash doesn’t want early progress to mask the work that lies ahead.
“I just feel like we’re gaining confidence defensively,” he said. “We just feel like we can do a good job.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, we’re just trying to execute the game plan. So far we’ve had some success, but we still have a long way to go.”
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