Suns News

Turner Charged With Improving Suns Defense

Turner was hired to improve a defense that was 29th in the NBA last season.
(PA Molumby/NBAE/Getty Images)
By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Dec. 12, 2011

Defense is the one area the Suns are hoping “ET” won’t phone in.

“ET,” the nickname given to Suns assistant coach Elston Turner, was hired by the Suns over the offseason specifically for defensive purposes. He’s being charged with turning around a Suns defense that was second-worst in the league in points allowed, defensive rebounding and rebounding.

As the new “defensive coordinator,” Turner is focusing in on a few key areas: protect the rim, improve defensive rebounding and construct half-court defensive schemes that chase opponents off of easy three-point looks, as well as keep them off the free throw line.

“(Suns Head Coach) Alvin (Gentry) is committed to allowing me the time daily in practice not only to put stuff in, but to work at it,” Turner said. “And that’s how you get better.

“It’s going to be a change for the guys (because) it’s not easy. Scoring is fun, but playing defense is hard. There may be some resistance there, but I’m up for the challenge.”

For Suns fans weary of pledges for better defense, this may seem like much of the same rhetoric, but Turner has the resume to back up his claims. As a Rockets assistant coach, his defense was ranked fourth in the league three years ago, second in the league four years ago and when he was a Kings assistant coach in 2003, his defense was tops in the NBA.

Turner is aware that because of the Suns’ up-tempo offense, keeping an opponents’ scoring output low will always be difficult. In the pas with the Suns, defensive field goal percentage was used as a barometer for success, which Turner will probably point to once again this year.

Unfortunately, last year the Suns finished 25th in the league in that category. So before Turner arrived in Phoenix, Gentry spoke at length with his new assistant about his vision for the team’s defense.

Gentry, too, felt that it was the main area that the Suns needed to improve in.

“We spent a lot of time talking about what we want to accomplish defensively and he changed my mind on some of the things as far as being overly aggressive and getting ourselves out of position,” Gentry said. “He’s much more of a conservative guy as far as protecting the basket. The paint area becomes very important and so does not getting broken down (off the dribble).”

Since the Suns are always amongst the tops in the league in offensive field goal percentage, both Gentry and Turner believe that if the club can just rebound at a higher rate of the defensive glass, wins will automatically follow.

The Suns know that they’re going to give up more shots because they play a quick tempo, so the key for them will be to make those shots contested jump shots, not uncontested dunks. And Turner believes the Suns have the collective personnel to be a good defensive team.

According to Turner, in order to be a solid defender, a player should have a few key attributes.

“You have to be physical, you have to have a big heart and you have to compete,” he said. “There’s not a lot of skill in that.”

However, effort alone won’t make you good defensively.

“You can run into the wall with effort, but that won’t do you any good either,” he joked.

Turner believes that physical tools such as length, athleticism and the ability to move laterally are also important ingredients to forming a good defensive team, but those gifts must be combined with an understanding of what the team is trying to do as a unit.

In fact, Turner believes that a high basketball IQ can make up for physical limitations. If a player comprehends the defensive schemes and understands his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, then that player can hide some deficiencies.

Over the years, critics have argued that the Suns can never be a strong defensive team with Steve Nash - and his perceived defensive weaknesses - at the point of that defense. But Turner takes exception to that notion.

“When it comes to staying in front of a (Russell) Westbrook or (Derrick) Rose, who does?” the Suns assistant said. “On the other end, they have trouble staying in front of him too.”

Although Nash isn’t blessed with the length and size of some of his contemporaries, Turner believes no one can question his effort or understanding of team defense. And as Turner looks to remedy the Suns’ D, he knows he’s going to have to solve it using a “team” perspective.

And thus far, Gentry likes what he’s seeing and hearing.

“It’s a lot different than we’ve done here in the past, so it’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment for our guys,” Gentry said. “They’re already kind of used to what we do, so they anticipate beforehand. But I think it’s going to be something that’s going to be really good for us.”

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