Stats Show Major Improvements to Suns’ Defense

After a 17-10 start to the season, the Phoenix Suns have been one of the most talked-about teams in the entire NBA.

Much of the attention – and rightfully so – has been centered on their increased pace of play and the 1-2 punch of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.

But a strong argument can be made that the team's most vital improvement has been on the defensive end of the floor.

In 2012-13, the Suns were 25th in the league in points allowed (101.6), 24th in opponent field goal percentage (47 percent), and last in the NBA in opponent 3-point field goal percentage (38.8).

This season, however, the Suns allow just 100.4 points per game (17th in the NBA) while holding opponents to 44.4 percent shooting (10th in the league) and 32.4 percent from the 3-point line (tied for best in the NBA with the Clippers).

Perhaps more impressive, the Suns went from 29th in the NBA in 3-point percentage differential in 2012-13 (-5.8 percent) to best in the league this season at +6.0 percent.

“That’s obviously been an area we’ve placed a ton of emphasis on,” Jeff Hornacek said about the team’s defense. “Mike [Longabardi] has done a nice job getting our team to buy into it. It starts with energy and just really being dialed in at all times.

“We still have a ways to go to get to where we want to be but I think as a staff we’ve been pleased overall with how we’ve played on that end of the floor so far.”

Another key improvement that drives their overall defensive philosophy has been elite rim protection. This season, the Suns are fourth-best in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage on shots less than five feet from the basket (55.6 percent) – they allowed nearly 60 percent in 2012-13 – trailing only the Thunder, Bobcats and Pacers.

Indeed, in Hornacek’s system, defense is predicated on effort, discipline and energy – characteristics that are fitting descriptions of the team as a whole.

“That’s us,” Channing Frye said. “We have to play that way. Everyone has a job to do whether it’s pressuring the ball up top or finishing the play with a rebound.”