Suns Using Training Camp to Instill Defense-First Mentality

by Tyler Emerick
Annexus Practice Report: Suns Begin Camp in Flagstaff

FLAGSTAFF -- Here are three words to describe the Suns' focus in Flagstaff this week: defense, defense and more defense.

In a league in which offensive fire power often reigns supreme, first-year Head Coach Earl Watson recognizes the importance of Phoenix being a squad that actively disrupts and frustrates opposing scorers.

“We know for us to achieve something special, which we will, we have to be a really solid defensive team,” Watson said.

Brandon Knight estimated to reporters that 70 percent of Tuesday’s three-hour practice at NAU to open training camp was spent on defensive instruction. The coaching staff set up drill stations on how to defend pin-downs, pick-and-rolls, post-ups and more. The gauntlet provided players with a refresher course on the basics of defense before they were allowed to move into live basketball situations.

“It’s not just the word defense. It’s how to defend,” Watson said. “How to attack with your hands and your forearms and your legs. It’s almost like teaching a kid how to shoot. Breaking down the fundamentals of a shot, but defensively.”

At the end of practice, the portion media is allowed to watch, the Suns ran through an exercise that further stressed how the coaching staff wants its players to think defense first. The team was split into three groups with the objective being the first to successfully defend four possessions in a row wins. If another group scored, the defending team was kicked off the court and forced to start over.

The final drill of the day saw Suns players put their footwork skills to the test in the paint before hustling to close out on the perimeter to defend a shooter. As cheers erupted from the sideline when Alan Williams stripped the ball loose from his man, Watson clapped his hands and blew his whistle. He got the defensive high note he wanted to end practice on.

“The ultimate goal for us is to become a defensive team and have grit and be nasty and play with purpose,” Watson said. “Defense gets you through the playoffs. And we have great, unique guys who can guard multiple positions.”

For the players, the emphasis on protecting the hoop is a welcomed philosophy. And so is the transparency with which Watson and his coaching staff teaches what they want to accomplish.

“It’s much needed,” Eric Bledsoe said. “We have a bunch of young players. It’s going to take focus. That’s the main thing on defense: focus, patience and staying as one unit.”

Added Devin Booker: “Coach gets the best out of everybody. He’s hard on us, but at the same time, we understand why he’s hard on us. That’s the family unit that we have. It’s like your parents. You know they want the best out of you.”