Suns Holding Each Other Accountable Through Defensive Improvements

by Cody Cunningham

The Phoenix Suns have won five of their last eight games, including three of four at home as the team continues to raise their intensity on the defensive end.

As one of the youngest teams in the league, the Suns struggled on defense to begin the season as they adjusted to each other, their new coach’s system and, for a few of them, the NBA. But following the additions of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tyler Johnson, the Suns have started locking down on the defensive end of the court.

“The additions of Kelly and Tyler helped out a lot,” Devin Booker said. “The guys that have probably been in an environment similar to that, a playoff team. I know Washington went to Game 7 with Boston when Kelly was there and he played major minutes in that series. I’m sure those film sessions, they’re holding each other accountable.”

Both Johnson and Oubre are credited with developing the culture in the Suns locker room and it seems to be having an impact on the court. While the players are growing closer with their new teammates, they are also feeling more comfortable speaking up and holding each other accountable.

“I’d say communication and not wanting to be the one that’s messing up,” Booker said are key to their improved play. “I think that’s what is keeping our team going because the team will let you know. Everyone will stay on you. You don’t want to be that guy in the film room now that you repeatedly keep messing up. So, everyone’s holding each other accountable.”

This doesn’t mean that the team has figured out the secret formula and are now perfect on the defensive end, but rather, they are learning from their mistakes and showing improvements each and every game.

“Now, a lot of guys are messing up and knowing when they’re messing up and that’s important too,” Booker said. “Everyone’s just locked-in. It’s a mentality thing and you have to move on a string on defense just like offense and we’re doing that right now.”

The numbers definitely back up that claim. Since Oubre arrived in Phoenix in December, the Suns rank first in steals in both steals per game (9.7) and deflections per game (16.3). With the length and size the Suns are playing with, Booker sees this as something very sustainable for the Suns.

When asked whether the Suns can continue to excel defensively, Booker replied, “I think so with the lineups we have now - long, lanky wings with Mikal, Kelly, Josh. Guys are so versatile on the defensive end and can get their hands on a lot of balls and deflect a lot of passes. Those little deflections or those little contests change the game in so many ways that people don’t notice.”

As Booker pointed out, it’s not just the veterans stepping up on defense. Mikal Bridges has stood out amongst not only all rookies, but the entire NBA as he currently ranks among some of the league’s top defenders. Mikal is top five in the entire NBA with 113 steals trailing only Paul George, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Marcus Smart.

It’s not always easy for a team with many new faces to feel comfortable speaking up, but the more time spent in the locker room, watching film and on the court together allows for them to understand each other better.

“You’re coming at each other in a respectful way,” Booker said. “Know the end goal is for us to get a win and get better.”

The Suns will look to continue their hot streak as they travel to Houston on Friday to face the Rockets. Be sure to catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.