Phoenix Suns Seek Marginal Defensive Improvement

Phoenix Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry is taking his team to "Defense School" during training camp. He plans on simplifying the schemes to help the Suns get back to being an average team on the defensive end. Photo by Max Simbron

NBA basketball has changed from the days of low post domination (aka Shaq's glory years) and is now a pick and roll game. Defenses have evolved as well.

No longer is a big body down low a requirement for defensive success which might explain why Greg Ostertag wasn't able to find his way back into the league. Great defensive teams are now a combination of skilled and aggressive defensive players, solid defensive schemes and a mind set that emphasizes help and accountability.

The Phoenix Suns recognize that they do not have the personnel to be a great defensive team. This is an "offense first" system. If you look around the league there are very few great defensive players that would have the scoring chops to start for the Suns.

Sure, there are exceptions like your Kobe's, LeBron's, Paul's and Garnett's but those are the true super stars. The top 5 or 10 players in the world and not every team can have one of those guys. The rest of the competitive teams surround their two or three best offensive players with two or three very good defensive players. It is much easier to find solid defensive players that can occasionally score 10 or 15 points than it is to find five guys that play both ends of the floor.

Putting a team together with balance is a tried and true strategy. Add that to the over abundance of defensive minded players available and it is no wonder that the mantra of "defense wins championships" exists. 

Maybe it's the summer time heat or the incredible golf opportunities for the remaining 8 months but that's not how we roll in Phoenix.

What the Suns have is five starting players that can flat out score the ball. Nash, Richardson, Hill and Stoudemire are proven scoring threats who will now be joined by Channing Frye.

According to Coach Gentry, they are going to use Frye in a role similar to what Tim Thomas played for the Suns in 2006. A big guy that can draw his man away from the paint which helps spread the floor for Amare or other Suns slashers. A traditional team would have started Robin Lopez to add defensive balance and size to the mix but by naming Frye as a starter Gentry is going "all in" with his system.

That doesn't mean the Suns are ignoring defense. Phoenix basketball calls for the top offense to be supplemented by a just-in-time defense that is good enough to make the Suns competitive in the West which is high as they've set their sights for this low-pressure season. No "trophy boy" running around keeping his eyes on someone else's prize this year.

"I still say the big thing for us is not what we go back to offensively but we've got to get better defensively...We can't try and out-score every team that we play. We have to be able to come up with stops and then convert on the other end," explained Suns head coach Alvin Gentry.

With Grant Hill as the team's best defensive player in the starting rotation they understand that they won't be a top 10 defensive team but the goal is only to get a little bit better.

Hill, after joking that they can't get any worse, explains how the Suns can make that kind of marginal improvement, "The difference is not major. Alvin [Gentry] talked about the difference between holding teams to 47% from the field and 45% is an extra three or four defensive rebounds. It's closing out to a shooter. It's little things like that that separate you from being in the bottom ten in terms of defense to being in the middle of the pack."

 

In X's and O's what the Suns will do differently this season is simplify the defensive schemes. Instead of trying to do too many different things they are going to defend the pick and roll two ways. Gentry wouldn't say what those two ways were (although it will become obvious once the team takes the court). He insists that if they get beat playing their style of defense they won't panic and change the plan. They will simply work harder on doing what they do, only better.

There are only so many ways to defend the pick and roll. Last season with Shaq they sagged off and allowed teams to shoot over the top. This season with the more mobile bigs, I would expect to see more trapping and possibly switching along with a standard single coverage involving the guard going over or under the screen depending on the match up.

It sounds like the Suns might use a lot less zone as well but that remains to be seen.

What the Suns will do is hold each other accountable on the defensive end while understanding that it takes a village to stop the best players in the world from beating their man off the bounce. They feel that improved chemistry and focus on a simplified system along with a bench that can come in and hold a lead will make the 2009/10 Suns a better team.

Gentry explained that the Suns are not talking about winning X number of games or reaching a certain level in the playoffs. They are relishing the decreased pressure that comes with being an underdog and only hope to play up to their potential and the Suns certainly have the potential to be the best offensive team and a mediocre defensive team.

That should provide for a winning season that will be entertaining and competitive even if it's not good enough to reprise "trophy boy".

 

Training camp audio provided by our partners at Sports 620 KTAR

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