After seeing the way this Suns team has performed over the first 13 games of the season, many people would say that the Suns are a fourth quarter kind of team. A "let's get it together and win" kind of team. A scrappy, rebounding, chip on the shoulder kind of team.
And you would be right. More after the jump...
Suns Scoring, Defensive Numbers Still Not Great
Now, many of you avid Suns watchers have noticed the grit, determination, and overall improvement of defense since last year's team. Well, after looking at the numbers, the Suns are still a pretty terrible defensive team. The Suns offense is rolling, as usual, at 109.8 points per game. If that's not good enough for top 3 in this young season, I don't know what is.
Now, the Suns are still giving up 106.6 points per game to their opposition. That's good enough for a +3.2 point margin, when it all comes down to it. I haven't looked at any basketball statistics/reference/adjusted stat sites, I just went into the archives and added up the point totals for each game. Now, to the untrained eye, one might look at that and say, "Sure, the Suns are scoring a lot of points, but they're still giving up a ton as well". Well, here's where I say to you, John Q. Reader, to read on...
Suns Not a First Quarter Team, End Halves (and Games) With Intensity
After going through the point totals, I decided to go through and, quarter by quarter, "analyze" the Suns' performance in each respective quarter. Now, I know the season is still fairly new, and the stats, with only 13 games under the belt, aren't exactly indicative of how your team will play all year, but this is the story of this season: the Suns are a better fourth quarter team than they are a first quarter team. Now, allow me to explain.
The Suns' offense stays relatively balanced throughout the game. In the average of first halves, the Suns have scored 55.1 points. By quarter, that's 27.2 for the first and 27.9 for the second. In the average of second halves, they have scored 54.7 points. Again, by quarter, that's 27.2 for the third and 27.5 for the fourth. Not enough of a difference to say that the Suns are a fourth quarter team, or that they are not a first quarter team. But wait...it takes two to tango. Let's take a look at their defensive prowess opponents' averages.
The Suns have never been touted as an elite defensive team. They have never really been touted as a mediocre defensive team either, despite what statistics say. The Suns play a Run and Gun style that is not conducive to defense. However, the Suns, under Coach Alvin Gentry, have been able to do something Suns teams in past years have not been able to do: turn up the defense in the fourth (when it matters) and either win a game or hold off a comeback from the other team. By half, the Suns allow an average of 55.2 points for the first half and 51.4 points for the second half. Now, let's break it down by quarter. For the first, the Suns allow a ridiculous 29.2 points. They turn up their intensity and bring that number down to 26 in the second. After halftime, the Suns come out and allow only 26.2 points, and close out the game only allowing 25.2. When was the last time you saw a Suns team come out, allow more points (albeit only a difference of +0.1 for the opposing teams) and still come out with a win, and a +3.2 point margin?
Suns Still Have Work to Do
Now, i'm not here to say, "Well, due to the statistics and the Suns' ability to hold teams down in the fourth quarters, they are obviously ready to make a run for the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy." I know (and the team knows) that they have work to do. But here's the rub: Gentry actually gets on players' cases. He preaches more defense than any past Run and Fun team has ever done, and makes the team work hard for what they do (as Phoenix Stan has reported). But, the Suns are moving in the right direction, and with a little more time, I think they could make some serious noise in this Western Conference.
Call me a homer, but I honestly believe that if the Suns can relearn how to establish leads early and then hold teams down in the fourth quarter, they will have more of a shot than most anyone else is willing to give them.