Suns-Raps Rewind: In Defense of Amare's Defense

If you go back and read the game thread, Sun Tzu takes a whole lot of abuse for being checked out of the game in terms of rebounding and defensive activity.  So, when I re-watched the game, it was with the idea of watching him on the defensive end and on the boards to see where he was and what he was or wasn't doing.  What I saw was pretty eye-opening.

1st Quarter:

  • Throughout most of the first quarter, Stoudemire was covering Chris Bosh 1 on 1 (Frye had him for a couple possessions too) and doing a pretty good job.  Aside from 1 pick and roll that gave Bosh a wide open dunk, Amare did a good job of denying Bosh the ball both offensively and defensively. 
  • Bosh took 4 shots in the 1st quarter: the aforementioned dunk, a wide-open lay-up (that he missed) in which he blew past Channing Frye, an open jumper in transition and a face-up jumper contested by Amare.  Bosh also made it to the line once on a shooting foul on another play where he beat Frye to the hole.  
  • Bosh finished the quarter with 3 points and 0 rebounds.  Amare finished with 8 points and 2 rebounds.  

2nd Quarter: 

  • After 10 1st quarter minutes, Amare sat on the bench until the 5:51 mark of the 2nd.  At this point, he was still guarding Bosh.  
  • On the Raps first possession after Amare checked in, Bosh missed an open jumper from 17 feet or so when Amare got screened out of the play.  On the following possession, Turkoglu and Bosh worked the 2-man game.  Amare switched out on Turkoglu and did a good job of denying him the lane forcing a jumper.  Bosh scored by, um, "overpowering" Jason Richardson on the putback.  
  • At the 4:18 mark, Bosh beats Stoudemire on a drive to the hoop and Amare hits Bosh with a flagrant foul.  At first, I thought Amare did it out of frustration at Bosh, but as we have seen, when Amare's been on the floor, Bosh hasn't been much of a factor.  In retrospect, while it seemed like excessive force, I think Amare was just trying to prevent an easy bucket and got Bosh harder than he meant to/needed to.  With only 1 foul against him and only 4 minutes left to go in the half, it wasn't a terrible play.  
  • After the ensuing inbounds from the flagrant, Calderon and Bosh ran a screen and roll at the elbow.  Amare came out and showed on Calderon.  Calderon attempted an entry pass to an open Bosh, but a combination of a recovering Stoudemire's waving arms and a helping Jason Richardson denying Bosh position resulted in a Raptor turnover.  
  • After 3 possessions in which Stoudemire and Bosh aren't really a factor, disaster strikes in the form of Amare's 3rd foul.  
  • As opposed to the Bosh flagrant when Amare was making up for a lapse in D, this was a solid defensive play.  Amare was covering Bosh in the low right post with some help from Jason Richardson (who had let his man leak out to the 3 point line... more on this below this will be a separate post).  Bargnani had the ball at the left elbow with Frye on him.  Bargs pump-fakes, Frye bites, and Bargnani drives past Frye.  Amare slides over to take the charge and help a beaten Frye.  
  • Whether Stoudemire was a hair too late or his heels were on the circle (or both), it's tough to tell on the replay, but the result was a blocking call for foul number 3 and a trip to the bench for the remainder of the half after only 3 minutes of court time.
  • Amare's line for the 2nd quarter: 0 points, 0 FG, 0 rebounds, 2 personal fouls.  Bosh's 2nd Quarter when Amare was on the floor: 5 pts (1-2 FG, 3-3 FT), 3 rebounds (2 def., 1 off.).  Notable is that the made FG and offensive board came on a switch that left Amare on the perimeter with Turkoglu.

3rd Quarter:

  • Stoudemire played almost the entire 3rd quarter.  This is where he took the bulk of his punishment in the comments (which started at the same time as his flagrant on Bosh).  
  • 1st Toronto possession: Bosh gets the ball 13 feet or so away and goes baseline on Amare for a relatively easy lay-up.  Amare seemed to give Bosh a wide berth so as not to pick up his 4th foul. 
  • On the Raps 2nd possession, Amare gets active fronting Bosh, denying him an entry pass.  
  • On the 3rd Raptors possession... the Suns adjust defensively, putting Amare out on Bargnani and Frye on Bosh.  Bargnani promptly scores over Grant Hill on a Stoudemire switch. 
  • The 4th Raps possession of the 3rd quarter is probably Stoudmire's most "damning" play of the game, because of what everyone saw at the end of it: an uncontested Calderon floater "over" Amare and no attempt by Amare to go for the board.  Here's how the entire sequence plays out:
  1. Calderon brings the ball up to the left side of the arc.
  2. Bargnani and Bosh set a double screen.  Nash goes under the screens, Frye stays home on Bosh and Amare shows on Calderon sending him about 5 feet above the arc.
  3. Amare and Nash successfully switch back to their men with Stoudemire effectively cutting off a pass from Calderon and Frye locking up Bosh at the elbow. Calderon opts to drive right on Nash who effectively stays in front of him, denying the lane.
  4. Calderon dishes to DeMar DeRozan (covered by Jason Richardson) in the right corner.
  5. DeRozan brings the ball back toward the elbow, where Grant Hill has sagged off of Turkoglu to meet him.  DeRozan leaves his feet to pass back out to Turkoglu who is a good 4 feet behind the top of the 3 point circle.
  6. Bargnani sets a pick on Grant Hill, forcing Stoudemire to switch out on to Turkoglu who drives left.  Turkoglu gets around Amare, but Richardson is in perfect position with the help D to deny penetration from the baseline side.
  7. Turkoglu leaves his feet, making an awkward pass to Calderon near the weakside corner with Nash covering him.
  8. Nash plays up on Calderon denying him the jumper.  Calderon makes it around Nash heading for a wide open lane.
  9. Amare, in the protected area under the rim, crouches as if he's going to make an attempt at a block, but apparently thinks better of it (we're just over 2 minutes into the 3rd quarter) as Calderon sees him and, in anticipation of the block, releases the ball early.
  10. Calderon bricks the floater.  Amare is alone in front of the basket with his hands just below his shoulders as the ball rolls off the rim away from him to Jason Richardson who's going at it hard with Turkoglu and manages to corral the ball and get it to Amare as he's falling out of bounds.
  • To be fair, in real time when you get to the end of this play it totally looks like Stoudemire has just mailed in an effort at the rim.  I re-watched this sequence in slow motion for about 20 minutes to pick up on all this.  Upon further review, it looks like he did everything right on this play with perhaps the exception of stepping out on the Calderon floater. It's really 3 plays later that Amare has his one true moment of inattentiveness.
  • The next Raptors possession would end almost immediately as Amare recorded a steal on a Calderon entry pass to Bargnani. 
  • The next time down the court, the Raptors went at Frye via Bosh.  Bosh misses a jump hook over Frye.  Stoudemire is underneath boxing out Bargnani when a leaping DeMar DeRozan apparently comes out of nowhere (seriously, given the camera angle it's impossible to tell where he comes from) for a putback in front of Amare.  
  • And now, Amare's one truly lazy defensive play: After sagging in the paint to help on Bosh, Amare waits too long to step out on Bargnani (the Raps trailer on the possession) who gets the ball with all kinds of space at the top of the arc.  Amare runs out and Bargnani dribbles around Amare and pulls up for a wide open jumper, uncontested and Amare, having given up on defending the play lazily meanders toward the rim as the ball bounces off toward a waiting Grant Hill.
  • At this point in the 3rd, Amare doesn't see much action on the defensive end.  He appears tentative on a couple weak side help plays.  It's seems pretty apparent that the early foul trouble paralyzed him in that respect.  
  • Also, the Suns went to a zone around this time in which a lot of the plays went away from Stoudmire's side of the court.
  • It may have been coincidence, but on the Raps first possession after Amare checked out of the 3rd quarter, Bargnani swooped to the hoop for an easy dunk.  
  • Bargnani's line in the 3rd versus Stoudemire? 1-3 FG, 2 points, 1 rebound and 2 assists.

4th Quarter:

  • By and large, the Raptors offense early in the 4th quarter focused on going through Bosh versus Frye and Turkoglu versus Dudley.  This left Amare Stoudemire lingering on the perimeter with Andrea Bargnani.  
  • However, having survived the 3rd quarter with out picking up a 4th foul, it was as if a switch flipped when it came to be Amare's overall level of aggression (See below in rebounding).  
  • When the Raps did go to Bargnani, he was completely ineffective missing 4 of his 5 shots in the 4th quarter while being defended by Stoudemire.

Rebounding:

  • Amare and the glass has been a source of frustration for Suns fans all season.  Here's what I saw in this game.  When Stoudemire has a body nearby, he's at his best.  Perhaps sensing the urgency of a competitor, he's pretty good at getting a body on the nearest opposing player and looking for the ball.  What he lacks in these circumstances is a professional rebounder's nose for the ball.  
  • Often times he'll be boxing out only to see the ball go away from him OR he'll be so focused on keeping his man away from the ball that he doesn't attack the rim.  Richardson and Hill end up with many of those boards.  
  • His apparent weaknesses on the glass are when he's out of position or there's no one around.  If Stoudemire does not have position or is away from the hoop he probably will not fight for position.
  • While in the Raps game, he probably didn't want to pick up another foul crashing the boards from outside, I'm curious to watch him in other games to see how he does.  
  • The other rebounding shortcoming I noticed was his lack of activity when alone near the rim.  On a couple of plays, with no one around, Amare just watched the ball roll off the hoop to someone else.  It seemed that lacking any proximity to a member of the opposing team, he saw no reason to be aggressive on the defensive glass.  
  • Offensively, if he's under or near the rim, he shows a lot of effort (Amare likes him a putback), but again, if he didn't have position already, he wasn't fighting for it.  
  • It's also important to note that in the 2nd half, Amare covered Bargnani almost exclusively which kept him out on the perimeter.  Many times when the Raps fired and missed, he simply wasn't in a good position to crash the boards.  
  • Ironically, this is when he collected his 5 of his 7 rebounds.  Not surprisingly, 4 of them were on the offensive end.

Conclusion:

No one is going to accuse Sun Tzu of being a world class defender or rebounder.  However, after watching the game footage, Amare was definitely more active on the defensive end than I was giving him credit for.  Yes, he had a couple of lapses, but he more than held his own on his defensive assignments.  Bosh and Bargnani shot 4-11 from the field when covered by Stoudemire and only pulled down 5 rebounds.  Combine his defensive activity with his absolutely silly offensive efficiency (18 points on 8-10 shooting) and his +20 for the game makes a lot of sense.

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