After watching the first eight games of the season, a common theme has cropped up amongst both fans and game commentators, and it is not something we are used to hearing. Once again, last night Suns analysts mention the word Defense when describing the Suns, certainly a foreign word we Phoenicians know little about.
And I have seen it for myself, at times.
On a few occasions, the Suns have put together a possession or few of solid defensive stops, usually the result of the efforts of our ever-hustling Jared Dudley, the geriatric movements of Grant Hill, and the occasional spurt of polish sausage. Certainly we all enjoy the Nash charge taking, but I actually think Gortat has more this season than Stevie. Even the rook is a solid defender, and I am a firm believer that he will be our starting power forward before the end of the season. They seem to play better defensively with him on the floor.
Overall, the Suns look pretty darn good defensively, at least on paper. Right now, the Suns sit tied for 4th in opponent field goal percentage, tied for 5th in points per shot allowed, 10th in number of field goals given up, and tied for 12th in the number of free throws allowed. According to those rankings, the suns hold opponents to poor shooting, foul less than half the teams in the NBA, don’t give up too many shots and are keeping teams off the offensive glass. All of those numbers would dictate that this is a solid, even above average defensive team.
So you would think…
Digging deeper and I have my suspicions about this team’s ability to defend. I am not writing them off at this point in the season, mind you. Yet I have a feeling that our "D"fense has been bolstered a bit by who we have played so far this season, as well as the early struggles by most teams to find their shot due to the extended layoff.
Let’s look at the real numbers to see what I am talking about.
So far, we have played seven teams [NO twice]. If you look at each teams stats to date, you will see why my belief in the Suns D is taken with a grain of salt. Below are the teams we have played, their fg%for the season and their current NBA rank, whether the Suns held them below or above their avg. for the game and the result of the game:
NOH - 42.3%, ranked 23rd, held them Below [28.9%] in the win, above [44.3%] in the loss
PHI – 47.2%, 4th, Above [47.7%] in loss
OKC – 46.8%, 6th, Above [53.2%] in loss
GSW – 44.4%, 15th, Above [50.0%] in win
DAL – 41.4%, 27th, Above [41.8%] in loss
POR – 43.1%, 20th, Below [32.5%] in win
MIL – 42.0%, 24th, Above [43.0% in win
At this point in the season, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from such a small sample size. Yet you can say the same from the rankings above that show defensive improvement. However, you can glimpse at least the idea that we might be jumping the gun to slap a "D" on this team and be giddy about it.
So far, we have played only two teams that have shot the ball well early in this season [OKC and PHI], and one team in the middle [GSW]. Of those three games, we won only one of those games, and were beaten by 10 and 20 points in the others.
The other 5 games came against teams that are seriously struggling to shoot the ball. Out of 8 games, we have held opponents at or below their average for FG% only one time. The only game I felt we put a solid consistent effort in was Portland, and that was a game they were coming off a back-to-back and 4 games in 6 nights. Milwaukee was coming off a 5 game road trip in 8 days, yet we still let them shoot above their season average.
In my opinion, our current rank defensively has come as a result of a combination of things: 1] our schedule has been fairly easy and our opponents have had a much more difficult time with their schedules, 2] most of the teams we have played are shooting poorly in the beginning of this season, and 3] Markeiff Morris is a stud. Ok, I just threw in that last part.
Sure, there are times we have seen solid production on the defensive end, yet we have also seen some incredible lapses as well, and the deeper numbers show that we aren’t as great as we think we are. The next 10 games will show whether we can maintain the ranking, or if that is just a pipe dream and we fall back to the bottom of the pack.