At the end of the Suns-Raptors game on Sunday, I had two burning questions:
1) How did Amar'e Stoudemire end up with 7 whole rebounds after taking what appeared to be most of the game off? (Answer: He didn't.)
2) How did the Suns hold Toronto to 39.1% shooting despite not playing apparently lockdown defense?
The short answer is that the Suns truly, madly, deeply believed they would out-shoot the Raptors and did.
My methodology was pretty simple. I watched every Toronto possession to see how many open shots the Suns "gave" them versus how many shots the Suns contested. In order to qualify as "contested" a defender had to be close enough and have his hands up to apparently affect the shot. Admittedly, it's a little subjective, but I don't claim to be a basketbologist, so take it for what it's worth. Also, despite comparing my shot list to the official play-by-play, the numbers don't quite match-up, but they're close enough for comparison purposes.
The Raw Numbers
- I tracked 89 total shots for Toronto. They made 37 for a shooting percentage of 42%.
- Of those 89, 38 were contested by a defender, 51 were not.
- On contested shots, Toronto made 9 of 38 field goals for a contested FG% of 23.6%. (Go Suns Defense!)
The Story Behind the Numbers
As you can see, the Suns were pretty content to give up open shots outside of the paint (contesting only 27.2% of those shots versus 50% inside 15'). Some of those open jumpers were the result of screens, but most of them were as a result of a Suns defender sagging off their man (usually a guard, but occasionally it was a big giving Bosh some space) to help in the paint. It's hardly rocket science, but it makes sense for the Suns, particularly with their lack of size, to cheat towards preventing higher percentage shots at the expense of allowing lower percentage ones.
However, blame for a lot of the Raptors poor offense lies with the Raptors. The Toronto Raptors, 38.1% 3-point shooters on the year, shot 7.1% on wide open opportunities from behind the arc. That's some awful, awful shooting on undefended shots. If Toronto shoots their season average from distance, this is a much different ball game.
To be fair, I am not an X's and O's guy and I don't know how far this kind of analysis goes toward quantifying a defense (in one game, no less) as good, bad or otherwise. However, I think it's not inaccurate to say that allowing 14 open 3-pointers to a good 3-point shooting club (6th in the NBA) is probably pretty sub-par.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
It's at this point that I feel obligate to point out how crazily efficient the Suns offense is. The Suns are ranked 1st in offensive efficiency, averaging 114.0 points per 100 possessions. That's 4 points better than the 2nd ranked Nuggets (110.0). To find a team that the Nuggets are 4 points better than, you have to go all the way down to the 13th ranked Rockets (104.5). The same goes for Eff FG% (which combines and weighs 2 and 3 point FG%), where the 1st ranked Suns (57.1%) are better than the 2nd ranked Celtics (53.5%) by a greater margin than separates the Celtics and the 13th ranked Lakers.
In terms of offense, the Suns are in a class all by themselves so far this season. Their defense can afford to be below average because their offense, thus far, has been so much better than anyone else's. The Suns dare opponents to out-shoot them because thus far, no one has been able to come even close. As the Suns head into a difficult stretch of schedule against high quality opponents, it bears watching to see if the team can maintain this level of offensive dominance or if they'll have to improve their defense to remain competitive with the NBA's upper echelon.