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Sunday Morning Number Crunch: Phoenix Suns vs. NBA

It's only been 5 games, but we can start to see trends even this early, at least in terms of how the Suns have started the season vs. the rest of the league.

An important component of effective offense is shot distribution. As a general rule, the closer you are to the rim, the more likely you are to make the basket. This resulted in a rim-oriented league where size mattered more than anything else.

In an effort to open up the game, the NBA instituted a rule a couple decades ago whereby the lowest-% shots can be worth 50% more points. Now, if you can make a shot 23+ feet away from the basket, it's worth 3 points whereas a shot 22 feet away is worth only 2 points.

As a result, the best offense employs a preponderence of their shots "at the rim" and 23+ feet away from it.

And conversely, the best defenses force the opponent to shoot somewhere in between.

The Suns are actually doing pretty well on both fronts.

Check it.

Here's a pretty picture from, followed by an easy-to-follow summarization.


(click on the pic to make it bigger)

Okay yeah, the column headers are loaded with fancy dancy acronym/abbreviation mumbo jumbo. Don't let it give you a headache.

Here's what it means:

Phoenix Suns Offensive Summary: this picture says that, after 2 weeks of the NBA season, the Suns' offense should be the second-best in the league behind Denver. And the only reason the Suns are not 2nd is because half a dozen other teams are shooting way above average.

This statistic is determined by comparing the Suns' shot distribution (Effective Field Goal Percentage, or XeFG%, on shots based on distance from rim) to the rest of the league.

  • 30.9% of their shots are right at the rim via dunks/tips (%Rim) vs. league average of 27.5%
  • 12.3% of their shots from 1-9 feet away (%Short) vs. league average of 16%
  • 10.5% from 10-15 feet away (%Mid) vs. league average of 9.2%
  • 18.0% from 15-22 feet away (%Long) vs. league average of 24.9%
  • 28.4% from 3-pt range (%3P) vs. league average of 22.4%
  • Overall, 59.3% of the Suns' shots are the best value on the floor (at the rim, or from 3-pt range)
Phoenix Suns Defensive Summary: Conversely, the Suns are forcing their opponents into lower-value shots. The right half of that fancy picture shows how the Suns' opponents have distributed their own shots, which are much more in line with the league average distribution.

In fact, if the Suns can keep this up ("this" being their opponents' shot distribution) over the course of the season, the Suns should boast the 6th-best initial defense in the league (the OXeFG% column). The Suns are enticing their opponents to shoot more mid-range shots than 3-ptrs (28.8% of their opponents' shots are from 15-23 feet away vs. only 20.9% from 3-pt range).

At the moment, the Suns are somewhere between 19-23 on defensive efficiency. this is partially because their opponents are shooting above average on those mid-range shots (which will likely regress in the Suns' favor). And other comromising factor is the sheer volume of offensive rebounds surrendered (which won't regress in the Suns' favor).

How does this team compare to last year?

Not bad, actually. Look at last season here:

Last season, with he-who-must-not-be-apostrophied, the Suns took roughly the same number of shots "at the rim" and a bit fewer from behind the 3-pt line.

Defensively, the Suns allowed more "long 2s" than 3-pointers - again pretty much in line with the league average.

Bottom line
The Suns are not as bad as some people might think. They take better shots than their opponent, which should result in a lot more wins than losses over the course of the season.

So far this season, the Suns' opponents have shot a lot better than they should (51.8% actual effective field goal percentage vs. 48.3% Expected). That won't last over the course of 82 games.

One final interesting stat:
Look at the league average on shots "at the rim" (%Rim) between this season and last season. For some reason, the entire NBA is attempting fewer dunks and tips (27.5% vs. 32.5%).

Is this a trend, or an anomaly? Who knows. It's interesting nonetheless. You'd think that at the start of the year, blown defensive assignments would be rampant and dunk attempts would be higher than normal, rather than lower.

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