Thirteen games into the young season, the Phoenix Suns are allowing opponents to make more than 43% of their three-point attempts, the worst rate in the entire Association this season by far.
The league's most generous three-point shooting defenses the prior three seasons were Denver (38.3% allowed), Cleveland (41.1%), and Philadelphia (39.3%).
The Suns, by contrast, have allowed 35.2%, 36.7% and 35.5% three-point percentage to opponent the last three seasons. League average has been between 34.9-35.5% during those seasons. Despite finishing in the bottom quartile in defensive efficiency and points allowed each year, three-point defense has not been the primary culprit.
This season, though, it sure seems to be. If you look at the team's "four factors" on defense, sticking out like a sore thumb is their opponents effective shooting percentage which takes the extra point on threes into account.
2012-13 Season (13 games)
While the other defensive marks are middling (a big bonus in Suns-land!), the effective shooting percentage (eFG%) of their opponents is really, really bad.
As always, the Suns are also poor in the area of defensive rebounding, but 22nd is not that bad relatively speaking. The front line of Gortat/Scola/Morris/O'Neal have been at least respectable on the glass.
Opponents have not been great 3-point teams
Maybe the Suns have just faced a really proficient number of offenses so far? Uh no. The Suns opponents this season have been Golden State (currently 27th in 3pt shooting), Detroit (16th), Orlando (8th), Miami twice (FIRST), Charlotte (LAST), Cleveland (11th), Utah (18th), Denver (26th), Chicago (22nd), Lakers (20th), Portland (5th) and New Orleans (17th).
Only five of the Suns first 13 opponents have shot better than average on three-pointers this season, but the Suns have been the elixir for many of them so far this season. Klay Thompson made 4 of 7 in the opener. Aaron Afflalo, J.J. Redick and E'Twan Moore combined for 9 of 10 in game three. Mario Chalmers, LeBron James and Ray Allen made 8 of 10 in game four. Byron Mullens went 6 for 10 in game five. Daniel Gibson and Dion Waiters made 8 of 12 in game 7. Andre Iguodala went 3 for 3 in game 9. Ron Artest was 5 for 10 in game 10. Ryan Anderson went 8 for 13 on Friday night.
Ouch. How can the Suns be so bad on three-point defense?
"I have no idea," Gentry said before Wednesday's game against Portland. "Usually, the best three-point shooting in the league is from the right corner but for some reason they are coming from the left corner against us. It's something that we really emphasize and we're baffled as to why teams are shooting so well against us."
While opponents are not taking an abnormal number of three-pointers per game (league average) against the Suns, you have to believe that their shooting percentage is contributing to these double-digit deficits. And despite the thrill of comebacks, the Suns have lost 7 of 11 times they've been down by at least 10.
Road Trip a true test
This upcoming 6-game trip will shed some light on whether the Suns' three-point defense is really that bad, or if the first 13 games were an aberration that will naturally correct itself.
The Suns face Detroit and Cleveland for a second time, while seeing Philadelphia (6th), Toronto (14th), New York (2nd) and Memphis (12th) for the first time.
Today's opponent is especially interesting. While they are a good three-point shooting team, they run a terrible offense (27th overall in offensive efficiency). The Suns just might be the elixir they need.
Every team on this trip is at or above the league average on three-point shooting. Keep an eye on their conversion percentage. If the Suns come out of this road trip still at the bottom of the league, then further adjustments need to be made on their defensive scheme.