At the end of last season, the Phoenix Suns decided that they needed a new focus on defense, so they hired Elston Turner as their lead assistant and "defensive coordinator".
Likely, given the existing crop of offensively-challenged players at the coaching staff's disposal, improving the defense was seen as the only way to stay competitive. But in the larger scheme and longer range plan, the Suns front office decided that having a solid, predictable and adaptable defensive scheme would serve the team well into the future.
Remember when Marcin Gortat arrived a year ago and declared the Suns' defense to be the worst in the league? He was right.
Unfortunately, Elston Turner's hands have been tied by the NBA lockout. There was no offseason player development, and training camp was no longer than the blink of an eye. But those aren't the worst outcomes of the lockout. The worst outcome of the lockout, from the standpoint of implementing a new scheme, is the utter lack of practice during the season. Nearly every day is a game day, travel day or mandated off day. So there is hardly any time to teach lessons and correct mistakes.
But having any scheme at all seems to be an improvement over last season. By the numbers, compared to the rest of the league, the Phoenix Suns are right in the middle of the pack in points-per-possession. This means that, on a possession by possession basis, the Suns are better than half the league in stopping the opponent.
So why are they still in the bottom third of the league in overall defense? Because they still can't rebound the ball (24th in defensive rebound rate), only securing the rebound 72%of the time when an opponent misses. It's frustrating when your solid defense has forced a miss, but then you give them another chance.
Marcin Gortat has the 8th highest defensive rebound rate among NBA Centers. Channing Frye is 17th and Markieff Morris is 22nd among Power Forwards in defensive rebound rate. Those three guys play 75% of the minutes on the front line. So why are the Suns so friggin bad at rebounding as a team?
Hit the jump for some fancy pictures.
Let's use some stats from 82games.com to illustrate where the Suns fall short in the rebounding.
Look at the 'Reb' column in the middle to get your answer. In terms of rebounding prowess, the Suns fall short at every single position on the floor.
The PFs (-0.1) and SFs (-0.2) pretty much hold their own but aren't good enough to net in the positive.
Marcin Gortat is 8th in the NBA in defensive rebounding % at Center, yet the Suns lose almost a rebound per game at the center position? How is that? Because Robin Lopez is the worst rebounding C in the game among qualifiers - 50th overall.
We could all have guessed that most opposing point guards are better rebounders than Nash (30th), Price (46th) and Telfair (not ranked, but worse than Price). So there's no surprise the Suns net 1.3 fewer rebounds per game than those three.
The most disappointing net loss, after the center position, is at shooting guard. Between Dudley, Brown and Redd, you'd think the Suns could come close to holding their own on rebounding since they know they're already losing ground on offense. But no. The Suns lose big time in this comparison (-0.9 rebounds per game), with every player near the bottom of the pack in defensive rebound rate.
If rebounding is the Suns' achilles heel, their defense is at least improving this season over last season. The Suns are better in nearly every category except, you guessed it, points allowed on offensive rebounds.
See the pretty charts below. Click on any of the graphs to make them bigger.
Suns' 2011-12 defensive numbers, thanks to MySynergySports.com:
Across the board, the numbers are better than the 2010-11 version of their defense (below). Looking inside the numbers, this year the Suns are much better at defending the pick-and-roll primarily because they their scheme is forcing a lot more jump shots (pick-and-pop) because the lane is more effectively blocked. It's the points off 'offensive rebounds' that are killing this team relative to any time in the past.
2010-11 defensive numbers:
And even compared to the WCF run in 2009-10, this defense isn't bad by comparison:
As you can see, the Suns in 2009-10 were better at post-up defense (thanks Lou!), but much worse at defending the pick-and-roll (thank again, Lou!).
So overall, I have not written anything you didn't already know. The Suns just cannot rebound the ball with any modicum of predictability. Not one position on the floor is a net positive, unless Gortat plays 48 minutes a game.
But at least the Suns are forcing a lot more misses than we're used to seeing. Progress.