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Examining the Phoenix Suns Defensive Struggles

Jeff Hornacek, Channing Frye and P.J. Tucker discuss why the Suns haven't been getting the job done on the defensive end over their last five games.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The last five games haven't been what the Phoenix Suns strive for on the defensive end.

On the season Phoenix is tied for 14th in defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) at 103.5, one full point behind the 12th rated team and .6 in front of the 16th.

In this recent stretch the Suns are allowing 113 points per 100 possessions. The worst defensive rating over the whole season in the NBA is the Jazz at 107.2.

This chart breaks down how opponents are shooting in particular areas against the Suns compared to the numbers they've allowed through the entire 59 games.


Phoenix's defense has regressed across the five games in every shooting area outlined.  There isn't any significant difference in attempts, but the little over eight-percent improvement in the restricted area is a huge concern considering the volume of shots taken.

When discussing the struggles from a big picture perspective, head coach Jeff Hornacek was quick to point out attention to detail.

"There are all little things," said Coach Hornacek after practice on Monday.  "It doesn't happen time and time again, but it's a little thing here, a little thing there.  Our emphasis with these guys is every play matters.  Every little rotation whether you don't think it's a big deal to be three feet over to the side on the weak side, it is a big deal."

Suns forward Channing Frye also harped on how they've been getting away from their team defensive concepts.

"I think we have to focus in and take an individual challenge for each play knowing what our job is and go do it," said Frye.  "I think sometimes we get so much pride in stopping our man that we have to do multiple things.  I think the trust needs to come back.  We need to trust each other that we're going to have each others back and we're gonna do what we've been asked to do by the coaches."

When specifically examining why the interior defense has dropped the play of Miles Plumlee on the defensive end has been a big reason.

Hornacek cut his minutes from 26 minutes per game to 19.1 in the last five to go with more successful smaller looks using Markieff Morris at the five.

With Plumlee on the court this season Phoenix has allowed 35.4% of opponents shots to come in the restricted area with a 59.4% rate of success.

During the recent slump when Plumlee is seeing action the Suns allow 44.2% of opponents attempts to come in the restricted area with a 70.8% rate of success.

"I tried to tell Miles today it's not always to block the shot," explained Hornacek.  "If you're just in the right position, there a little earlier you don't even have to block the shot. You will be in the way and they will throw it out someone else.   I think he's gotten into a part of the season where he's just trying to time it to block shots, you can't time it to block shots."

Another issues that's been popping up is the lack of transition defense.   Phoenix is giving up 4.2 more fastbreak points per game despite turning the ball over at slightly lower rate (.3).  Allowing easy buckets early in the shot clock off live ball turnovers is one thing, but the problem concerning the Suns is off of made and missed baskets.

"We're not talking to each other sometimes," said Frye regarding the poor transition D.  "It comes down to my man is over there, but the ball is over here and then they run to their man.   It happens a lot and we've been addressing it.  It's something we're going to continue to work on.  It just comes down to communicating; we love talking to each other except when that happens.  When we communicate things work out."

Suns forward P.J. Tucker expanded on the problems with the transition defense.

"It's that communication," explained Tucker echoing Frye's comments.  "When Goran drives Gerald has to remember he has to get back and can't offensive rebound.   When we go on the break and Miles is last he should stay back and not go all the way in because they'll take the ball out and throw it to get a layup.  It's just really simple little things that we gotta clean up."

Eric Bledsoe's return should help stem some of the issues.  Having him re-join the starting lineup and pushing Green back to a bench role will give the starting a unit another plus defender that has the ability to cut off dribble penetration.

While the competition over this five game stretch hasn't been a walkover, two top 10 ORtg teams, two tied for 11th and one ranked 23rd, the upcoming schedule doesn't leave much time to get the problems straightened out.   The Suns next four games feature two against the Clippers, one verses the Thunder and the fourth is opposite the Warriors (not as good offensively as you would think).

With the Grizzlies only 1.5 games behind the Suns and Mavericks in the Western Conference playoff race Phoenix's first playoff appearance since 2009-2010 is far from a formality.  If the Suns aren't able to push the defense back to the borderline top 10 group they were earlier in the season they could finish the regular season on the outside looking in.

All stats in this story are credited to

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