After being one of the worst teams in the NBA the past two years in allowing offensive rebounds to the other team, the Phoenix Suns are now one of the stingiest teams in that area. And after being one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league, the Suns are now mid-pack thanks to the efforts of centers Tyson Chandler and Alex Len and forward Jon Leuer, primarily.
That's the bright side.
Unfortunately for the Suns, they are partially reducing those offensive rebound chances by allowing a league high 47.5% overall shooting percentage to opponents this season, including a league high 51.6% shooting percentage on two-pointers and a 3rd worst 37.8% on three pointers.
By allowing the other team to simply make their first shot attempt, there's no offensive rebounds to chase. Boom. Problem solved.
Overall, combining the Suns high steal rate and mid-pack rebounding rate with terrible shooting percentages allowed, the Suns' bottom-third ranking in defensive efficiency (points per possessions allowed) begins to make sense.
Lazy closeouts, sagging one-on-one defense and slow rotations on the perimeter are the most obvious conclusions to draw about this gahdawful shooting rate.
But when you look into the numbers, the Suns are just bad everywhere. Centers, forwards and guards alike are making long-time matador defenders proud.
Opponent shooting: The guards
Step one: losing Eric Bledsoe, their best perimeter defender, has made it worse but only barely because there wasn't that far to drop.
The Suns were pretty bad all season at stopping opposing guard shooting at a high percentage when they get the shot off. Recently, with the loss of Eric Bledsoe meaning more minutes for rookie Devin Booker, the Suns defense on guards has gotten a bit worse.
Specifically, two of the ten worst guards in the league at three-point % allowed this season are Booker and Brandon Knight (filtered for mid-to-high volume work). They also allow high conversion rate at other parts of the court as well.
Looking at stats.nba.com, the Suns as a team ranked 25th or worse in opposing guards shooting percentage from nearly every distance on the floor before Eric Bledsoe went down to injury. The reason they were able to have a mid-pack overall defensive rating (points per possession) was because they limited opposing guards to some of the fewest attempts in the league (Top 10 in fewest shots allowed to guards from nearly every distance).
Since Bledsoe's injury (and exacerbated by the dismissal of the team's top two assistants), the Suns have gotten even worse.
Over the past seven games - a small sample size - the Suns are allowing an even higher conversion percentage by guards from nearly every area. It couldn't get much worse, but somehow it has. Yet, fortunately for the Suns, their opponents' shot attempts by guards has dropped even further. They making more, but shooting it slightly less often.
Opponents shooting: The bigs
The Suns are also getting killed defensively by opposing big men (forwards and centers), which has nothing to do with Bledsoe or Brandon Knight or Booker. Per stats.nba.com, all season the Suns have allowed a high conversion rate to opposing big men just like they've allowed to guards.
Specifically, T.J. Warren allows one of the highest opponent shooting percentages in the league among forwards, filtered for mid-to-high activity levels. Mirza Teletovic and Markieff Morris have not been great either. In the pivot, Tyson Chandler (former NBA Defensive Player of the Year) has allowed a crazy high shooting percentage this season, and Alex Len is not a lot better.
Before Bledsoe's injury, the Suns allowed some of the highest conversion rates from all areas of the floor by opposing bigs on some of the fewest shot attempts.
Since Bledsoe's injury, or just over the past 8 games which may be incidental despite there being no change in the rotation, opposing bigs have shot even better than before.
The Suns now allow the league's highest or second-highest shooting percentage to opposing forwards in the restricted area (67% conversion rate!) and from mid-range, and are bottom-5 when those forwards shoot the three from the left corner or above the break. The same is true of centers.
But just like the guards, the Suns allow some of the fewest shot attempts to opposing bigs. In fact, the Suns are best in the league allowing the fewest shot attempts in the restricted area per game to bigs.
From all areas of the floor by all opponent positions, the Suns allow a really high conversion rate but somehow allow some of the fewest shot attempts from nearly every spot.
(note: basketball-reference.com has the Suns 23rd in shots allowed, but that's because the Suns have played more minutes than all but 4 NBA teams so far this year)
They don't allow a particularly high number of free throws to explain the reduction in opponent shot attempts, and their rebounding while improved is still mid-pack in the league. Basically, the Suns are partially reducing shot attempts by simply allowing opponents to make them the first time they put it up. It's a bold strategy, Cotton, let's see how it works out for them.
Overall, the Suns are allowing the HIGHEST opponent shooting percentage in the league, and it's not even necessarily close.
How is that possible? By overplaying passing lanes, slow closeouts and weak side rotations. The Suns players go for a steal, resulting in bad positioning after a couple good passes, or sag back to prevent the dribble drive, which results in allowing too much space to prevent a clean shot.
These habits are common among young teams and the Suns, playing the league's youngest wing pairing and a young point guard, are one of those teams. Even in the front court, Len and Leuer bring youth and inexperience. Veteran savvy from guys like Tyson Chandler, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems and Ronnie Price have not made a significant difference in the team's maturity level.
As the Suns grow up, we can only hope they learn good defensive habits to turn around these awful numbers. In the meantime, let's focus on the kids' offensive potential and stop worrying about why they are still losing by double digits anyway. Top 5 pick, here we come!