There has been quite a bit of chatter surrounding the Phoenix Suns’ defense throughout this offseason. To be frank, the consensus seems to be a bit lower on them than it should be.
It all starts with Frank Vogel. Don’t get me wrong, having the personnel on the court matters when building a defense, but if you can’t optimize them, there is a cap. And vice versa.
Does Phoenix need to be a top 5 defense to win a championship? Absolutely not. They must at least be competent on that end of the floor, however, and I believe Vogel can guide them there. It’s all about progression, comfort and forming an identity as a collective unit.
Last season, Phoenix ranked 7th overall in Defensive Rating (112.3). They ranked 5th in blocks per game (5.4) and tied for 15th in steals per game (7.1). The Suns also ranked 19th in defensive rebounds per game at 32.4.
Their offense ranked 14th in Offensive Rating (114.5) and 9th in overall net rating at +2.2, which all things considered is quite impressive. The constant injuries and lineup changes throughout the season didn’t seem to stop them from being sound defensively.
Surviving that brutal stretch in the heart of the winter was the key, as they were decimated with injuries. Now, with improved chemistry, a more consistent rotation, and hopefully better health, they should be able to form more of an identity on that end.
It all starts with Deandre Ayton. We’ve seen how this team looks defensively when he’s at his peak and how ugly it can get when he’s unengaged.
A change in coaching should hopefully provide a much-needed spark in Deandre Ayton’s game. Outside of a change of scenery, a coaching change (especially if there’s a rift) can often bring out the best in young players. It’s easy to forget that Ayton just turned 25 years old and hasn’t even entered his prime yet.
Deandre Ayton cannot play 48 minutes, of course, so the anchor responsibilities will also fall on the likes of Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu, Bol Bol, and even potentially Udoka Azubuike.
The depth they’ve built there is solid and really gives them a foundation to provide multiple looks in the same game depending on matchups. Versatility is a major key on the defensive end, and the Suns have it this season.
Point of Attack Defense
This is where Phoenix may have some struggles in individual matchups on the perimeter and within-screen navigation. It’s why one (or potentially both) of Josh Okogie and Jordan Goodwin figures to play such a massive role.
Devin Booker is a fierce competitor defensively and battles through screens consistently. However, you do not want your franchise player doing all of the dirty work, as the toll of that responsibility piles up over an 82-game season.
The same goes for Bradley Beal, who I believe will look much better defensively in this environment. The offensive burden of being “the guy” is removed for Beal, so he not only can he expend more effort defensively, but he’ll be in a winning atmosphere where he can amplify that mindset.
Size & Length
My first thought when trying to assemble an elite defense is how quick and long are they? While Phoenix may not have elite speed on the perimeter, they have tremendous size, length, and versatility across the rest of their roster.
The list of players above 6’8” on this roster: Kevin Durant, Keita Bates-Diop, Deandre Ayton, Yuta Watanabe, Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu, Bol Bol, Toumani Camara, and Udoka Azubuike. That is SIZE.
Then you also must factor in the length of Josh Okogie and Jordan Goodwin who each have massive wingspans for their height/position. Booker, Beal, and Gordon are all “bigger guards” as well, so the versatility and size across the board is intriguing.
I expect Phoenix’s defense to rank in the 10-15 range, while offensively they should (need) to be in the 3-5 range, preferably closer to number one overall. Injuries happen, though, so what their net rating looks like on that end when they are healthy is ultimately what matters most.
There is a world where we get an engaged Ayton paired with another seven-footer in Durant, along with Devin Booker’s underrated ferocity on that end that leads Phoenix to a top-5 defense. I do not believe that is out of the question. It’s a matter of how fast they can get it all to click and what the injury report looks like throughout the season.
My final guess on where they end up in each rating, both offensively and defensively:
- Offensive Rating = 3rd
- Defensive Rating = 12th
This is not about them being the third-best offense or 12th-best defense, but rather, factoring in the inevitable growing pains on both ends along with potential injuries.