When you think of the Phoenix Suns, you think of offense. They’re No. 5 in the league in points per game (105.3) and they’re No. 7 in offensive rating (109.4). Heck, last night they set a season-high with 79 points in the first half. The Philadelphia 76ers scored 81 in the entire game in their loss to the Orlando Magic. What we don’t often talk about with the Suns is their defense — but we should.
It’s not shocking the learn that the Suns are just 24th in the NBA with 102.3 points allowed per game. They play at an extremely frenetic pace (the league’s No. 7 pace), so it makes sense that they’d give up more points than your average grind-it-out team. However, did you know the Suns are actually in the middle of the road when it comes to their defensive rating? They are No. 15 in the NBA, with a 106.3 rating.
However, over their last five games, that number has exploded to a 116.6 rating. Sure, the Suns are still going to win when they score 129 points, but that’s not going to cut it once the playoffs come around. After a three-game win streak over the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs where they held them to a combined .398 effective field goal percentage, the Suns have turned into a group that can’t seem to stop anyone.
Over the last five games (2-3 record), the Suns have allowed their opponents to shoot a ridiculous .574 effective field goal percentage. That’s simply not going to cut it. The Suns defense made the Hawks (No. 15 in offensive rating), New Orleans Pelicans (No. 11) and Utah Jazz (No. 23) look like offensive juggernauts. The other two games were actually against strong offensive squads, in the Houston Rockets (No. 5) and Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 9).
But, not all is lost. The Suns are still No. 11 in the NBA in defending the rim, allowing opponents to shoot 57.6 percent inside five feet. Nobody is going to confuse Miles Plumlee or Alex Len for Dikembe Mutombo in there, but they’re doing a decent job at the rim. The fact that the forwards are athletic and can help out (like Markieff Morris), doesn’t hurt either.
The Suns are also solid in defending out near the 3-point line, as they are No. 11 in the NBA, allowing teams to shoot 37.6 percent from 20-to-24 feet. Go out even further to 25-to-29 feet and they are No. 3 in basketball, allowing just 30.6 percent. Part of this is the trapping/swarming scheme that coach Jeff Hornacek employs, but it could also tell us something important about their philosophy. Perhaps they believe in their big men so much that the guards are allowed to pressure outside much more than their abilities should allow.
A major red flag that has to do with the lack of more perimeter defenders is the 42.1 percent they allow from 10-to-14 feet. The Suns routinely get beat off the dribble and when teams pull up near the lane, it’s been bad news. That places them No. 27 in the NBA, only ahead of the Jazz, Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies. Getting Eric Bledsoe back will help with that in a major way. No offense to Goran Dragic, who has been terrific defensively, but he’s somewhere between “matador” and “needs help” defensively.
The bottom line is, the Suns will change dramatically once Bledsoe returns. Suddenly, they’ll have two quality perimeter defenders with him and P.J. Tucker that can help shut down penetration. If Gerald Green can use his athleticism to stay in front of his man instead of gambling on steals, they could play a solid, unspectacular brand of defense. I called it before and I’ll say it again — the Suns defense needs another big man and they’re regretting letting the trade deadline pass without getting one.