NewsTrending topics

How the Suns' defense is improving as the season goes on

Frank Vogel. When this name was mentioned before the start of his mandate within the Phoenix Suns, what words came to your mind? Champion? Defensive minded? Manager of superstars? For many, it's defense that has moved to the forefront of brain vortexes (I think that's where thoughts are formed).

Vogel had a reputation for working with big men, instilling defensive philosophies and getting the best out of teams on that side of the field. Five times in his career he has coached a team to top-three defensive status or better.

“What you see is he's extremely well-rounded,” general manager James Jones said when he hired Vogel. “An underrated trait is that he's a guy who knows how to bring out your toughness without barking, without yelling, without pushing. And it makes you think you're tough, even though you're not before you start doing it.

His debut in Phoenix, especially on defense, was not great. Handing over a roster of 13 new faces, then being forced to adjust to star injuries didn't make things any easier. The Suns' offensive start wasn't a problem, but the defense? This required some adjustments.

As time went on this season, adjustments were made. Vogel worked within the confines of what he was provided to unlock defensive schemes. James Jones traded four players for two, both of whom fit the defensive archetype needed to complete the team.

Was this team perfect defensively? Oh hell no. The effort was their main challenge, and with injuries continuing to plague the team, they have continued mistakes that are more than worrying. Heading into the playoffs, “defense wins championships” might not apply in the modern NBA, but sometimes you have to have the ability to lock down other explosive offenses.

However, the Suns' defense has improved. If you look at how the Suns defense performed month by month via Defensive Rating and in comparison to the rest of the league, this statement is true:

  • November: 116.9 (23)
  • December: 117.4 (18)
  • January: 115.0 (13)
  • February: 110.6 (9)
  • March: 112.5 (8th)

You'd much rather see the arrow go up than down, and that's how the Suns are going.

How and why are the Suns doing better?

Part of that is the additions and subtractions the Suns made at the deadline. Each exiting player was a net negative player, meaning they had a negative net rating. Net rating is determined when you subtract defensive rating from offensive rating and is used to try to understand a player's impact over 100 possessions.

Adding someone like Royce O'Neale, who has a team-best +10.8 net rating since joining the Suns a month ago, certainly helps your defensive cause.

It also helps if your stars and main players buy into your system and understand it. They lead the charge, especially in terms of minutes played, and have the biggest impact.

Kevin Durant, for example, increased his defensive rating every month of the season:

  • November: 117.3
  • December: 116.7
  • January: 116.0
  • February: 110.5
  • March: 109.2

The team showed an ability to lock down and shut down opposing teams. The energy required to do this is not sustainable, so we are not going to see any performance from the Detroit Pistons team in 2004. However, when one is focused, it can be done. We witnessed it once again in the third trimester against the Cleveland Cavaliers last night. The Suns held the Cavs to 21 points, posting a defensive rating of 84.0. It was quite a change after posting defensive ratings of 164.0 in the first quarter and 116.0 in the second.

When the Suns want to be, they can be a dynamic, gritty and physically defensive team.

Injuries have plagued this team throughout the season. Continuity has been a challenge that has shown up in their defense and turnover rates. With 17 matches remaining indoors, there is still a chance to fine-tune the machine.

Perhaps a blessing in disguise, the Suns will do so against primarily playoff-bound competition all season. Iron sharpens iron, as they say. If the Suns can continue to improve their defensive connectivity, insight and production, they are a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.

Is there still a lot of work to be done? Absolutely. This team can look lost and make stupid plays from time to time. But hey, it's a ball. This is happening less and less and they are starting to look like a defensive unit that can lock down when needed. And it is necessary for the round of 16.

Related Articles

Back to top button