The Phoenix Suns will be better off this season with Goran Dragic at the helm than they would be if Steve Nash were still with the team.
This is not an argument that Dragic is a better offensive mastermind at point than Nash is, because he is not. This is about the element of basketball that Nash could never bring to the Suns, and the same component of the game that will make Dragic very successful in Phoenix.
We’re talking about defense.
“[Dragic] is just a tenacious guy,” Gentry said after practice on Saturday. “He knows the importance of defending that position, so he works extremely hard at it.”
Nash, while acknowledged as an all-time great point guard for his offense, has never been much of a threat as a defender and it cost the Suns games during his tenure in the Valley.
If you watch Nash play defense, you will notice the man he is guarding will often blow by him and penetrate into the lane. This causes the front court to rotate to help, which in turn leaves someone open on the court, giving teams high percentage shots.
“Obviously everything in this league starts with dribble penetration,” Gentry said. “If a guy gets into the lane, he is usually a pretty good player and he’s going to make a play.”
This is one of the key reasons why in the past five seasons Phoenix would need to outscore teams on most nights, as the defensive lapses from Nash and resulting penetration from the opposing point guard would make the defense’s job next to impossible.
Dragic has no such lapses, and he prides himself on that.
“I always like to play defense,” Dragic said. “It’s always important in basketball, especially if you’re a guard, because there are so many good guards in this league.”
It may be a small sample size only two games into the season, but the Suns are among the league leaders in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), something they never did under Nash.
Last season, the Suns’ defensive efficiency was 103.8, putting them 23rd in the NBA. Phoenix hasn’t finished in the top 18 in that category since the 2007-08 season.
The Suns’ improved defense this season without Nash raises the bar for the team’s overall level of play. With a lack of D, a team cannot and will not make it to the NBA Finals, just ask those Suns teams from a few years ago.
I am not saying Phoenix will get to the finals this year, but improved defense gives them the possibility for such a run in the future.
Dragic’s aggressive, yet effective defense is helping out all four of the other Suns on the floor, and it creates a solid foundation for the defense to build from.
Phoenix’s defense will be a subject of much discussion as the team gets a few more games under its belt, but don’t be surprised if the Suns have a very solid attack this season behind the play of their Slovenian point guard.
The team’s first big test will be on Monday, the second game of the upcoming road trip, when they are in Miami taking on the defending champion Heat.