From the moment Lindsey Hunter stepped foot on the US Airways Center practice court as interim head coach, his directive was clear.
“He’s all about defense first,” PJ Tucker said.
“That’s what I want,” Hunter said of trying to create the identity of a defensive-minded team. “That’s what we’re going to work towards being. I know that’s kind of different than any culture that’s been here in the past but things change all the time.”
Changing the Suns’ fortune of a team headed towards the NBA Draft Lottery is unlikely, especially given the upcoming schedule. In the next 12 games before the All-Star break, the Suns will play teams currently sitting in the top 8 of the Western Conference six times.
“Pretty brutal, right? But it is what it is,” said Hunter. “Hopefully it will bring us together more.”
The schedule aside, Hunter’s biggest challenge will be instilling that wanted defensive mentality in his players.
Does he, however, have a roster capable of such an identity?
“I think establishing an identity doesn’t have anything to with superstars or things like that,” Hunter said. “It has to do with culture, the type of character that you bring in and the type of leaders that you have.”
At 13-28, the Suns are one of the poorer defensive teams in the league. Amongst the 30 teams, the Suns rank 29th in opponent field goal percentage (46.7), 30th in opponent 3-point shooting percentage (38.9) and 23rd in points allowed (99.7).
“Not going to try to build Rome in a day,” Hunter said. “We’re going to take it one step at a time.”
There’s been a noticeable difference already after three straight days of practice, according to forward Jared Dudley.
“He says we’re playing too soft in the sense of we’re not touching (defenders) on pick-and-rolls, not being aggressive enough. They’re getting too much of a separation.”
“More than anything, just effort,” added Tucker. “Everybody going out giving 100 percent, leaving it out on the court and giving ourselves a chance to win. I think lately you know we’ve been in games and we’ve taken games away from ourselves, so just having that mindset of that killer mentality of going out finishing games.”