PHOENIX– The Phoenix Suns franchise has typically been known for its offense. Whether it be the “Seven Seconds or Less” teams or the Charles Barkley incarnation, putting the ball in the basket was the strength.
If the 2015-16 Suns want to end the organization’s five-year playoff drought they’re going to have to flip the script, and they have the talent to do it.
“We’ve already told the guys that the offense has kind of driven the defense the last couple years and we want to try to reverse that,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek at Monday’s media day. “We feel we’re longer, we have more active guys defensively, more trapping. We don’t want to gamble for steals, but we’re going to give the guys some freedom to do some things. That hopefully will help us get out and run even more. When you have guys like Tyson (Chandler) and Alex (Len) in the back, you got some some very solid defenders at other positions, we can be a pretty good defensive team.”
The tools to construct a top 10 defense are in place for the first time under Hornacek, now in his third year as head coach. In 2013-14 they just missed out, finishing 13th in defensive rating (per 100 possessions to incorporate pace), and last season they ended up 17th.
The core of Phoenix’s defense is going to built around its length and athleticism. Chandler, Len and P.J. Tucker all have plus wingspans of seven-feet or longer. Markieff Morris is just under six-feet-11, Eric Bledsoe is six-feet-seven and Brandon Knight is slightly under six-feet-seven.
There’s no easy way to quantify defense — blocks and steals are sexy yet don’t carry enough weight on a possession to possession basis, and all encompassing statistics have their flaws, too.
Despite it not being an end-all-be-all, ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus had Chandler, Morris and Bledsoe ranked in the top six at their positions, while Len and Tucker were positives on the defensive end as well. The only player it saw as a negative was Knight, and he will be allowed to pick up the lesser of two ball handlers because of his backcourt mate’s ability.
It’s a well-rounded defensive group at the top of the rotation with some questions marks deeper on the roster, which is something Chandler hasn’t had the luxury of being surrounded by in a long time. The Suns’ free agent acquisition has been asked to cover up for the likes of Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Ray Felton, J.R. Smith, Andrea Bargnani, Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Jameer Nelson and Rajon Rondo in recent years.
“When you got guards that can stay in front of whoever they’re guarding it helps because it gives me an opportunity to a) keep guys out of the paint on the backline,” said Chandler. “It keeps me in position for rebounding and keeps me in help position to take away anything that’s going on behind us.”
Chandler is the anchor, but because of teammates like Bledsoe and Tucker, they can work to be complementary pieces rather than covering up for the flaws of others.
It’s not going to be an easy development, with it being this group’s first year together, and it takes time to build sound fundamentals and cohesiveness as a group.
“When you become really good, it’s understanding your teammates tendencies, and kinda knowing what they’re going to do before they do it,” said Chandler. “So that takes a little while.”
Unfortunately for the Suns time isn’t something they have much of. With the power and depth of the Western Conference, to get into the top eight everything has to be clicking right away. They have the talent to pull it off, but it’s no sure thing.
The process and journey of trying to make it has arrived. Monday’s media day revealed how the Suns want to accomplish their goal of returning to the postseason. The start of training camp on Tuesday begins the implemantation of that vision.