Under Jay Triano, Suns’ Devin Booker showing relentless effort defensively

Oct 27, 2017, 5:55 AM | Updated: 11:40 am
(AP Photo/Matt York)...
(AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

The Phoenix Suns are working hard on defense under interim coach Jay Triano, and it’s paying off in those two games.

The noticeable difference in defensive intensity is one of the many stark contrasts the team has shown on the court compared to their play for former head coach Earl Watson.

In two games, Triano has a couple of basic concepts to build upon for future growth: If you play hard and well, you are staying in the game; and if you don’t, someone else will.

The most evident example of this was in the second half against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

The Jazz got a quick run-out and had four players in position to score right as the Suns’ third defender — Mike James — comes in the picture on the bottom left of the screen.

Utah is going to get a quality look in this situation no matter what. That’s not a problem.

The problem is Marquese Chriss, the last man back, jogging back in transition, which was the difference between Rodney Hood being wide open and Hood having a man on him.

Triano responded by sitting Chriss around three minutes into the quarter, something Watson rarely did to his young players.

As Tyson Chandler said at practice Tuesday, Triano’s mindset on substitutions sets the tone for the players.

“It also keeps it in the back of their head if they don’t (play hard), they’re going to come sit down,” he said.

Chriss did come sit down, checking out for Dragan Bender.

Triano has done a fine job in two games, but he doesn’t deserve all the credit.

The players have clearly responded to the firing of Watson as a message to wake them up, and one player, in particular, has the most: Devin Booker.

Booker has a reputation, rightfully so, as one of the league’s worst defenders. His effort wasn’t there, and even when he was putting in some energy, he was getting roasted.

He’s aware of it, his team is aware of it, the other team is aware of it and everyone in the arena is aware of it.

In the last two games, Booker has looked completely re-energized on the defensive end.

He’s not the quickest laterally, but effort goes a long way defensively.

Watch Booker against the Sacramento Kings Monday on Buddy Hield.

His movement and cuts from side-to-side leaves something to be desired, but he works really freaking hard to deny the backdoor and work through two pretty bad screens by Willie Cauley-Stein. Yes, it ends in a decent look for Hield, but this is real progress for Booker.

His hard work can lead to a play like this, where he halts Hield’s path to the basket.

The concept about defense that’s difficult to understand is that it is not just effort. Yes, how much a player is trying defensively is a huge part of helping your team on that end, but there are little nuances such as working around screens and reading what the player your guarding is trying to achieve.

Booker fights through two screens here. Watch the first one, in particular, set by Utah big man Derrick Favors.

That little sidestep by Booker is something good defenders are masters of, and him being right behind Hood is the reason the turnover occurs.

Triano spoke after Wednesday’s win on Booker’s defense.

“In the years that I’ve been here, I’ve never seen Devin this focused on the defensive end of the floor yet and I think he can be a very good defender,” Triano said. “And I think over the last two games he’s proved that. He’s chasing over screens. His work ethic, he’s in his stance. His worth ethic on the defensive end has been great.”

As with anything for a young player, Booker is going to have learning moments.

On this sideline out of bounds play, Booker is all over Hood, but is trying to get ahead by denying him from a traditional inbounds pass toward the halfcourt line and being ready for the screen. With Booker being there, Hood simply pushes him away from the basket and that leaves Hood with a wide open lane toward the hoop as a result.

The growth for Booker, and his team, is going to eventually lead to excellent defensive possessions, like this one from Booker himself and Len.

Do not discount Booker boxing out Ekpe Udoh at the end, as well.

There are a couple more examples from the opening two games, and once those plays start becoming a somewhat regular occurrence, the Suns will be well on their way to transforming into a good defensive team, which is their first large step towards becoming a good team overall.

The fact that the team’s franchise player and current best player is the one leading the charge is significant and encouraging for the future.

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