Defensive slip-ups follow Suns’ focus to a ‘T’

The Timberwolves' Mo Williams is defended by the Suns' Eric Bledsoe during the first half Jan. 16.

Matt York/AP

PHOENIX — A Suns team that starts well-regarded defenders Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker and rim-protection apprentice Alex Len now checks in 20th among NBA teams for defensive efficiency.

Phoenix is giving up 107.3 points per 100 possessions, which is higher than in three of the franchise’s four full seasons under offensive mastermind Mike D’Antoni. With D’Antoni presiding over a team that supposedly didn’t care about defense, the Suns never fell below 17th (his last season).

It should be noted that after D’Antoni left, the Suns — mostly with Alvin Gentry as head coach — ranked 26th, 23rd, 25th, 24th and 23rd before Jeff Hornacek checked in last season. Phoenix gave up at least 110 points per 100 possessions in three of those seasons.

In Hornacek’s first season, the Suns ranked 15th for defensive efficiency.

So how does a squad that starts the aforementioned, defensive-minded players slip to its current level? That’s easy: Lack of focus.

And please note certain interludes of solid play demonstrate they are coached to contest opposing offenses the right way. Unfortunately, an awareness deficiency from a few other rotation players continues to create breakdowns.

That’s why the technical-foul sanctions — game-enderss for Goran Dragic and Markieff Morris in successive games — imposed by Hornacek and the front office are about more than just preventing referees from making the Suns miserable.

It’s about maintaining enough composure to move on to the next play, to be more concerned about providing early help from the weak side on defense or hustling back in transition instead of grousing about not getting a call on that last drive to the hoop.

Based on reactions around town, a lot of people seem to think this hard line against acquiring technical fouls through interaction with referees is a bad idea. NBA players receive technical fouls without penetrating the local news cycle. The penalty is only one free throw in a 48-minute game (and some loot from the pocket of a rich guy). Grown men should be allowed to express an opinion, even if it isn’t terribly reasonable. Not having Dragic or Morris in the fourth quarter is only hurting the team … right?

More Suns

Well, we could embrace such notions if Suns players approached each game with an appropriate level of maturity. But when concerns over a referee’s decision impact your performance for the next few possessions, changes are required.

The Suns simply aren’t good enough on either end of the floor yet to waste a few trips up and down the hardwood each game. And just in case testimony from a trusted source is required, here is Dragic.

"I don’t know, we’re going to see," the Suns guard said when asked if the benching decree will have a positive impact. "I think we’re leading the league in technicals, so I hope that we’re not going to get technicals anymore.

"I think that’s a must. I think we need to be more calm and not be so frustrated when we don’t get a call. I hope we’re going to learn something from this."

All of that said, keeping relatively quiet after a lousy call won’t guarantee a defensive uprising. But it can’t hurt, and moving on to the next play may help it take a bit longer during some related quarters for the Suns to achieve those defense-damning five team fouls.   

Through his first six games with Phoenix, Brandan Wright has averaged 17.7 minutes, 4.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. He’s made 56.5 percent of his shots from the field and averaged 1 block.

Wright missed Sunday’s game against the Clippers with a sore left heel.

In 27 games with Dallas this season, the 27-year-old lefty averaged 18.7 minutes, 8.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. With mainly lobs and put-backs in his arsenal, Wright made a crazy 74.8 percent of his shots.

Over 58 games for the Mavericks last season, Wright averaged 18.6 minutes, 9.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. His shooting percentage was 67.7.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Suns’ selection with the 27th pick in last summer’s NBA Draft, may be out of sight while playing in Europe this season. But the 6-foot-6 shooting guard from Serbia (he’ll be 23 in August) is anything but out of the minds of the Suns’ personnel staff.

Through 14 games (12 as a starter) for Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, Bogdanovic has averaged 29 minutes, 11 points, 3.3 assists and a couple of rebounds. He’s knocking in 51.6 percent of his shots attempts from inside the 3-point arc and 35.2 outside.

I’ve recently spoken with three NBA personnel representatives who’ve seen Bogdanovic lately, and they all believe — even more than before — he gives the Suns a legitimate future rotation option should they use current roster assets to make a trade.

What’s the good news?

Well, through 21 games, the percentage of seats occupied during Suns games at US Airways Center was 88.9. That’s an increase of 2.7 percent from the 41-game total last season.

Unfortunately, the Suns are only 23rd among NBA teams in seat-occupation percentage. For the record, last season’s 86.2 percent left the franchise tied for 21st.

It also should be noted that franchise No. 24 this season is Atlanta and No. 25 is Washington.

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