December 30, 2010
All is not well in Phoenix. The Suns lost in embarrassing fashion Wednesday night to the Philadelphia 76ers, and stalwarts like former MVP Steve Nash(notes) are venting, if not publicly, while newly acquired veterans like Marcin Gortat(notes) are wondering just when the 13-17 team is going to learn to play defense.
The Phoenix Suns are last in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and they are last in the league in defensive efficiency by a wide margin. This isn't pace skewing with the numbers. This isn't a pretty good team that happens to have one failing that allows it to mingle with lesser lights like Minnesota and Golden State toward the bottom of the defensive standings. No, the Suns are the worst, and they're the worst by a lot.
And new addition Marcin Gortat is flummoxed as to why his new team wants to play the way it does. After Wednesday night's embarrassing loss to the 76ers, Gortat vented to the media (via @outsidethenba):
"I just think we have to be at the gym everyday for three hours and just learn the rotations, learn everything from the beginning. There are so many things we are doing bad and I just can't find an explanation. I'm trying to get some rebounds and stops, but unfortunately there aren't very many opportunity for me to get rebounds."
No, there aren't. And at some point, though the Suns' brass hasn't done the coaching staff any favors with its penny-pinching ways and sometimes-regrettable deals, coach Alvin Gentry's role in this needs to be discussed.
In the eyes of way too many people, Gentry is the guy who finally got the Suns playing defense last season, which couldn't be further from the truth. All he did was slow the team down a little offensively, in literal terms. The Suns didn't run as much, though they scored with great efficiency, and that limited the amount of points their opponents could put up. So on the surface, sure, the points allowed went down. But when you factored pace into the equation, the Suns were far, far worse under Gentry defensively than they were under Mike D'Antoni, who was roundly criticized for paying little attention to the defensive side of things when he coached the Suns from 2003-08.
The frustration doesn't end there. As anyone who watched Wednesday night's game would tell you, Steve Nash was in a rage all night, usually at the referees. There were several instances where he could have been called for a technical foul for complaining (he only received one, and could have received another after his reaction at that particular whistle); and while the refereeing wasn't exactly spot on, it wasn't the problem.
The team is the problem, the refs were the scapegoat, and Nash is losing it, yelling towards Gentry after one particularly frustrating call. Pro Basketball Talk has the heavily edited quote:
"I'm going to [expletive] punch one of these [expletives] in the face."
Just watching from my couch, there were many more F-bombs to be read from Nash's lips throughout the loss to Philadelphia.
I'd tell you that this situation is worth watching, but you might want to keep your kids out of the room, while you're watching it. Bad language and poor screen-and-roll defense are two nasty habits to pick up.