Amid the optimism that reigned on Media Day, to a man the Suns acknowledged what’s largely expected to be their Achilles’ heel: defensive rebounding.
Say what you want about how Shaq’s addition adversely affected the Suns’ style, but corralling defense rebounds to start fastbreaks was one of the biggest original reasons the Suns decided to pull the trigger on that ill-fated deal.
“I think the year and a half we had the Big Fella Shaq, I think we all just kind of assumed that he’d get all the rebounds,” said Suns forward Grant Hill. “Now we just have to gang rebound. We all have to make it a point of emphasis, and I think we talk about defense and it being a weakness of ours, but I think one of the best ways to improve that is to improve your defensive rebounding.
“If you can limit teams to one opportunity at the basket then that makes you a better defensive team right then and there, so sometimes it’s just the little things like an extra four or five rebounds a game that make the difference. It’s not about all of a sudden outrebounding your opponent by 30 rebounds, but if you can get four or five defensive rebounds more a game, that could be the difference.”
The question is, where will the Suns get those extra four or five rebounds that make the difference between getting slaughtered on the boards and merely being beaten?
The biggest source of improvement on the glass MUST come from Amare Stoudemire. How often has STAT’s rebounding been written about on this blog and everywhere else that Suns conversations take place? It’s because as a 6-foot-10 force of nature Amare Stoudemire SHOULD be one of the top rebounders in the league, but he just isn’t.
At Media Day, Amare made reference to the fact that he’s always had a high-volume rebounder by his side –- be it Shawn Marion, Shaq or even Kurt Thomas –- and last year he spoke of sometimes leaving the defensive rebounding to Shaq so he could get out and run. But that strategy won’t fly this year with Amare now essentially on his own without a proven boarder.
“He’s going to have to rebound for us,” Nash said.
Up front the Suns will be relying on Robin Lopez to make strides on the glass after a very mediocre rebounding rookie year in which the 7-footer collected just 2.0 rebounds per game and 9.2 per 48 minutes.
Lou Amundson, probably the team’s best pure rebounder, could get more time than expected if the team decides it needs that boarding boost off the bench, and Earl Clark and Jared Dudley could do some damage off the pine along with the aforementioned big men.
That will still leave some rebounding responsibilities to guards such as Jason Richardson, a physical specimen who says he’s up to the challenge.
“I come from Michigan State with coach Izzo, and the first practice all you’re doing is rebounding,” J-Rich said. “I pride myself in being at least in the top five in shooting guards or the guard position in rebounding, so that’s big thing that I do and I love doing it, so I’ll focus on it.”
Last year J-Rich tied for seventh among shooting guards and twelfth among guards by averaging 4.4 boards per game. However, his rebound rate (rate of missed shots rebounded) was only 7.8. That put him 18th among shooting guards and 24th among guards, meaning he ranked behind Goran Dragic (a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it).
Especially when the Suns go to those three-guard lineups with Nash, LB and J-Rich, the former Spartan must at least make a dent on the boards.
Such a lineup is one reason that David Griffin, the Suns’ senior VP of basketball ops, thinks his team could light up the scoreboard even more than it did during the second half of last season, when Phoenix scored at a historic pace.
That is, under one condition.
“I really believe the way the puzzle pieces fit, we should (score more), but that’s really a function of defensive rebounding,” Griffin said. “Historically when you look at our numbers, the stat wonk in me would tell you that the most important thing for us is our defensive rebounding percentage and our ability to get stops without fouling.
“We’ll get outrebounded. If we don’t get outrebounded by too much on the offensive glass, we’ll be OK.”