Phoenix Suns emphasizing defense with Elston Turner's guidance

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns couldn’t sign Dwight Howard to patrol the paint. They didn’t have the assets to bring on Rajon Rondo to lock up opposing point guards, or Tony Allen to be the Kobe Stopper.

So the Suns did the next best thing – hired a touted defensive coordinator to make the most out of Phoenix’s limited personnel.

Since joining the Suns in mid-July, Elston Turner has been working toward erasing Phoenix’s reputation as a defensive doormat. With the 14-year NBA assistant and respected defensive mind in place, the 2011-12 Suns have a new commitment to the defensive end after ranking 25th in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage a season ago.

“In order to put yourself in a position to win a championship you’ve got to be able to guard and you’ve got to be able to do it consistently,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “I don’t know that we’ll ever be the Chicago Bulls, the Boston Celtics or the San Antonio Spurs, but I don’t think those teams will ever be us offensively.

“We have to get to the point where consistently we know what we’re going to get night in and night out defensively and I think between Elston Turner and Dan Majerle I think we can get that accomplished.”

Turner arrived in Phoenix with a long list of defensive accomplishments. He coached under Rick Adleman in both Houston and Sacramento, and churned out some of the association’s top defenses as the 2003-04 Kings led the NBA in defensive field goal percentage, while the 2007-08 and 2008-09 Rockets ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively.

But when Turner arrived in Phoenix and took a look at what he had to work with, it became clear the Suns were lightyears from becoming a defensive juggernaut.

“The rim protection didn’t seem to be as strong as it needed to be in this league,” Turner said. “Some of the scouting reports that all the scouts had said not being a physical team. There’s some teams when you see them on the schedule, you know you’re in for a tough night. That’s what we’re trying to do get to and eventually we’ll get there.”

Turner also noted that a huge part of the Suns’ defensive struggles came from their turnovers and poor defensive rebounding. Phoenix gave up the fourth-most offensive rebounds in the NBA last season. Combine that with the 12th-most turnovers in the NBA and defensive greatness becomes nearly impossible.

“When you give up points off of turnovers, 90 percent of the time it will lead to layups,” said Grant Hill. “Defensive rebounding, if you don’t complete the exchange 80 percent of the time those end up being putbacks or dunks. If we can limit our offensive turnovers and complete the possession, that’ll improve our defense tremendously.”

While the Suns aren’t exactly equipped with defensive experts on their roster, Turner said Phoenix has more than the right pieces to be a solid defensive team. From his perspective, defense is all about continuity and trust.

“No matter what system you put in place, the way the league is and the way the rules are, which is geared toward scoring, you’re going to need help,” Turner said. “The main thing is to develop chemistry where everybody’s helping each other, everybody’s responsible for everything.”

Josh Childress said Turner’s schemes are more simplified, which should lead to more consistency on the defensive end. Shannon Brown said with Phoenix’s new defense the Suns could be able to “scare a lot of people.”

The Suns have a long way to go in order to undo nearly a decade of porous defense, but with Turner’s new defense and Phoenix’s commitment to both sides of the ball, the Suns could be on their way to changing the longtime perception of Phoenix Suns defense.

“If we stick to it as a team and all trust each other as a team defensively, then people won’t be talking about the Phoenix Suns defense anymore,” said Ronnie Price, who Turner coached in Sacramento. “They’ll be saying nothing but good things about it.”

The Xs and Os

Under Turner’s direction the Suns will be more aggressive with ball pressure and traps, as well as changing up pick and roll coverages and rotations.

“There will be a lot more pressure and a lot of guys helping others as far as rotations, guys coming out of traps, rotating to other guys and everybody protecting each other,” Price explained. “That’s the biggest thing. We have our principles we just have to communicate it through.”

Turner said the ultimate goal is to “contain the basketball and trying to make guys shoot shots in the mid-range area with a hand in their face.”

Phoenix is hoping that the easy buckets at the rim, uncontested dribble penetration and wide-open threes that have characterized the Suns for so long will be a thing of the past.

And 1

  • The Suns ranked 25th in defensive efficiency last season.
  • They ranked 26th in defensive effective field goal percentage.
  • They allowed opponents to shoot 68.3 percent at the rim, good for 28th in the NBA.

Tags: Defense Elston Turner

  • Scott

    It’s all talk till I see it, and I hope to see it soon. :)

  • Bin

    This is what the Suns do every year before the season starts. There’s always talks of improving the defense and yet when the season starts they suck.

  • Scott


    A seasonal exclamation to accompany news from Gentry (not reported here yet) that he’s been trying Warrick at SF in practices and Warrick has been doing well.

    Warrick was projected on his draft day to play in the NBA as a SF. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in his 7 year career that Warrick is actually being used in practice for play at the SF spot.

    According to Gentry, Warrick is shooting from the perimeter (likely the corner) and hitting his shots.

    That’s excellent news for the Suns, I believe, as Warrick’s height, length, and athleticism should enable him to score, defend, and rebound far better at the 3 than he was able to at the 4, where he was frequently out-muscled due to his slight frame.

    Warrick says he spent the long summer working on his handling and shooting in preparation for the possibility of playing at the 3.

    I look forward to finally seeing Warrick play SF, though I don’t necessarily expect instant success as there will probably be a period of adjustment.

  • sun-arc

    Scott- I agree. It’s good to hear. If he can play some defense, he might be better at the 3 than Chilly. Or at least have a better +/-.

    On the defense issue: This year ought to be different for 2 reasons:
    1) The addition of Turner. I think the rest of the coaching staff just didn’t know how to teach team defense. Marley and Cartwright were good defenders, but may not be able to coach it to the team. Turner has had results in the past with players that were not as talented as ours currently are (see the Houston Rockets).
    2) Embarrasment from last year. The players do not want a repeat of all that shame.
    3) Better Chemistry because of familiarity in the roster.
    4) Off season improvements by Gortat, Lopez, Frye, and Dudley. These guys have improved each year, and should again here.
    5) Off season acquisitions with an eye towards defense: Price, Brown, and Morris. Put those 3 on the court with Hill/Chilly and Gortat/Lopez (if the C’s are indeed better) and we’ll have a good defensive team.

    The suns won’t be Chicago or the Heat- but at least middle range overall with the entire team. And as long as we are in the top 6 or so offensively still, we’ll be fine.

  • sun-arc

    jeez- sorry. more than 2 issues. More like 5.

  • Zak

    I remember watching ET play in Denver back in the 80′s and, if he can teach defense as well as he played it, the Suns made a good move by hiring him as DC. I doubt he will be able to work miracles in Phoenix but I believe that he can make a difference in the defense this year. He’s a good coach and will hopefully get his shot at a head coaching position one day.

  • Zak

    Good news about Warrick, Scott. He’s just too light to play the 4 except as a backup in the NBA. With at least a reasonable perimeter game, opposing 3′s won’t be able to back off him and dare him to drive every time he gets the ball outside.

  • Ateeth

    Hey guys, this is somewhat irrelevant but is there any way I can watch the Suns-Nuggets game tonight w/o going to the game? I know it isn’t going to be aired. Will there be any stream anywhere or is 620 KTAR going to be commentating on the radio? Or at the least, will there be a play by play on Thanks for the time guys!

  • Scott

    It’s a good thing the Suns have been practicing their defense, because the score at halftime is 49-63. Nash leads the Suns with 11 pts.

    And, yeah, that’s the Nuggets at 63.

    Childress watchers would note that in 13 minutes he has scored no points and made one assist.

    Warrick has a +/- of -10.