Preview: Phoenix Suns (4-8) at Chicago Bulls (12-3)

Chicago Bulls 118, Phoenix Suns 97



The Phoenix Suns, losers of their last four contests after pulling to .500 on the season, will have their star point guard tonight against the Chicago Bulls. Whether or not Steve Nash will be matched up against the reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, is still up in the air.

Rose will miss the game to rest his sore left big toe, though the Bulls could hardly be faulted for resting the key to their offense against a Suns team that’s struggling to do much well on the court recently. Phoenix started the season as a seemingly improved defensive team, but 12 games into the season the Suns have regressed significantly, falling back to 22nd in defensive efficiency, according to Basketball-Reference. Combined with a glacially slow pace (at least relative to what Phoenix is used to) and an offense that’s far removed from the Seven Seconds or Less-era — currently 12th in offensive efficiency — these are a new breed of Suns.

Though much has changed in the Valley, some things remain the same. Phoenix is struggling to keep opponents off the glass; the difference between their offensive rebound rate and their opponents’ is -5.03, meaning the Suns are grabbing very few of their own misses while allowing the opposition to dominate the glass when the Suns are on defense. That’s a recipe for disaster; not securing offensive rebounds is one thing, as it can be a result of a team trying to get back on defense. But allowing teams a second chance at the basket on almost 30 percent of their possessions puts added pressure on the Phoenix defense, and the Suns can’t handle that additional load as they still struggle to learn the intricacies of assistant coach Elston Turner’s defensive system and how the parts fit into a cohesive unit.

Another major issue so far for the Suns is their inability to put the ball in the basket. They’re right at league average on field goal percentage; their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account the added value of 3-pointers, is slightly better, owing to the fact that Phoenix is eighth in number of attempts from downtown per game, even with their slow pace. That’s only a positive to a certain extent, however; the Suns are 18th in 3-point shooting percentage. Grant Hill, suffering from a sore right quadriceps tendon that he says is likely related to his offseason knee surgery, is 1-for-14 on the year from deep. Channing Frye, one of the better shooters on the team in years past, has seen his effectiveness from range drop significantly as well; were it not for rookie Markieff Morris hitting on higher than half of his 2.6 3-point attempts per game, these Suns might be in an even worse place than they already are.

And make no mistake, Phoenix is in trouble. They were unable to take advantage of games against Cleveland and New Jersey last week and now find themselves staring down the barrel of a fairly intimidating stretch of schedule. The Suns play their next four games on the road, and their slate for the rest of the month is built on teams likely to make the playoffs at worst. Only a matchup against an improved Toronto Raptors team offers much respite until February rolls around and the schedule lightens up slightly.

As for these Bulls, they continue to hang their hat on their defense, holding opponents to the third lowest effective FG% in the league. They give up a high percentage at the rim and from three, but they do a fantastic job of funneling teams to the middle of the court for less accurate long-range 2s and avoiding sending teams to the line (they have the lowest opponent free throw rate, a measure of free throw attempts per field goal attempt). Chicago is also poised to take advantage of Phoenix’s rebounding woes, as the Bulls lead the league in offensive rebounding rate; they snag almost one-third of their own misses.

If there’s a weakness to these Bulls, other than their offense when Rose is forced to sit, it’s the possibility for fatigue. Chicago is tied with the Lakers for most games played so far at 15, and their starting small forward, Luol Deng, averages almost 40 minutes per game. Deng took on a similar workload last year, but there was, of course, more rest between each game. Coming off a game on Monday in which he played a hair under 39 minutes, the Suns better hope that Deng, a lockdown defender on the perimeter, is feeling the effects of weary legs already.

On the bright side for the Suns, look for Marcin Gortat to have another solid outing. Joakim Noah has struggled this season on both ends of the court, and Carlos Boozer is one of the worst interior defenders in the league, per mySynergySports. Noah’s woes have extended to the point that Omer Asik is getting many of the crunch time minutes at center. Phoenix will need Gortat to be at his thunderous best, even if Rose sits; Chicago’s defense is simply too good at forcing teams out of their comfort zones on the perimeter for the Suns to fall back on their outside shooting and hope that their shots start falling.

  • Mel.

    … it’s weird (and definitely naive) to suggest that I’ve got an expectation towards a potential upset in this game than the ones coming up, but only if Rose does the smart thing and continues to sit out.

    Not like the Bulls need him to run the floor in corralling the boys, but the Bulls are a touch sketchy without him dominating their flow. If that isn’t something that the Suns can exploit, uh…

    I’ll stop there. No need to project potential upsides until we actually see which version of the team shows up for tonight’s game.

  • Scott

    If the Suns have rebounded poorly for the past umpteen seasons – which is the case – then what is the excuse? It’s got to be something systemic.

    They tend to forget to box out, and even when they have size on the roster, the coach doesn’t put it on the floor.

    Also, once a Suns shot goes up, instead of a team effort at rebounding it seems most of the time everyone runs back to set the defense. They don’t get the rebound and they don’t defend for the length of the court.

    It’s got to be that the coach is telling players to get back, because he’s more concerned about denying fast break points than playing solid defense. The Suns need to stop that. Even if Nash just jogs back with the opposing PG, that would be more disruptive than letting the opposing PG survey and order the court for the next few seconds.

    Part of what made the Suns’ 2nd unit so successful a few years back was that they A) not only had an aggressive, athletic designated rebounder (Lou), who was often aided by 2 or 3 other team members (usually Dudley and a guard), but B) they would play defense full court. They would regularly slow or stop the ball. They would bump into their man. They would aim for deflections and steals. The opposing team would then often be rushed into taking a bad shot, and then it was off to the races.

    Is Gentry essentially calling off first unit defense to preserve Nash’s energy? If so, why not have him – and the rest of the first unit – play harder, and then put in the 2nd unit earlier? That seems like a better solution than letting the first unit conserve their energy by not playing defense full court.

  • http://h Sun-arc

    Oh Scott- you just make too much sense.

    Actually, I think the team has a lot of scorers (Frye) And few rebounders (Gortat). I saw 3 suns defenders under the rim and the ball still end up in an opponents SF’s hands below them (Walton with the LAL). Only grant and Nash were running back. It wasn’t pretty.

    I also think some of it is the suns’ mentality of SSOL where rebounding wasn’t important, or just left up to Marion, Shaquille, amare (?), or no one. I think some of that seems left with Nash, dudz, and frye. Not sure, but feels that way.

    And I am so with you on the play hard and get the bench in more often. They should just get used to that system to be more effective. They need something, some kind of change, and soon.

    Or maybe better players?

    This game is a long shot. Again. But I’ll watch and hope as usual.

  • shazam

    whats the world coming to?…i agree with sun arc today

  • shazam

    yikes sorry SUN ARC .. i almost always agree w/ you…i was thinking of some one else.. just ignore me (its easy to do)

  • fan in chi-town

    I’m on my way to the game. I really hope they put forth a little effort tonight so I can actually have an intelligent basketball conversation tomorrow instead of putting my tail between my legs at work. The weather sucks but maybe I can get an early start home at about the 6 minute mark of the 4th quarter since I know we won’t be scoring after that.

  • Mel.

    ^LOL. Godspeed, dude. Braving the elements to see the Suns play in Chicago? That’s doing the Lord’s work, no kiddin’.

  • shawn

    Mel I love reading ur comments and much love to fan in Chi town be safe bro.

  • Big Daddy

    Terrible. Although we shot the ball extremely well tonight, the soft defense of the suns was severely exposed. Carlos Boozer scoring 30? shooting at 75%? TJ watson hitting every shot?..In order for this team to keep it’s playoff hopes alive, things need to change NOW.

  • Jerke

    3rd quarter over and I don’t know what to say. This team shouldn’t be this bad. I mean they should be upgraded over last year, they seem to have half decent people at every position (no stars except nash of course) but should be able to be in every single game. Even the bench at first glance looks like it should be alright. This should be a .500 team at the very least. If it was a young team you could handle losing and learning – but this mix just does not work for whatever reason.

    I’m from BC and have been following Nash since he was in Gr 11 and lighting it up in highschool and I’ve been a Suns fan ever since he was drafted – but i hate to say it – Suns need to cut him and Grant hill loose, and call it a day. This is a waste of Nash. I understand him not wanting to move on especially with his kids etc… The reality is Suns aren’t going to get anything for him now – he’s too old and is unrestricted in June and would only play for a contender that would have limited options to send back. Best course of action would be to send Nash to a contender on a rental for 4 months – then in June he can come back if this is where he really wants to be.

  • shazam

    ive already said everything i can think of on other posts except for FIRE THE GORILLA

  • Rolling Eyes

    Hours of analysis, statistic crunching, justification and rhetoric…….can’t alleviate this mess. I’m afraid that it is going to get much worse.

  • shawn

    I can’t watch this garbage anymore ill just read about the losses on this site from now on.

  • Jerke

    ESPN trade machine will be back next week updated w new cba – time to put it to use.

  • Tony

    Well, this should be no surprise when you have a team with two legitimate starters in Nash and Gortat, followed by the rest being role players. And signing Michael Redd was just another stupid move by the most incompetent front office in the NBA. The guy can barely move, what were they thinking signing him? He freaking limps when he runs! Did the amazing Suns training staff not see that?!


    you don’t use full court pressure most of the game. It’s like a zone, you use it too much and it becomes easy to figure out. The lack of rebounding is because this team has never had two front court players who can rebound playing together. Amare was a poor rebounder with the Suns but did improve when a healthier Lopez came into the fold. Now, the Suns have to deal with Frye and he is one of the worst rebounders in the league for his position. Gortat’s the only good rebounder on this team.
    If you remember back in the 2010 WCFs run, the Suns had their wings, especially J-Rich, provide help rebounding. I think they called it an emphasis on team rebounding instead of just the frontcourt.

    Suns fans,

    we should not be surprised by how badly the Suns were beat. This team does not have any talent outside of Nash and Gortat and potentially Morris. Make no mistake about it, tonight’s loss was not just a fluke, this is going to continue happening often.

  • fan in chi-town

    If you all thought that was pathetic on TV you should have actually been there. The entire team looked disinterested and disengaged. Don’t let Nash’s stat line fool you, he was no different. They were all going through the motions from the opening tip, as evidenced by the final score from a Rose-less bulls team

  • Scott

    @Sun-arc -

    I remember the play you’re talking about. That was just LAL hustling more despite being ahead and the Suns playing flatfooted. Sometimes that will happen, that a player will sneak up like that; I wouldn’t read too much into it. However, for years I’ve seen the Suns rush en masse down the court on D when the opposing team hadn’t even secured the rebound yet, and I wonder why they appear to give up so easily.

    Possibly it is a remnant of “7 secs or less,” where they just wanted the opposition to hurry up and run their offensive set, so the Suns could get the rebound or take the ball out of the basket and run down the court. The expectation being that since the Suns had superior firepower that in a rapid offensive shootout they’d always win. Well, if so, the Suns need to acknowledge that their shooting percentage is way down, and so is their speed, and they’re not going to win games that way.

    However, that’s not all that’s wrong. Watching the Dallas game a couple weeks go … it bothered me from the outset that the Suns were moving slow, accepting a half-court offense, not going inside, and on defense they would kind of shuffle to a point somewhere near their Dallas counterpart … almost like they didn’t want to invade their space or get in the way of an important shot. I don’t think I saw any Suns player bump someone till maybe the end of the 3rd quarter.

    Now I’m not advocating some sort of rough, smashmouth basketball. I just mean that as the opposing team tries to set up their offense the Suns should contest the space a little bit. Get in their way. Make it a little more difficult. Maybe even break the play. Right now it looks to me like opposing teams just move on down the court into their positions and execute their play, and the defense of the Suns seems to be mainly “stay between the ball-handler and the net, and when he shoots put a hand up.” Which ends up with the other team scoring a lot, because they seem to be able to get wherever they want at will, and take whatever shot they want.

    As for the positives, I was pleased to see Price run the pick and roll in the Nets game with Gortat. It was only a few times, I guess, but it had me hoping someone might try to use Robin in an effective way on offense, because Robin can run the pick and roll too. So I was gratified to see Price run a couple of pick and roll plays with Lopez, and it looked to me like it woke Lopez up and encouraged him.

    I think a lot of players, when they don’t get the ball and they seem isolated from the rest of the team … they just check out. Well, it was nice to see Lopez check in for a bit this game. We know he’s capable of some offense; he once scored 30 against the Lakers.

    Which brings me back to a favorite topic this year: play Lopez and Gortat together. I know you’ve heard me say this before. But if the Bulls can beat the snot out of the Suns by playing Boozer and Hair-Bun-Guy (Noah), then surely the Suns can get somewhere playing the possibly combination of Gortat and Fropez? (At least the Suns compare on hair.)

    BTW, Noah and Boozer were +24 each, and despite scoring and assisting, Nash was -26 on the ol’ +/- scale. The two best Suns players? Price at +5 and Lopez at -2.

    Price plays full court defense and Lopez was fouled twice, going 4 of 4 from the line. (Gortat was 4-5 from the line, but note that he played nearly twice as many minutes as Lopez.)

    I also would have liked to have seen the spectacle of Gortat vs Boozer and Lopez vs Noah. (Or at least I *think* I would have liked to have seen it. lol)

  • GoSuns

    Scott I kinda agree but I rather that be situational and used sparingly, if morris is gonna learn on the job like gentry said then he needs more mins and with frye’s inconsistent play I think morris should start along side gortat, brown doesnt ever need to shoot outside 20ft however let him start and split mins with dudz, hak needs more touches, redd prolly needs some more time for conditioning so throw jchill in there for some d and energy, im not saying were gonna be out this mess anytime soon but weve got pieces to compete, they just lack the will to fight

  • shawn

    The phx mercury are tougher than this pathetic team. Frye is 7ft of wasted space. Lopez can’t seem to stand upright. Brown has yet to meet a shot he doesn’t like. Hill is good for a bucket every other quarter. Dudley is slow as a snail. Warrick is a VSF(very small forward). Price is a rental. Telfair is a rental. Our other other backup is in China. The Guy who should be the backup is in Houston. But I’m sure there is a bright spot somewhere….gortat,Morris,nash!!! OK I feel better now sorry for the rant

  • Cam

    I didn’t get to watch the game but Fropez’s stat line looked decent. Was that because he played well in general or just during garbage time against the Bull’s scrubs? Go Suns.

  • Scott

    @Cam -

    I’d say … both.