One thing that really bothered me in the first half of the NBA season was how wrong I was about the Phoenix Suns. Chris Paul and his team went into the All-Star break with a 24-11 record and a defense that was allowing only 108.2 points per 100 possessions. Opponents were shooting just 45.8% from the floor and 34.8% from 3-point range. Was Phoenix really this good defensively? I projected the Suns to have an average to below-average defense, but they were playing as one of the best in the league. However, since the All-Star break, the Suns have been a different team on defense — a worse team on defense. Over the last 34 games, Phoenix ranked 21st in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to score 112.5 points per 100 possessions. In non-garbage-time minutes, tracked by Cleaning The Glass, the Suns were 18th with a 113.3 defensive rating. So what changed?
Three things stick out when you analyze their numbers from the first half to the second. The first is rim defense. In the first half of the season, Phoenix allowed opponents to take just 33.3% of their attempts within 4 feet of the hoop, and they shot 63.7% on those attempts. In the second half, opponents were not getting to the rim any more than they were in the first half, but they were finishing at a 67.3% clip, much higher than what the Suns had allowed in the previous 35 games. There is no way to measure the quality of each rim attempt, but a universe exists in which they allow the same frequency of attempts at the rim, just of better quality for the opposition. Regardless, that needs to improve if a team like the Lakers is going to meet them in the first round.