I watch most of the game last night between the Phoenix Suns and the Atlanta Hawks and I was both impressed and disappointed by the Suns. On the one hand, I thought they did some great things on defense and offense, especially in the first half against the upstart Hawks. But then in the second and fourth quarters, they lost their focus and let the Hawks back in the game.

To focus on the positives, I thought the Suns are really becoming a great defensive team. For one thing, they're no longer running the 2-3 zone they used to run last year a lot (at least I haven't seen it this year in the few games I've watched). They're fundamentally a M2M team but what they do is have Shaq do most of the help defense down low. In a way, you could say he's zoned up. This allows the defender 1 pass away to stay on his check, and when the offense reverses the ball, they rotate. Take a look,

Cutters through the lane:

With Shaq basically permanently in the lane. He can help on cutters through the lane. what this does is basically disuade the pass from going to the cutter. There isn't much point to pass it to the cutter, now that Shaq is there.

The rest of the defense shifts slightly to cover the gaps. In the clip you can actually see Steve Nash directing the defense as to where to go to cover the gaps,

Defending the PNR:

The biggest knock on the Suns during the playoffs last year was their inability to defend the PNR of the Spurs. Specifically, it was the liability of Shaq on defending the PNR. The problem in that series is that they were bringing Shaq up top to switch or hedge on the ball-screen, then recover on the roll. As we all know, Shaq isn't quite so nimble on his feet anymore (you could say he never was).

What the Suns do now, is basically Shaq doesn't leave the lane. The PNR is run, Shaq stays in the lane. The primary ball defender is taught to slip over top of the screen so as to prevent the ball-screen 3-pointer, and encourage the drive to the basket. In doing so, Shaq is basically sitting there waiting for the drive to come right at him, where the chances of scoring are all of a sudden lower. The added benefit is that in a spread offense, as you can see below, X3 doesn't have to help, stays on his man the whole time,

Well, nothing is perfect, neither is this tactic. What the Suns give up is the mid-range. If O1 comes off the ball-screen, he can stop on a dime and shoot the wide open pull-up 15 foot jumper. Also, a quicker clever guard like a Chris Paul can and will get fouls called on Shaq trying to block the drive.


Even with the pitfalls stated above, I still think that what the Suns doing is a good strategy. Going back to Miami's Championship run a while back, Shaq basically did the same thing. Offensively, the Suns are much improved with Jason Richardson, and in this game Shaq had a huge game. Combine the two, then I think the Suns should be considered a legitimate top 5 team.

As for the Hawks, they're a young team with a lot of athleticism and they've improved a lot since last year. They don't turn the ball over quite as much as you would think for an inexperienced team. They're the "ya never know" team. They might just beat a Boston, Cleveland, or Orlando in the playoffs.

Some great new videos just got released the other day. If you're looking for more defense info, then check out Sean Miller's new DVD on Dominating Man-to-Man Defense. Coach Miller is the head coach of Xavier who creates a fantastic newsletter, you can sign up for it here. To discuss this and many more of your favorite basketball topics, head over to the X's and O's of Basketball Forum to talk with other coaches from around the world.