A year ago, the weakness of the rebounding Phoenix Suns became even more apparent when they lost the second best player in the rebellion, Dario Sarek (a ruptured ACL) that ultimately cost them a championship against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Milwaukee settled against the Suns in the last three games of that series, capturing 78% of all available defensive panels (the Suns misses). Worse, however, they snatched 34% of all available offensive boards (their own mistakes) – resulting in them receiving 15 points per game on “second chance” opportunities. Great contrast, and a fight for the Suns team who hit the ball well but not good enough.
Focusing on the last three clutch games, the Suns put in much better shot numbers (50% FG, 38% 3P compared to 47% FG, 28% 3P) but the Bucks won because they got key turnovers for live ball (15.7 fast break points per game) , overcame the Suns for their errors (15.0 second-chance points per game) and lived perfectly at the free-throw line (19.3 free-throw points per game).
The difference in these three areas added nearly 20 points per game, which contributed significantly to the +5.8 average scoring margin in those games.
The Suns clearly wanted to support those areas this season in the event of a rematch, or if another team tries to recreate the Bucks’ winning formula to smash the plates on both ends.
During this all-time best regular season in 2021-22, Suns has definitely improved. They improved their attack (9th to 3rd), improved their defense (sixth to 2nd) and even (somehow) improved their grip. They have the best home record in the league, record on the road, paw record and record against playoff teams. They are ready for another deep tour.
However, some weaknesses from the finals still exist.
In the wake of Dario’s injury, the Suns added more pure bouncing depth to the support position this year with JaVale McGee. Then when Frank Kaminsky fell, they added Bismack Piombo. Both positions should be able to help the Suns survive the non-Aton minutes against a team with Milwaukee’s ill intentions.
However, the Suns still have the same set of attackers as they did a year ago at Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Torrey Craig. The Suns only play one big one at a time, so these guys are key to winning the bounce battle but none of them are great at the bouncing thing.
- Jay Crowder – Defensive Rebound Rate 17.7%
- Tori Craig 17.3%
- Cameron Johnson – 13.7%
- Michal Bridges 9.9%
Cam Johnson is fifth among the Suns regulars in defensive rebound percentage, and he will finish fourth on a night that Toure isn’t into the game.
In comparison, the Memphis Grizzlies – the most likely opponent for the Conference Finals in the Suns – are the top rebounders in the league and have 9 league players with a defensive rebound rate of 13.5 or higher.
The Bucks – the most likely winner in the East – are the second best rebounders in the league and have 6 league players with a defensive rebound rate of 13.5 or higher.
When Suns lose games, they are killed on boards. They’re actually No. 11 overall in rebounds per game this year (45.2 per game) and average 0.7 more boards than their opponents this season, but the losses have been massive: They’ve been passed on 16 of 17 losses and overpowered. An average of 8 boards per game.
Memphis and Milwaukee, you wondering? The Suns are facing 2-3 against them this season (1-2 against the Grizz, 1-1 against the Bucks), and 9 boards have been crossed per game!
The Suns have diversified their offensive line this year, taking more shots from Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson. This reduces the chance of an opposing defense dominating the Suns’ attack by rallying Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Cameron Payne. And they have improved their overall defense this year.
But the recovery remains a question mark against the likes of the rebounding crowd Grizzlies and Bucks. Just below the “horror” list, the Jazz Warriors are both better than the Suns at rebounding this year, too.
He’ll take a village, folks. This is an area to watch, if you’re worried about the Suns winning their first NBA Championship.