With Elston Turner out of the running for the head coaching job in Portland, the Suns will at least have some tactical continuity to throw at another revamped roster.
Turner, who was given a rousing endorsement for the Trail Blazers' gig from Suns coach Alvin Gentry in a recent interview with the Oregonian, is credited with elevating the team's defensive focus during his first season as an assistant in Phoenix. But the upgrades were modest.
While the Suns were quite pleased with an improvement in points allowed (98.6, down from 105.9 the previous season), it should be noted that post-lockout scoring dipped throughout the league. The more telling statistic is defensive efficiency, a per-possession number that saw the Suns trim almost four points from the 2010-11 campaign but moving only one spot in the league rankings, going to a hardly-stingy 25th from 24th.
The Suns actually were worse -- relative to the competition -- in giving up points in the paint, slipping to 24th from 22nd, while their ability to force turnovers fell to 21st from 16th.
That last category may reflect Turner's philosophy of attempting to pack the paint (the popular "build a wall" model) rather than pressure the ball or passing lanes. In discussing his theory prior to last season, the veteran coach also explained that blitzing ball screens and doubling the post -- getting into immediate rotate-and-recover mode -- is something he prefers to avoid.
But while the defense must operate without veteran Grant Hill, who's now working for the Clippers, the Suns could benefit from having Goran Dragic -- along with defensive-minded sub Sebastian Telfair -- as the first line of obstruction. With Dragic defending the point, Phoenix figures to be capable of putting more pressure on the ball and allowing less dribble penetration.
Yeah, that's something of a shot at the departed Steve Nash, who didn't exactly enable the Suns to get very creative with perimeter defense -- if Turner (or Gentry) even had any interest in bending his own philosophy. It also should be pointed out that during his last season in Phoenix, Nash took on more defensive responsibility while guarding the ball and ratcheted up the intensity to match his usually sound awareness in help situations.
Newcomer Wesley Johnson could provide some defensive help on the wings depending on which players the Suns choose to have him cover. Unfortunately, front-court newbies Michael Beasley and Luis Scola have histories that hardly scream "stopper."
But during his introductory press conference, Beasley sort of promised to be much better.
THE PRESS MEETS CHARLOTTE?
With the Bobcats checking in last in the league in defensive efficiency last season, new coach Mike Dunlap shouldn't apologize for attempting any strategic alteration.
Based on the Bobcats' spin through the Las Vegas Summer League, the alterations could include full-court pressure. With rookie wings Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffrey Taylor joining second-year point guard Kemba Walker in the summer lineup, Dunlap -- who coached from the bench instead of putting that chore on an assistant -- tried speeding up the game to generate easy offense.
And it worked ... in the summer. With MKG and Taylor using their length, speed and quickness to trap and rotate, Charlotte broke out a zone press it used for most of the Vegas session.
It should be noted the Bobcats also were 30th in offensive efficiency last season, so attempting manipulate the shot clock to avoid half-court situations and take advantage of their strengths (youth, speed, etc.) is pretty wise.
We also should point out that Dunlap, a hoops lifer whose varied coaching odyssey has included an interlude as a University of Arizona assistant, is highly respected among coaches at all levels.
"But running a full-court press has been tried before," an assistant coach employed by another Eastern Conference team said. "(Rick) Pitino tried it in New York.
"I do understand what he (Dunlap) is trying to do ... if he does, in fact, use the press during the regular season. And it makes sense for a team that was terrible on both ends of the floor. With the guys they have, if they play hard, they could at least make you take time preparing for the pressure. But it's something that really can be physically taxing.
"Besides, if you're not really, really good at it, NBA players are so great with the ball that they'll really make you pay."
If the Bobcats do press, it'll be interesting to watch.
EARLY 2013 DRAFT RETURNS
The Adidas Nations tournament -- heading toward the finish line in Long Beach, Calif. -- features four teams made up of some of the best high school players in the country and another four international teams comprised of players of similar age. One of the U.S. teams is being coached by current Suns TV color analyst Eddie Johnson.
But when the high schoolers step aside, NBA scouts turn their attention to the scrimmages starring tournament "counselors."
Most of these helpful young hotshots are highly regarded prospects on the verge of enrolling in college or collegiate players with a season or two under their belts. The most ballyhooed is University of Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel, a defensive-oriented kid who's considered a candidate for an early spot in next year's draft lottery -- but not the second coming of Anthony Davis.
At least that's not how one NBA general manager sees it.
"I'm not that high on him," the insider said after watching Noel run with the other prospects. "He can block shots, but I don't put him in the class of Davis. And on offense, what can he do? While Davis was sort of restricted for most of his season at Kentucky, you could see the level of skill. I don't see that with Noel ... at least not yet."