For the Phoenix Suns to reach their defensive potential, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton need to have better focus, awareness, and effort.
Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are both great basketball players. They’re both good bets to become perennial All-Stars in the near future, and they’ll hopefully be the reason the Phoenix Suns will soon escape the bottom of the West and finally find themselves at the very top.
But if that’s ever going to happen, both players have to pick up their effort. Making sure a team plays hard is often used as a reason to sign veterans like Trevor Ariza. In actuality, though, a team’s effort as a whole generally reflects the effort of their best players, no matter how young they are.
And right now, this whole Suns team is displaying a disappointing amount of effort, including (and beginning with) Booker and Ayton. Both players are putting up nice numbers offensively, and there’s absolutely no question the team is significantly better with each of them on the floor. But they are confused defensively an unacceptably high percentage of the time.
Defense is a skill that not everyone has. Even though Ayton and Booker have the athleticism and length required to be great defenders, they might never be above average defensively. And that’s fine. But there’s just no excuse for constantly letting your man slip behind you, as both players have done too often. That’s not even about the new system, that’s about staying engaged.
Compounding on that is the fact that defensive effort is even worse from their replacements, as Jamal Crawford and Tyson Chandler have approached their reserve roles with little intensity whatsoever. And this lack of effort and focus from stars and veterans is contagious. The lead-by-example guys are setting a poor example on the court.
Crawford and Chandler are who they are at this point, and there’s no reason to have them on the floor. But when it comes to Booker and Ayton, they can absolutely improve their defensive effort. It’s partly coaching, partly accountability, and partly just caring about keeping the other team from scoring.
The team’s overall defensive improvement will be interesting to track as the year goes on, and it will closely reflect the attitudes on the team’s stars. After years of tanking, no one wants to see a lack of effort be the difference between the Phoenix Suns winning titles and getting stuck in NBA purgatory.