The Phoenix Suns, just like most teams in the league, pay a fair amount of attention to all kinds of statistical data. And, just like most teams in the league, they have their favorites. It’s safe to say that three-point field goal defensive statistics are not one of them.
Before Friday night’s win over the Trail Blazers, it was pointed out to Suns head coach Alvin Gentry that Portland was among the league’s best at defending the three-point shot — an area where the Suns have struggled mightily so far this season, despite taking a high number of attempts from distance. So, the question was this: Would Phoenix try to do anything differently in that area given Portland’s defensive success?
Not exactly. And Gentry was completely dismissive of the statistic while giving his response.
“I don’t buy into that,” Gentry said of a given team’s supposedly strong defensive numbers against the three-point shot. “I think that’s the worst stat in the NBA, defending the three. I think teams either shoot it well against you or they don’t. You know, most of the three-point shots that are taken are open shots; people are usually not forcing three-point shots.”
For the record, the Suns haven’t faced Kobe Bryant and the Lakers yet this season, but you get the idea.
“Maybe they close out better or they do a good job of running you off, I don’t know,” Gentry said. “It’s just not a stat I think is relevant at all, I really don’t.”
Now, Gentry’s comment on this particular stat isn’t at all indicative of the way his team approaches statistical data in general. Phoenix considers publicly available information like defensive field goal percentage allowed valuable, and went so far as to place boards in the locker room last season which tracked those numbers league-wide for his players to see on a daily basis.
This year, Gentry and new assistant coach Elston Turner have talked about the difference between dead-ball and live-ball turnovers, and the importance of making sure his team is making a conscious effort to cut down on the latter. And, the team tracks its own internal numbers in a variety of areas to provide data to back up the coaching staff’s chosen points of emphasis.
The three-point defensive statistic, however, is not one of them.
It’s easy to see why Portland currently leads the league in defensive three-point field goal percentage allowed at .254. They have a seemingly endless number of long, athletic guys who, by merely getting a hand up in the vicinity of a long-range shooter, would seemingly be able to alter that shot.
But looking at the teams that rank third and fourth in the same category — Milwaukee and Sacramento respectively, who combined have just 5 wins in 14 games on the season — it becomes a little bit murkier to see the correlation.
In case you were wondering, Gentry isn’t simply being a “hater” here. Phoenix is better than average in this regard, currently sitting at eighth in the league by holding teams to a .299 shooting percentage from behind the three-point arc.
We’re early in the season, and still in the area of extremely small sample size when trying to measure the validity of certain statistical information. What is clear, though, is that the Suns won’t be altering their approach based on another team’s statistical success in defending the long-range shot.
In fact, Gentry was so cavalier in discussing the topic that he jokingly equated it to the statistical data surrounding the “defense” of an opponent’s free throw attempts.
“I think teams shot worse against us from the foul line last year; I think we were in the top five,” Gentry said. “I don’t know that we did a whole lot to defend the free throw line.”