BROOKLYN -- It's not often you hear a professional athlete speak so openly about his own deficiencies, but after 10 years in the NBA, Amar'e Stoudemire came clean about his lack of defensive prowess. No, he wasn't so quick to admit that he lacked effort or talent, but he placed the blame on the coaching staff who he felt was responsible for his actions, or better yet, his inaction.
A few weeks back, Stoudemire spoke candidly, saying that in his first 10 seasons in the NBA -- eight of which he spent with then-head coach Mike D'Antoni (six seasons in Phoenix, two seasons in New York) -- he was "never taught defense." No, not once. Well, at least not until he started to play for his current coach, Mike Woodson.
Stoudemire, who has long worn the tags of gifted offensive player, super athlete and deficient defender, just doesn't believe that D'Antoni -- or Frank Johnson, Terry Porter and Alvin Gentry -- did him any favors. He has said this before, but the revelation still dominated the news cycle for at least a little while.
"You know, I wasn't there when he was with (Mike) D'Antoni," he said, "so I can't comment on the D'Antoni situation, but Terry Porter did a little bit of the defense, and I thought Alvin (Gentry) did a good job with the defense."
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In Stoudemire's rookie season, 2002, the Suns we're 11th in the NBA in Defensive Rating, under head coach Frank Johnson. The following year, they dropped to 24th in the league, with Mike D'Antoni taking over the team after Johnson and the Suns got off to a 8-13 start.
From there, the Suns never finished better than 13th in the NBA in Defensive Rating, but also never finished any worse than 18th under D'Antoni. Then, in Stoudemire's final two seasons in Phoenix, under coaches Terry Porter and Alvin Gentry, the team finished 26th and 23rd in Defensive Rating, respectively.
Dudley said that there were attempts, in fact, to run the defense in deference to Stoudemire's skill-set.
"We tried to put zone in for Amar'e sometimes," he noted, "but Amar'e came out of high school, he probably played AAU ball where defense wasn't really emphasized -- but for the most part people know to force your man baseline, to box out." The fundamentals, he pointed out.
He went on to explain, "See, he was so gifted offensively that people, I think, they didn't pay attention to detail defensively for him because his offense out-shined his defense so much that people said, 'Hey, it doesn't matter.'"
"But now," Dudley continued, "when you're trying to win a championship that's when it matters."
Boris Diaw, who spent three-and-a-half seasons in Phoenix alongside Stoudemire, hadn't heard the quote in question, but did say that he felt the Suns teams he played for, under D'Antoni, weren't as bad defensively as some would have you believe.
"(I)n Phoenix, we looked from one season to another how to improve and how to get better, "he said, before adding, "We actually were in the top 10 in points-per-possession (defensively)."
"The only thing is, a lot of teams were scoring 100 points because we were scoring 110," Diaw noted. "So it was a really, really high-tempo game and there were more possessions than any other game and any other team. So, yeah, when you have 80 or 90 possessions per game you're going to have a lot of points. But if you look at points per possession (defensively) I think we were in the top 10."
Maybe not the Top 10, but, as noted, they were in the middle of the pack in terms of points per possession under D'Antoni.
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Today, the Suns are currently 26th in Defensive Rating, and 24th in the league in points allowed. You could argue, however, that the Suns defensive woes this season are less a product of an ineffective defensive system and more a factor of player personnel.
That's not to say the Suns don't stress team defense regularly, as Dudley pointed out, and naturally coach Alvin Gentry makes sure to echo that sentiment.
Gentry notes the need for better effort on defense, stressing improvement in the team's struggles with "live turnovers," which turn into fastbreak points, and that they are giving up too many offensive rebounds, leading to second-chance points.
"Those two factors really send our defensive field-goal percentage up," Gentry noted before following up with what the Suns really struggle with, outside of effort, which is dribble penetration.
"We have to do a much better job than we have, having the perimeters break us down," he said.
Point being, there's never not been, according to Gentry, a time when they didn't stress defense -- the Stoudemire years or otherwise.
P.J. Tucker, who's in his first full season with the Suns, obviously wasn't in Phoenix with Stoudemire, but noted that the team, in 2011, took it upon themselves to try and improve on their woeful team defense.
"We've got Elston [Turner]," Tucker said. "That's our defensive guy."
Turner, who coached the Sacramento Kings to a league-best in defensive field goal percentage in 2003-04, and then went on to coach the 2007-08 and 2008-09 Houston Rockets to second and third in team defense, respectively, is known as one of the top defensive minds in the NBA.
The process in becoming a top-tier defensive team, Turner pointed out back in 2011, is going to be a long and bumpy road. Developing a team chemistry on defense was his first priority, one that with some time and effort, as Dudley pointed out, is achievable.
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So it's not as if the Suns aren't making attempts to stress team defense. And according to Gentry, that's always been the case.
When I asked Coach Gentry about Stoudemire's comment, he took a beat, and said, "I think it was an interesting comment."
With a slight smirk, he went silent.
Asked again, Gentry responded, "We'll leave it at that."
Matthew Tynan contributed reporting from San Antonio.