New era Suns face offense problems

Christian Peterson/Getty Images/ZimbioThe Suns have long been associated with the "Seven Seconds or Less" offense that Mike D'Antoni brought in when he was hired as head coach. That has become synonymous with the Suns.

Since D'Antoni was let go, there have been several coaches trying to bring a different tact and add a little defense to the team to get them over the top. It worked to some extent in 2010 when the Suns reached the Western Conference Finals in a strange renaissance for Steve Nash and Jason Richardson and a final hurrah for Amar'e Stoudemire in the Valley of the Sun.

As the pieces of those glory days in the Suns have moved on, however, the Suns have gotten serious about playing defense. Steve Nash decided to leave Phoenix, feeling a rebuild was coming and Alvin Gentry was determined to build a team based more on defense with the pieces he had remaining. He was clearly the key to the offense.

Now Phoenix is somewhere new — figuring out how to score once again.

Still reputation preceded the Suns and it is a bit weird seeing Phoenix sitting at 15th in the league in offensive rating at 101.5 points per 100 possessions. In the early part of the season, defense became the Suns' calling card.

"Pretty ironic isn’t it?" Suns coach Alvin Gentry said at the beginning of the season when it looked like Phoenix's defense was well ahead of its offense. "We’re just in a whole new era of Suns basketball. We’re not the run and gun, seven seconds or less or whatever you want to call it. It’s just a reputation that we have. I still say that we will be a good team offensively."

Gentry has that confidence the Suns will turn it around offensively. But it is tough to gauge based on the results. Defense still needs to be the linchpin for the team to return to its contending ways.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images/ZimbioThe Suns defense has slipped as the season wore on. Phoenix is 27th in the league according to HoopData in defensive efficiency, giving up 106.2 points per 100 possessions. Perhaps that is to be expected from a team that is 12-25 and trying to establish a new identity with Goran Dragic replacing Steve Nash at point guard and a mish-mash of a roster featuring Marcin Gortat, Luis Scola and Michael Beasley among its many offensive weapons.

Except for Gortat, none are known for defensive prowess and his defense has waned in Phoenix's system as opposed to the demanding Stan Van Gundy in Orlando.

And that takes you back to the offense which has been hot and (mostly) cold all season for Phoenix. 

This past week, as Kris Habbas of Bright Side of the Sun notes, Phoenix posted 0.96 points per possession and the team is on pace for its worst offensive season in nearly a decade:

In the past the Suns never struggled with offense, but they are embarking on a new era in basketball for the franchise. That new era was known to be a different one, centered around team defense and young players, but there were not any signs that pointed to the offense to becoming the worst the team has seen in nine years. They are also the ninth worst offensive rated team in the teams franchise history.

That was a pretty hard fall and shows just how valuable Steve Nash was. The Suns knew they would be a team in transition, but there were still hopes that they could find a way to sneak into the Playoffs with a veteran like Scola on the roster and a chance for Beasley to be the "star" on the team. Along with the return of Groan Dragic who can push the pace and play that Nash style in spurts.

None of that has panned out.

It seems everything is a concern right now in Phoenix. And nothing feels stranger than seeing the Suns struggle to put the ball into the basket.

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily