I don’t know if Grant Hill knows quite how right he is.
“We’re just starting to figure each other out and understanding as a team where we can find our stuff, where guys’ strengths are.”
Hill, after the Suns’ Friday night win over the Wizards, on the lack of familiarity among he and his teammates.
A quick glimpse at basketballvalue.com is jarring. As a measure of context, the San Antonio Spurs’ starting 5 have played 487 minutes together on the season.
The Suns? Well, their most common lineup has played 158 minutes together. If we assume 32 minutes per game is a fairly average amount of playing time for starters, that would mean this particular lineup has played together in less than 5 games. Due to injuries, trade, and overall ineptitude (I’m looking at you, Josh Childress), the Suns have started thirteen different combinations in 42 games this year.
It’s worse than that, though – two of the five players in this most-used lineup now play for the Orlando Magic (Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu).
Surely the second most common Suns’ lineup is in better shape, right? Well, actually, Richardson and Turkoglu are part of this lineup as well, which totaled almost 120 minutes played together.
Okay, that’s pretty bad for continuity. Fortunately, there is some good news: Phoenix’ third most-played lineup consists of players that are still on the Suns’ roster. The bad news? Said lineup is based on Goran Dragic, Josh Childress, and Jared Dudley. Yep, the most-used Suns lineup that includes only players still on the team is one of Alvin Gentry’s preferred bench rotations.
The Suns’ current starting lineup of Steve Nash, Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, and Robin Lopez has logged 81 minutes together on the season. This is the 7th most common lineup for the Suns. Even this understates the irregularity of the Suns rotations, though, as in the past five games Marcin Gortat has taken the majority of Lopez’ minutes (Gortat is averaging over 30 minutes per game over this stretch).
The most irrational thing about all of this? I’m actually an advocate of further rotation tinkering by Gentry. The current starting lineup has a 1-year adjusted +/- in the negative, at -2.96. This measure accounts for minutes played by the unit and the quality of the opposition. The starting five only score 2 points more per 100 possessions than the Suns’ average, but they’re giving up almost 113 p/100, which is atrocious.
While the unit has played only 38 minutes together, a substitution of Gorat into the starting lineup for Robin Lopez could pay huge dividends. Nash, Hill, Carter, Frye, and Gortat are posting an adjusted +/- of 25.59! Even more incredibly, the Suns’ defensive rating for this lineup is 95.7 – elite territory. Could the Suns keep this rate up with more minutes? It’s not out of the realm of possibility – the majority of units anchored by Gortat since he came over from the Magic are allowing fewer than a point per possession.
Marcin Gortat is already getting starter’s minutes. His play is having a significantly positive impact on Phoenix’ defense. There isn’t much continuity to disrupt at this point in the season. Pull the trigger, Alvin Gentry. Insert Gortat into the starting lineup for the second half of the season.