See? Marcin CAN dunk! He's also pretty good at that pick-and-roll thingy.


We here on this blog are all fairly familiar with the players on the Suns' roster. We know what their strengths are. We know how they are used on this team.

We know Marcin Gortat is used primarily as the roll man in the pick-and-roll. We know Channing Frye spots up more than he does anything else. We know Robin Lopez likes to post up.

This is all common knowledge to those of us who watched the Suns play this year. However, this common knowledge wasn't enough for me. I wanted to know more. That's where MySynergySports comes in.

For those of you that don't know, Synergy goes through every game and records the result of every possession. They break possessions down into categories such as isolation, pick-and-roll, and post-up, recording how often players are used in those situations and how successful they are.

There's a lot of information, so I'm breaking it down by offense and defense, and only looking at one position at a time. First up is the center position: Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez.

First, allow me to explain in more detail the numbers I looked at. Here's a key for the terms Synergy uses:

Synergy Stat Definitions


PPP – Points Per Play. A "Play" is always ended with a shot attempt, turnover or getting to the free throw line. PPP is the player’s total points, excluding technical free throws, divided by their total plays.

Rank – This is where a player or team’s PPP ranks amongst their league peers. A player must have at least 25 plays for a given category in order to qualify for a league ranking.

%SF - Percent Shooting Foul. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team drew a shooting foul.

%TO – Percent Turnover. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team turns the ball over.

%Score – Percent Score. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team scores at least 1 point, including any resulting free throws.

So these numbers track the raw results. They don't factor in everything, which is where the interpretation begins and where watching the games live helps.

The offensive categories are Isolation, Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler, Post-Up, Pick-and-Roll Roll Man, Spot-Up, Off Screen, Hand-Off, Cut, Offensive Rebound, Transition, All Other Plays and Overall. On defense, the categories are the same minus the Cut, Offensive Rebound, Transition and All Other Plays categories as there aren't really any individual defenders assigned on these plays.

With that out of the way, let's dive into the numbers.

Marcin Gortat

In what should be a surprise to absolutely no one, Marcin Gortat was used as the roll man in the pick-and-roll more than anything else. In fact, he was the roll man on nearly one third of his 962 plays. That is a very high number, but it is understandable when you look at how successful he is.

His numbers are fantastic across the board. Gortat scored an incredible 1.22 PPP as the roll man, ranked 11th out of all the qualifying players. He shot 63.6% and was sent to the free-throw line 9.7% of the time (where he only shot 65%, but still). Factoring everything in, he scored 63% of the time when used as the roll man. That's what I call efficient.

A lot of Gortat's success can be attributed to Steve Nash and his incredible powers of distribution, but to say he's nothing without Steve is doing him a disservice. The fact is that he's a tremendous pick-and-roll finisher. He knows how to find the gaps and has a good touch on his finishes around the basket. He may not be Amar'e Stoudemire with his explosive dunks, but he's still one of the best pick-and-roll finishers in the game.

Second on the list with 20.9% of Gortat's plays is cutting. Gortat was decent as a cutter, sporting a 1.13 PPP and a rank of 111. He shot 57.2% and drew fouls 14.4% of the time for a score% of 59.7. This again does require some ability by the cutter, considering he's the one who finds the gaps and puts the ball in the basket, but it also relies heavily on the ones passing him the ball and the others drawing attention and opening up the cutting lanes.

Third on the list is post-ups, which account for 18.6% of his plays. His PPP was .75, ranked 118th. He shot 42.2%, was rarely fouled and turned it over 14% of the time. He scored 38.5% of the time while posting up. Overall, he's decent as a post player, but he still needs a lot of work as we all know. Despite his work with Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, a post-game is not something he can rely on at this point.

Gortat is decent on the offensive glass, but he's not all that effective as a spot-up shooter. His .82 PPP was ranked 233rd, and he only converted his shots 40.7% of the time. He still has some work to do on his jumpshot.

Interesting to note: Gortat only recorded 13 isolation plays all year. He shot 3-10 and got fouled 3 times. He's not exactly a go-to scorer.

Including all plays, Gortat's PPP was 1.05, ranked 18th. He scored 54.4% of the time. These numbers are excellent, but Gortat's pick-and-roll and cutting numbers account for most of this. He is very good at what he does, but we are in trouble if we need him to do more on a consistent basis.

Images_medium

ROBIN SMASH!


Robin Lopez

Robin Lopez was featured much less offensively than Gortat was. In fact, he only recorded 368 total plays. Part of this is due to him being a back-up (duh), but I also believe the fact that none of our guards knew how to feed the post early in the season.

Even with the reserve guards' struggles, Lopez was used primarily as a post player, as 36.7% of his plays came in the post. His PPP was .74, good for a rank of 115. However, we've all seen plenty of bricked hooks, and that shows in his shooting percentage of 37.5%. He also turned the ball over in the post more than he was fouled. Overall, he scored at a 40% clip while in the post. 40% doesn't look all that great, but Robin grades out as a pretty average post player. One thing I've discovered while doing the research for this is that post-ups are not a very efficient source of offense all things being considered.

While posting up isn't all that efficient and Robin is little more than average at it, the pick-and-roll is a tremendous source of high-percentage scoring and Robin is pretty good at it. He was only used as the roll man for 53 plays, but he converted 23-33 field goals and was fouled an insanely high 24.5% of the time. He averaged 1.15 PPP, and was ranked 20th. He did turn it over 9.4% of the time though, so his final %score was 66%. His pick-and-roll numbers each of the last two years have been similar. Perhaps he should be used as the roll man more often?

Robin was very good around the basket in other ways as well. He frequently crashed the offensive glass (19.8% of his plays) and his PPP was 1.12, ranked 63. His numbers as a cutter are even better: 1.39 PPP, Rank 54. He drew fouls at a high rate on both play types.

So Robin Lopez is pretty good when he's close to the basket. What about when he steps away from the basket? Well, he doesn't actually do that too often. I don't have his pick-and-pop numbers (those are included with the pick-and-roll numbers I believe), but he was only used as a spot-up shooter on 21 plays. He made six of his 19 shots. So although we've seen Robin hit that mid-range jumper in the past, he wasn't asked to show it very often nor was he very effective when he did this year.

Overall, Lopez finished the season with a .93 PPP, a rank of 145, and a %score of 49.7%. The problem with Robin was his inconsistency. There were many times Robin looked like a complete stiff and did little right offensively. But there were also times he came out like a man possessed and beasted on opposing big men (these games usually came when he was a sporting some kind of hair or headband I believe). All that evens out to around average, which was where Lopez ended up.

Conclusion

Based on the numbers, the Suns had one of the more formidable center duos in the league this year. Marcin Gortat was one of the most efficient scorers in the entire NBA, and when Robin was on he did some very good things. The eye test backs this up.

However, as good as they are as a rotation, the Twin Towers look advocated by many on this blog is not supported by the numbers. Neither one of these guys will make it into the scouting report as spot-up shooters. Robin Lopez is better the closer you get him to the basket, and Marcin Gortat is at his best when he's rolling to the basket and has room to operate in the paint. There is a possibility these two could play together and be effective, but that doesn't appear to be the case at this point in time in this offense.


Look, somebody actually scored.

The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Boston Celtics in one of the ugliest games of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Philly held the beat up and depleted Celtics to just 75 points but instead of a blow out, they only managed 82 themselves. Yes, both teams play good defense but making open shots would be a nice change as well.

The series goes back to Boston for a Game 7 on Saturday. Even though they barely have enough players to wear the uniform, most people expect the Celtics to win. We'll see.

Thursday's 2012 NBA Playoff schedule:

Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN

The Pacers will also try and force a Game 7 and they have a very good chance of doing just that. The Heat will be without Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman. Haslem got one game and Pittman three for their roles in the Game 5 hard foul fest. Needless to say, the already depleted Miami front court will be even thinner. The question is, can the Pacers stop taking jump shots and feed the ball inside?

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PHOENIX — Jared Dudley’s career could be misleading because of his style. Maybe it’s because while it feels like the Phoenix Suns guard has been in the NBA for a decade, he’s...

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Gentry's a relationship builder, and his relationship with Steve Nash is central to the Suns.

The final installment of our reviews for the 2011-2012 Phoenix Suns features head coach Alvin Gentry. Having just completed his third full season as coach, Gentry has compiled a 145-116 record, leading the Suns to the playoffs once and, of course, winning two series when they got there during their run in 2010.

This past season, the Suns were bottom feeders before the All-Star Break at 14-20, then went on a 19-10 run to put themselves temporarily in the West's eighth spot with less than a week to go before losing their final three games to finish 33-33.

These Suns had all the trappings of an average team: an above average offense (9th in O-Rating) balanced by a below average defense (24th in D-Rating); they beat some playoff teams and lost to a few of the league's worst. Their logo might as well have been a yin-yang symbol instead of a sun.

Let's examine Gentry's role in the Suns mediocre season, after the jump.

All of the league's teams were forced to deal with the quirks of the lockout-condensed season, among them a shortened training camp and preseason, no summer league for young players, back-to-back-to-back situations, and fewer time to rest players between games or work on improving through in-season practices.

Theoretically, a Suns team led by veterans and returning its full starting five from the end of last season would have an advantage early on, wouldn't they? No, unfortunately, they would not. New bench players Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown were slow to adapt to the team, and the Suns started the season slow and sluggish, with jump shooters missing open shots.

It's hard to fault Gentry that Channing Frye showed up unprepared to play, or that Telfair and Brown looked lost early on, or that Suns jump shooters struggled trying to get their legs in NBA basketball shape after the prolonged time off. While there were additional decisions for coaches to make around player usage, especially managing minutes of starters, the shortened training camp and less time for in-season practices allowed coaches fewer opportunities to teach.

When it comes to NBA coaching, though, there aren't too many difference makers out there. A few coaches are clearly superior, a few probably have no business coaching, and most of them sit somewhere in the middle, able to win with the right players but unable to compete with Thoroughbreds if given a team of mules.

The main reasons Gentry was hired as head coach of the Suns were his style and his relationship with team leader Steve Nash. After the Terry Porter experiment bombed and Porter was fired, Gentry moved in as interim head coach, turned the tempo back up, let Nash do his thing, and the Suns were back to close to their old "Seven Seconds of Less" selves. A Western Conference finals berth in 2010 earned Gentry a 3-year contract extension which runs through the end of next season.

There wasn't much in Gentry's past as a head coach to endorse him for another shot at leading a team when then-GM Steve Kerr promoted him from assistant. One stint in Detroit followed by another in LA with the Clippers left him with one playoff appearance, zero playoff series wins and a record of 177-226, but he was the right fit at the right time for Phoenix in 2009.

Gentry's a player's coach, and as such relies on the leadership of his sagacious veteran team captains Nash and Grant Hill. Indeed, when we review the factors in Nash's decision to stick with the Suns through the conclusion of his contract this past season, and upcoming decision whether to re-sign or not, his affection for the "Suns way" is a compliment to Gentry. It's also a major point in Phoenix' favor as the Suns work to re-sign Nash.

Like Nash, Gentry believes in the importance of chemistry and relationships on a team, that players will be more willing to sacrifice for each other if they share respect and admiration for one another. This isn't as common as we might think, and several Suns players mentioned the chemistry of this squad as being among the best they've ever been around.

In a conversation about Gentry's performance this past season, the questions are:

  • Did any players significantly underachieve or overachieve?
  • Was the whole greater than the sum of the parts?

As we've seen in our grades and discussion about individual players, none of them jumped out as playing much better or worse than expected.

However, for a team with a bench unit comprised of castoffs and unprovens, a 38-year old star and a few starters who are seen as bench players promoted over their heads, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts for this Suns team. The credit for that goes to the head coach who created the environment of chemistry and cooperation, who empowers Nash and Hill to take the lead.

Was there one national media "expert" who expected the Suns to seriously challenge for a playoff spot? Even among the fan community, there wasn't much hope for that, yet there were the Suns in contention until the second to last game of the season. That's not overachieving individuals, it's an overachieving team.

That earns Alvin Gentry a B from me. A playoff berth would have been good for an A.

Poll
What grade would you give Alvin Gentry for his coaching job of the 2011-12 Suns?

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Should Lin don a Suns jersey?

There are a number of point guards available as either unrestricted or restricted free agents this summer with varying degrees of experience and pedigree. If the Suns are forced (or choose) to move on without Steve Nash next season, many options exist to take over the starting duties for the Suns.

Let's get a couple things out of the way first:

  • Steve Nash is the best free agent point guard on the market, but we're not talking about him in this article
  • Sebastian Telfair will return to the Suns next season, but is no one's Plan A as the Suns' starting point guard
  • Aaron Brooks will likely not return, but who knows. I don't think the Suns want him back though, because they are leaning toward defensive talent lately and Brooks has none.

Assuming the Suns have to move on, which free agent point guard is best equipped to lead an Alvin Gentry-for-now-but-probably-eventually-Elston-Turner-or-some-other-defensive-minded-head-coach team. Once Nash is gone, the Suns have the opportunity to completely change the way they play the game.

However, many of the returning parts (and signed somewhat long-term) around Nash are pick-and-roll type players. Marcin Gortat is really good at setting picks and rolling to the basket, but otherwise his offensive bag of tricks is limited. Channing Frye is a really good three-point shooter as long as he's wide open as an outlet off the pick-and-roll. Jared Dudley is expanding his game, but has proven value in the same offensive role as Channing Frye. None of the Suns are prolific scorers in their own right.

With that consideration, it is easiest to pick up a point guard who can run the show, feed some pick-and-roll and - to match the Suns' latest leanings - play some defense. Ideally, if the Suns sign a point guard in free agency it would be a younger player with upside and long-term starting potential.

Two such players come to mind: unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic and restricted free agent Jeremy Lin. I delve further into each player after the jump. Dragic has ties to the Suns and really stepped into his own this past season with Houston, but will likely leave Houston for a starting gig. Lin fits the Suns' style and has a big upside, but his pedigree is really small. Both are young (Lin is 23, Dragic is 25), justifying an affordable, long-term deal.

Before going too far, it's only fair to mention the other notable free agent point guards:

  • Deron Williams - definitely the best, and deserving the max contract the Suns could offer. But there has been no indication of mutual interest, so it's not worth talking about now.
  • Jason Kidd, Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd: No way. Too old. Not the right fit for either side.
  • Kirk Hinrich, Andre Miller, Raymond Felton, Jameer Nelson: all would be okay as Plan C or D or Z, if younger or more-talented prospects sign elsewhere. They could each start and play starter's minutes ahead of Telfair and keep the Suns competitive.
  • George Hill: fits the mold of young and defense-oriented, but is not a floor leader destined to play 35 minutes a game at point guard for a contender.

No, the most intriguing options on the free agent market outside of Steve Nash are former-Sun Goran Dragic and Nash-play-alike Jeremy Lin. Each has his pluses and minuses.

Goran Dragic set the world on fire in the playoffs of 2010, especially with his huge fourth quarter against the Spurs in Game 3. All Suns fans still smile at that thought. Then in 2011, he regressed and many of us (not all, but many) questioned his long-term potential as a starter. In 2012, he put those concerns to rest. When Kyle Lowry went down, Dragic played huge minutes and led his team to the brink of the playoffs until an unexpected team-wide collapse in the last two weeks.

In 28 starts last season, Dragic averaged 18 points, 8.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 35 minutes a game. Dragic seems to thrive on minutes, making several clutch plays at the end of many pivotal games. And this on a Rockets team with no all-stars to make his life easier. Our little Dragon grew up last year!

Now he is an unrestricted free agent who will have many suitors who wants a starting gig. He won't get that gig in Houston, simply because a healthy Kyle Lowry is better than him and is already under contract. Because of Goran's rare "youth + unrestricted" status, expect Dragic to get more money that he rightfully deserves this summer. Don't be surprised to see offers in the $10-million/year range.

Jeremy Lin is a much lesser-known quantity and on a much-lower price tag, despite his restricted free agent status. Due to the "Gilbert Arenas rule", no one in the league can offer more Lin more than the midlevel: $5.25 million per year, starting in 2012. A team CAN offer a big jump in pay in years 3 and 4, but the starting value is equal to the midlevel exception. Every team in the league except the Lakers and a few others who are over the "apron" (4 million over the lux tax level) can offer Lin the same deal, including the Knicks.

So Lin just needs to pick the best fit for him. Long-time NBA trainer David Thorpe thinks that "best fit" is with the Phoenix Suns.

"This is my favorite landing spot for Lin if not New York," Thorpe wrote about the Suns. "He would certainly be a starter if Steve Nash leaves, in an offense that is very similar to what he successfully ran as a Knick. Center Marcin Gortat becomes an excellent ball screen partner, and they play at a speed with which Lin is very comfortable.

"Even if Nash returns, the Suns would possibly have not only his long-term replacement but someone who can provide a scoring punch off the bench as well as an energy guy with the second unit. It's not hard to remember the impact Leandro Barbosa had as Nash's backup. If the Suns offered enough money, Lin will have to give that opportunity serious consideration regardless of what Nash does."

There are no rumors on this though. In fact, it's widely asusmed that Lin will return to the Knicks because they can match any offer to Lin on the market since the max he can BE offered is the midlevel exception.

However, the question is whether the Knicks would have to use their midlevel exception for Lin, or if they can just match the offer via Bird Rights and retain their midlevel for use in other areas. This is an important distinction, and one currently up for arbitration. Since Lin was picked up on waivers last season, the league argues that he lost his Bird Rights while the union argues the opposite. If the league wins, then the Knicks just might lose Lin because they would have to use their midlevel exception to sign Lin. Since another team can offer a big jump in salary in years 3 and 4, the Knicks won't be able to match it. It all depends on how an arbiter rules on Lin's status. The league argues that Bird rights are lost in the waiver process, while the union argues that they stay with the player.

Of course, that assumes the Suns think Lin is a long-term starter. They aren't handing out long contracts like candy anymore. Lin was on two other rosters last year and didn't get a sniff, but all of a sudden he became a sensation in New York.

As a starter for 25 games, Lin averaged 18 points and 7.7 assists in 34 minutes. He shot 34% on 3-pointers and ran the pick-and-roll extremely well. League insiders called Lin a current and future star. Many articles were written on Lin's long-term viability and the consensus was that he could definitely be a starter throughout his career.

However, it's only 25 games. Prior to that, he couldn't even beat out other roster players and was waived twice in 2 years (Warriors and Rockets). Is he just a gamer? Or was he unfairly pigeonholed because of his background and race? Who knows. But any team paying him big bucks is definitely taking a gamble.

Who would you rather have?

Poll
Who would you rather running the Suns, if Nash leaves?

  1105 votes | Results


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