Not the science of matter and chemical reactions, the ability for people to interact with one another.
Due to the vicissitudes of the off-season, the new look Suns will need to build some. The starting of next now may be dependent on the compatibility of the melange of fresh faces with the returning regime. Seven may be a lucky number, but it's also a ton of turnover.
Enter resident mad scientist Alvin Gentry. This is already the third overhaul the team has undergone during Gentry's relatively brief tenure. Each time he builds his bricolage, the pieces are swept off the table like some sinister game of Jenga against a petulant opponent. Gentry concocts his potion only to see the ingredients on the shelf behind him rotate out.
It's time for another grand experiment. Start the clock. For the Suns to maximize their potential this season, the brainstorm must occur early. Gentry doesn't have the luxury of waiting for improvement in the second half, as has been the leitmotif of previous campaigns. Gentry will need to figure out which rotations will be most fecund and which individuals can be part of a team.
After all, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.
All tables were developed using information made available by 82games.com.
Our journey begins with a look at a far removed era of Suns basketball - the 2009-10 season. No surprise here that Nash, Stoudemire and Richardson populate the top three units in terms of plus/minus. One thing to note is that Dudley's name finds its way onto the list more than any other player, present in four of the five rotations.
The next season (2010-11) finds Nash, Hill and Frye on all five of the Suns best units. Notice here that Frye seems to be able to switch back and forth between the four and the five quite capably and is paired with a center in four of the rotations.
Which brings us to last year. These perambulations down memory lane make me so mawkish...
What do we see here?
Nash and Gortat in four pairings.
Frye and Gortat in three. Remember, that's after two the previous season.
Brown, Dudley and Gortat in two.
Dudley, Frye and Gortat in one.
What conclusions can we draw?
Nash played in 12 of the 15 top units the last three years. Those units were +734. I'm pretty sure that any way we parse the data that Nash will be superior to anyone else on the team using these types of stats. How much of a deleterious effect will his departure have? We know that one of Nash's greatest attributes is his ability to make those around him better.... but we also know that bench units have had some success without his presence.
Analysts forecasting failure seem to think the loss will have a profoundly pernicious effect. I'm ambivalent. A couple of these rotations could be plug and play with the new additions. Several productive line ups return three or four pieces, meaning that they could be easily augmented into fruitful groups once again. But where will this augmentation come from?
That's easy. The Rockets and Timberwolves. Yay?
While Lowry was the floor general for the five man unit with a +24 that led the team in minutes played (455.4), Dragic's four line ups were a combined +136 in 397.5 minutes. That's good. Dragic and Scola were also paired in two of the groupings (including the best overall). More good.
The outlook for the incoming pieces from Minnesota isn't quite as auspicious. Beasley was in the top five man unit on the team, but they only played together for 33.3 minutes. Beasley made two of the top five, but was only in one grouping that registered more than 34.8 minutes together during the season. Part of that was due to his reduced role (23.1 minutes per game), part because he missed nearly a third of the season (19 games) to injuries. Beasley started the first seven games, got hurt, and never regained his starting role.
The returns from Johnson are putrid. He does crack one of the top five rotations, but is also in four of the worst five. He managed nearly as many minutes per game as Beasley (22.6), but played more minutes during the season as he only missed one game and unbelievably managed to start 64...
Speaking of the games Beasley missed, check out this discussion over at Canis Hoopus in which they speak glowingly of the Suns inimitable medical staff. Hit the link, this stuff is like gold - except actually valuable.
What we know.
Gortat, Dudley, Frye and Brown have already demonstrated an ability to play together effectively. In particular, Gortat and Frye have proven to be thick as thieves, compiling an impressive +319 in 1,607.7 minutes the past two seasons (as part of the top units).
Dragic and Scola seem to play well together. They managed to amass a +79 in 229.9 minutes among two pairings.
Dragic has played well with Dudley and Frye before (think 2009-10).
What we don't know.
How will Dragic interact with Gortat and Brown?
Do the Suns still have a logjam at power forward with Scola, Frye, Morris and Beasley perhaps being best suited at the four?
How in tarnation does Michael Beasley fit into all of this?
What I think I know.
The real lucky seven - Gortat, Dragic, Dudley, Frye, Scola, Beasley and Brown.
Other players, such as Morris and Telfair, may crack some of the top five man units, but I think that there's a really good chance that these seven guys will be intimately involved with the team's success (or failure).
Let's play Gentry. Left hand yellow, right foot blue, given those players what would you do?
I surmise that the starters entering training camp are Dragic, Dudley, Beasley, Scola and Gortat. I'm not sure that I necessarily think that's the best unit, though.
A Dragic, Brown, Dudley, Beasley/Frye, Gortat combination might be more prolific. Maybe Dragic, Dudley, Beasley, Frye and Gortat?
Once we get past the Dragon and the Hammer (that sounds like a cool name for a pub), it is still somewhat nebulous. Back to the lab for Gentry. Time to amalgamate the winning formula.
What can we mix in the Brightside beaker? Who do you think the starters will be on opening night, and who do you think will be the Suns best five man unit?