The Suns lack the top end talent of a lot of teams, but even so that isn't their biggest problem. It's not the guys at the top of the depth chart that are losing the majority of these game, but rather the guys that should be at the bottom of it -- or out of the rotation all together.
NBA.com's John Schuhmann recently wrote about the players that have the biggest defensive impact on their teams relative to their back-ups for the Hangtime Blog. He took a look at the best on/off court differential in defensive rating, and right there at number three is our very own Jared Dudley.
3. Jared Dudley, Suns
Dudley’s on-off court differential has a lot to do with the Suns’ deadly (in a bad way) defensive trio of Michael Beasley, Shannon Brown and Markieff Morris. Phoenix has allowed an absolutely atrocious 126 points per 100 possessions in 223 minutes with those three guys on the floor together, and Dudley has been on the bench for all 223 of those minutes.
Alvin Gentry wisely stopped using that trio for almost a month, but then went back to it on Wednesday against the Sixers. The Suns were outscored 17-6 in less than seven minutes with them on the floor.
Dudley himself is a solid defender, and he has played most of his minutes with other solid defenders like Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat. Dudley and P.J. Tucker have made a pretty good defensive wing combo, too.
Schuhmann hit the nail right in the head here. Dudley is a very good player, but his +11.5 differential has as much or more to do with the guys coming off the bench when he takes a seat.
Michael Beasley has fallen a long way in a very short time since the Suns made him their first free agent acquisition this past summer. Beasley played 7:37 against Utah, and then rode the pine for the Suns' next two games. He returned for whatever reason against Boston and played 5:15, and during that time he was -10 and got abused by Jeff Green of the Celtics.
Some may still have faith in Beasley and want to see him play big minutes in the hopes that his season (and perhaps NBA career at this point) can be salvaged. However, I don't believe that will solve anything. A culture of losing can be an even deeper hole to dig out of than a lack of talent, and playing Beasley big minutes when he doesn't deserve it is sending the wrong message.
It is time to sit Beasley down. Gentry has tried everything he can to put Beasley in a position to succeed. He's tried starting him as a go-to scorer. He's tried bringing him off the bench against lesser competition. He's even given him minutes at power forward, and although he played better, it wasn't enough. Gentry has done what he can.
Now it is on Beasley. He needs to earn his playing time. He needs to put in more work on the practice floor. He needs to figure out how to be more effective. He needs to find a way to help this team, because if he can't he should not be playing.
If a complete benching doesn't spark anything in him and nothing changes, it may be time to use the stretch provision and cut him at the end of the year.
Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown
P.J. Tucker has finally earned a starting spot alongside Jared Dudley, which puts Shannon Brown on the bench where he belongs.
But as Schuhmann wrote, Brown, Beasley and Morris together make an absolutely horrible defensive trio. All three are bad defenders and complicate that problem by being inefficient scorers. It's no wonder that the Suns are so bad with Dudley out of the game.
However, the Suns just don't have enough good players, so they have to play some of these guys. Both Morris and Brown have had their moments and can be valuable contributors from time to time. The problem is their inconsistency, and that is an issue Alvin Gentry has to deal with.
Alvin Gentry has long been a fan of five-man second units. In 2010 with a little more talent, that strategy helped carry the team to the Western Conference Finals. However, with two key players from that 2010 bench unit now starting, doing so this year probably isn't the best idea. There just isn't enough talent. And Gentry is finally starting to come to terms with that fact, according to Valley of the Sun.
"Maybe we can’t sub in a whole second unit," Gentry said. "Maybe we’re going to have to put in a few guys here and there, and not sub in an entire unit. We’ve played that way forever, but this may be a situation where we can’t because we’ve gotten ourselves in a lot of trouble."
VotS published that on Jan. 3, and since then the Suns have played (and lost) four games. Gentry has used his five-man bench unit for at least one stretch in each of those games, and he has used it for 26:16 overall. In that 26 minutes, the Suns have been outscored by 19.
Gentry played five bench guys in the second quarter against Utah, and it didn't go so well. So Gentry didn't go back to it in the second half and didn't play Beasley at all after the break.
The Memphis game is a bit of an outlier, as the bench (with Wes Johnson replacing Beasley) held its own and was only outscored by two points in two stints totaling 11:37. It was the starters that sucked in this one.
Against Milwaukee, Gentry played the bench five (still with Johnson in for Beasley) for 5:41 in the second quarter, and they were outscored by eight. He didn't go back to them in the second half.
In Boston, Gentry only played them for 2:57, during which they were -3. But the big problem was playing Beasley again.
The Suns just don't have five good players on their bench, and the fact that the five guys they do play don't fit well together just complicates the matters.
It's time for Gentry to completely scrap the five-man bench unit. He needs to start experimenting with ways to stagger the minutes of the starters so that there can always be at least one or (hopefully) two starters on the floor at all times.
Gentry has done a little of this in these last four games. He has cut the minutes of the bench guys and has expended the minutes of the starters. Jared Dudley in particular has played 37 or more minutes in three of the last four (with Memphis being the outlier). P.J. Tucker has also seen an uptick in minutes, which is well-deserved. This hasn't yielded great results so far, but it is the right thing to do.
Gentry likes playing the starters for almost the entire first quarter, which leads to a lot of four and five man bench units in the second. I think it's time to change that. Gentry needs to start making substitutions earlier. I'd like to see him take Dragic and Tucker out around the eight minute mark, and put Telfair and Brown in and let them play the rest of the quarter with the remaining starters.
Sub in Morris either late in the first or at the start of the second. Then bring Dragic and Tucker back in after a minute or two along with O'Neal and give Dudley, Bassy and Gortat a break. Bring Dudley and Scola back with a few minutes left in the half to (hopefully) close it out strong.
In the Second half, start the same way. Except this time, Sub in Telfair, Bron and Morris a little bit earlier. Then sit down Dudley and Gortat with a minute or two left in the quarter (replaced with Tucker and O'Neal). The same five starts the fourth quarter and plays for 2 or 3 minutes, then the starters return and play the rest of the game.
That is a nine-man rotation, an it has Dragic, Tucker and Dudley playing in the high 30s minute-wise, while the bigs play in the 30-35 range. This sort of rotation has the flexibility to give Brown more minutes when he's feeling it, or give Johnson some minutes when he's not. Dragic and Bassy could also play together a little bit if the match-ups allow it. It has the best players playing big minutes, and it makes sure there are one or two starters on the court at all times.
What do you have to say Bright Siders? What kind of rotation do you wan to see?