It doesn't look good on Planet Orange as of now. The Suns are a longshot to make the playoffs, yet still have almost a quarter of the season to go.
What can they do today to get better, win more games, and figure out what works and what doesn't?
The Suns are on the outside looking in for the playoffs in the uber-competitive Western Conference. They are without their All-Star power forward, Amare Stoudemire. It is past the trade deadline.
What can they do today to improve?
In my opinion, they need to tweak their rotations.
This will put our best foot forward in the outside chance that the Mavs or one of the other Western Conference teams do have a serious slide at the end of the season.
It will also help the Suns to assess what they really have. The reality is that the Suns have undergone at least 4 major changes this season:
- Hiring of Porter and complete change of team identity
- Trading Bell and Diaw for Richardson and Dudley
- Firing Porter and promoting Gentry, and re-establishing their old identity
- Losing Stat for the season
The Laker game that we won showed what this team is capable of ... even without Nash and Stat. The subsequent games have shown that the team has not figured out how to bottle that effort every night.
If nothing else, if the Suns can build the chemistry and firm up some things and go on a run they will know if minor tweaks and waiting for Stat to return will be enough to keep them competitive.
I don't believe judging the Suns without Stat is fair. If he had not been lost the Suns almost assuredly would be in a better position than they are now, probably firmly in the playoff hunt. I also don't think it is fair to judge Gentry yet. I am a firm believer that had we started the season with Gentry we would be in a lot better place today than we are.
If the Suns do go on a run, it will be difficult for Sarver and Kerr to fire Gentry and go with a whole sale change in the roster, because the potential will remain.
If the Suns fail to go on a run, and finish poorly they will probably have enough reason to continue to shake up the team. I'm not a fan of that yet. I think the Suns have endured way too much turmoil this season to be given a fair grade, especially Gentry.
So what am I proposing they do?
I propose the following rotation:
12-8 minutes left:
Nash, Richardson, Hill, Amundson*, Shaq
8-4 minutes left:
LB, Richardson, Barnes, Dudley**, Shaq
4-0 minutes left:
Nash, LB, Hill, Barnes, Swift*
* Is a placeholder for Amundson, Swift, Dudley, or Lopez. Basically a "big".
** May be a "big" or may be Tucker or Dragic with Barnes shifting to the 4
What this does:
- Gives our top 6 players (Nash, LB, Richardson, Hill, Barnes, Shaq) 32 minutes a game (not too much and not too little, in my opinion)
- No player plays more than 8 minutes in a row
- It makes sure that 4 out of those 6 guys are on the court at the same time
- When Shaq is out, Nash is in, and vice versa
- Our better free throw shooting players are in toward the end of the quarter when the teams often end up in the penalty
- Developing a more consistent rotation would undoubtedly help their efficiency playing together (e.g. cutting down on turnovers, helping anticipation between players, improving help defense)
- It frees up the 5th spot for our bench guys.
- Allows them to develop playing with starter quality players
- Allows 1 guy to not be a needy offensive player but to focus on defense and rebounding
- Potentially the minutes can be split among 6 bench players (Amundson, Dudley, Lopez, Swift, Dragic, Tucker)
- Can be rotated based on who is hot and contributing on a given night
In the last 2-4 minutes of the 4th quarter you could go with a different line-up if deemed necessary.
One possibility is to play all 6 bench guys for 4 minutes each in the first half, then select the top 2-3 to get the minutes in the second half based on performance.
Why do I think this will help?
I have been disappointment in the inconsistent rotations of Gentry. At times they have 5 bench guys playing together with the predictable poor results. At other times we have played all kinds of different combinations that don't seem to be gelling, possibly because they are not getting enough time together.
I also think having a role player of the court at all times helps the team focus. You have at least 1 guy focused on doing the dirty work of playing defense and rebounding. How many great teams have we seen that has role players that play significant minutes who are not asked to be scorers?
So, this is what I think the Suns can do today. How about you?