Since the change, the Suns are 2-1. They have scored 114, 111 and 101 points for an average of 108.7 points per game and have held opponents to 87, 108 and 104 for an average of 99.7 points per game. In the 11 games with the original starting line-up, the Suns had a 4-7 record and scored 98.3 points per game while giving up 104.3.
It is true the Suns played some weaker teams in their last three games, but I think it is safe to say that there has been at least some improvement with Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown in the starting five. The primary issues with the old line-ups and rotations were poor play from a few of the players, slow starts in the first and third quarters by the starting five and an inability to score by the second unit. So what effect has Gentry's adjustments had on these areas? Let's take a look.
Old Players, New Roles
A few players struggled in the roles they began the season with.
One of the most notable of these struggling players was Jared Dudley. Dudley, known affectionately as the Junkyard Dog, began the year as the starting shooting guard just as he did last year. And just like last year, he came out of the starting gates ice cold. He bricked all manner of open shots from deep, mid-range, coming off of screen and probably even a couple of bunnies. But worse than that, the same level of activity and hustle that earned him the JYD moniker was absent, for whatever reason. He just wasn't having the same positive effect on the team that he had his entire prior Suns career. So instead of having the patience to let him shoot out of his slump like last year, Gentry decided to make a change. And so far for Dudley, it has had the desired effect.
He's still not shooting as well as he normally does, hitting just eight of his 20 attempts over the three games. However, he has made four of his 10 3-point attempt, and more importantly, he's much more active.
In the chart above, ARS stands for Assists+Rebounds+Steals and it's a measure of how much Dudley is doing on the floor other than shooting. I'm talking about smart plays and hustle plays, the things that defined Dudley's game before this year. As you can see, Dudley is playing nearly eight less minutes per game yet his ARS has gone up over two per game. We're starting to see more of the hustle we've come to expect from Dudley, and hopefully that trend will continue.
While +/- isn't worth much without context, it is worth noting that over the past three games, Dudley is a combined +37 and one of only three Suns that have been in the positive in all three (the other two being P.J. Tucker an Jermaine O'Neal). The bench has been kicking butt, an he's been a part of it.
He still hasn't quite found his stroke, but he is a career 47.2 percent field goal and 40.5 percent 3-point shooter, an I still have complete faith that he will get back to shooting that way before long.
Replacing him in the starting line-up was Shannon Brown, and although Brown is averaging less points and shooting worse from the field, he's fit in better with the starting line-up than I anticipated. He is taking better and fewer shots with the starters and isn't disrupting the flow of the offense too much. Meanwhile, the bench is doing better without him taking every shot.
The most dramatic change in play has come from Markieff Morris, who is now starting at the power forward spot. Morris was one of the Suns' worst players in his 11 games coming off the bench. Horrible shooting numbers, poor decisions and plenty of foul trouble negated anything positive Morris was able to do. However, since being moved into the starting line-up, he has been a beast.
Morris has fit seamlessly into the starting line-up and has adjusted to his new role. Morris was 4-14 from deep as a reserve, but has already connected on three of his five attempts as a starter. As a rookie, we saw that he was capable of hitting 3-pointers at a high rate but we also saw he was capable of falling into big slumps. Three games is a tiny sample size, but the fact that three of his seven made threes have come as a starter may mean something. In addition to knocking down his 3-pointers, Morris is taking smarter shots and finishing at a much higher rate inside. He's also not fouling at a ridiculous rate any more, which is nice. Overall, the move to the starting line-up has had the exact opposite effect as it did a year ago when he was a rookie.
Luis Scola was the one moved to the bench so that Morris could start, and it has been to the benefit of the entire team. Scola was a defensive sieve in the starting line-up, and while he is a potent scorer, his post-ups and high post game took away from what guys like Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat an Michael Beasley were able to do offensively. He has replaced Shannon Brown as one of the primary options for the second unit, and although his numbers are down (8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist per game on 52.6 percent shooting), the team is better off.
The biggest reason for the change was the slow starts by the starters in the first an third quarters. Through three games with the new starters, the results are mixed.
In the Portland game, which the Suns won easily and controlled throughout, the starters opened the game very well. According to PopcornMachine.com, the starter played the first 8:46 and rode a 13-1 run to a +7 before Gentry made the first substitution. In the third quarter, they got off to a 10-2 run before giving up a 16-6 run by the Blazers. When Michael Beasley and Brown took a seat at the 2:28 mark, they had played the Blazers even. For the game, the starting five was +7 and the all-bench teams were +13.
But in the New Orleans game, things were back to normal. The starters played the first 8:16 of the game and were -6, and were -4 over the next four minutes or so after Dudley replaced Beasley. They were even worse in the third quarter, managing to end up -10 in only 4:10 of action.
In the Philly game, the starters were neither great nor terrible. The starting five was -1 in 9:25 seconds, but they were -6 against the Philly starting five before rattling off an 8-0 run after the Sixers subbed a few players in. They did a little better in their 8:49 of play in the third quarter, finishing +1.
Three games, three very different results out of the starting unit. It's too early to draw too much of a conclusion in this particular area, but I don't think the change has magically fixed our early game woes.
Second Unit Struggles
One thing we've seen since Jermaine O'Neal rejoined the team and the emergence of P.J. Tucker is the return of the five-man bench unit, and through three games, those units have been kicking butt and taking names. The former second unit really struggled offensively with Shannon Brown being the only real scoring threat (and the only one getting to shoot the ball). However, things have been flowing much better offensively with Scola and Dudley joining the reserves and the tough and scrappy defense by O'Neal, Tucker and Sebastian Telfair.
Over the past three games, the all-bench units are a combined +29. The bench produced 43 points against Portland, 50 against New Orleans and 40 against Philadelphia. That is not bad at all. In fact, the bench has been the Suns' biggest strength since the change, and it also played a huge part in the Suns early season comeback wins.
It has only been three games and we cannot draw any legitimate long-term conclusion as of yet, but things are definitely looking up since the change. I was in favor of giving the starters more time, but kudos to Gentry for making the right move. This hasn't solved all our problems (like that pesky 3-point line), but the Suns appear to be getting better.
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