While the talent on the whole Phoenix Suns roster is marginal, it is the second unit of the Suns that falls completely flat compared to the rest of the NBA.
You would think that a roster built 13-deep in rotation-quality players - that is, players who played regularly in the rotations of winning teams in prior years - would perform well when the other team's starters were resting. And that the top-end talent of the Suns would be the unit suffering against the top-end talent of other teams.
By that reasoning, and considering the normal playing time of each team's first and second units, you would think the Suns would suffer by comparison in the first, third and fourth quarters. And that the Suns' best quarter, by scoring margin, would be the second quarter, when every team's backup players get their most run.
Well, that is not the case for the Suns. Not by a long shot. And it never has been.
In fact, the second quarter is the BEST predictor of the Suns' success as a team. Win the second, win the game. Lose the second, lose the game. This has been true in every season since 2003-04.
Don't believe me? I'll show you a pretty chart to prove it.
The chart below shows the unnerving correlation between the scoring margin of the second quarter vs. the scoring margin of the entire game, for every season back to the 2003-04 season.
As you can see, the Suns' ability to win the second quarter is highly indicative of their ability to win the entire game.
Of course, we all know this logically. But don't tell me you knew the correlation was THIS high all the way back through the glory days. Remember those few minutes at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters when even the national announcers would count the minutes until Nash re-entered at the 8-9-minute mark? We all knew the second unit couldn't hold or build a lead consistently. All we needed were the starters to right the ship again. Yet, the second quarter was still the most predictive of success for the Suns, even then.
How have the Suns done, game by game this season?
When the Suns win the second quarter this season, they are a whopping 10-2.
When the Suns lose the second quarter this season, they are a dismal 2-13.
So...yeahhhh...it's indicative of team success.
This is why Michael Redd has supplanted Shannon Brown on the second unit, and why - for the most part - Sebastian Telfair has supplanted Ronnie Price. With those players better on offense than defense, you can guess why Josh Childress has suddenly popped back into the rotation in place of offense-only Hakim Warrick.
Head coach Alvin Gentry is just trying to find a successful combination of players for that second quarter while the starters on both teams are resting. If this new unit starts falling off the cliff, we'll see the old guys right back in there. Mixing and matching. When it works, Alvin is doing a good job. When it fails, Alvin is failing. Don't forget it's the players who have to perform.
"It's frustrating and it's embarrassing," Suns reserve small forward Josh Childress said, in an article on azcentral.com by beat writer Paul Coro. "We have to be better than that. Coach (Alvin Gentry) has given us a lot of trust. We have to find ways to help the team. Every single one of us wants to do the right thing but we have to make that translate into results."
You may have also noticed lately that Marcin Gortat often stays in the game for the beginning of the second quarter. Or that Dudley or Frye show up more often, if Gortat is resting.
Gentry is trying to pull this team together with paper clips, rubber bands and bubble gum. He's got a hodge-podge of player with their own skills but no one player with great skills. There's no "sixth man of the year" candidate on this roster.
So, watch the second quarter closely from now on. By halftime, you'll have a 90% chance of guessing the winning team correctly.