Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek hasn't been given any superstars, and his roster isn't even that balanced. Yet he's mixing and matching to find effective lineups and generally creating a winning culture on a team full of kids.
One such lineup - the triple threat of point guards on the floor together - has created a firestorm of controversy on its effectiveness.
On paper, any lineup that has Isaiah Thomas (5'9"), Eric Bledsoe (6'0") and Goran Dragic (6'3") sharing the floor in crunch time appears to be a gimmick. A rebounding nightmare poised to give up at least as many points as they score.
I mean, how can you win games with such a small lineup?
Maybe it's because the NBA is all about matchups and the Suns' triple threat is tough to handle on a regular NBA evening.
- Thomas, Dragic and Bledsoe combined with Markieff Morris and Alex Len are +30 in 30 minutes of time together (projecting to +48 per 48 minutes)
- Thomas, Dragic and Bledsoe combined with Keef and P.J. Tucker are +14 in just 35 minutes together, including +7 on Sunday night in just 6 minutes together against Memphis (projecting to +19 per 48 minutes)
- Dragic, Bledsoe, Tucker, Keef and Len are the Suns best "common" lineup, spanning 217 minutes together, with a +6 per 48 minutes
- Dragic, Bledsoe, Marcus Morris, Keef and Miles Plumlee, the original starting lineup, was just a +2 per 48 minutes
- The Suns average a +2 per 48 minutes across all lineups
- One of the Suns worst lineups is one of last year's effective lineups: Dragic, Bledsoe, Keef, Tucker and Plumlee are a -15 points per 48 minutes this season. Ugh.
- Swap Keef for Mook in that lineup and it's a -30 over 48 minutes. Double Ugh.
How are the trips doing when they play together? Pretty well, actually. According to the media-only side of nba.com/stats (at least, that's where I've found it), the main lineups with the Trips are really quite effective.
Of the 19 lineups that have played 20+ minutes together this season, the Trips plus Len and Keef have the highest net rating per 48 minutes!
You might be surprised to know that, when paired with Len and Keef (30 total minutes this season):
- The net rating is +48 per 100 possessions (meaning, if they could stay on the court for 48 straight minutes, they would project to win by 48 points, versus +2 across all lineups)
- The assist/turnover ratio is 3:1 (versus 1.35:1 across all lineups)
- The rebound rate is 52% (versus 49% across all lineups)
- The effective field goal rate is 59% (versus 52% across all lineups)
- The net rating is +22.6 (versus +2 across all lineups)
- The assist/turnover ratio is .67:1 (versus 1.35:1 across all lineups)
- The rebound rate is 50.9% (versus 49% across all lineups)
- The effective field goal rate is 58% (versus 52% across all lineups)
We saw the trips with Keef and Tucker late in the Memphis game, in which the Suns overcame a huge 4th-quarter deficit to tie in regulation and lead in overtime before crumbling. That five was a +7 in those 6 minutes together on Sunday night.
It was only a couple of bone-headed plays that lost the game - not the lineup itself.
If coach Hornacek is guilty of anything, its riding lineups a little long in overtime. The Suns are now 0-4 in overtimes this season (a trend sure to correct itself because that's how these things go), and one thing I've noticed is that Hornacek will ride the same lineup the whole OT without much subbing. At least twice, that's resulted in players being too tired to finish the game strong.
But that aside, I hope this article shows you that the Trips Lineup really does work. And in a big way.
Ultimately, I see Tucker, Len and Wright spending a lot of time with Keef and the Trips in closing minutes this season as they massage the situations to get an advantage over their opponents.