Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek has tried an incredible 172 different 5-man combinations on the court this season in 19 games in an attempt to find a formula that works.
Of the 45 lineups that have played at least 5 minutes together, 25 of them have a positive net rating (points scored vs. points allowed, per 100 possessions). *Note: 100 possessions = roughly 1 full NBA game.
The most proven successful lineup for the Suns has been the starting unit, still a +5.7 points per game if they could play all 48 minutes together. Of course they cannot. And in those games, the Suns are only 5-7 because the alternate lineups failed to perform up to par when the starters weren't together.
But this season, nicks and bruises have kept them from even taking the floor together. The Suns are 3-4 in the games where at least one starter has been out due to injury. Markieff Morris (knee bruise) has missed three games. Tyson Chandler (hamstring) has missed four. Eric Bledsoe (knee bruise) has missed one. Only Brandon Knight and P.J. Tucker, among the regular starters, have been healthy enough to play every game.
Over the Suns ugly stretch of losing 6 of their last 7, they've only played the same starting lineup in consecutive games once and that was with Alex Len subbing for Tyson Chandler.
This is no excuse for losing games. Every NBA team deals with injuries. Of course, it's easier to win if you have consistency in your lineups, but you need to find a way to win regardless. I wrote yesterday that the Suns have been losing games because of awful defense, not because of player nicks and bruises.
But still, it's interesting to note that the Suns best lineup, consisting of Tyson Chandler, Markieff Morris, P.J. Tucker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, has only been able to play 174 minutes together this season. By contrast, the Pistons' starting unit has played nearly three times that number of minutes as a unit.
The lineup where Jon Leuer subs in for Markieff Morris with the rest of the starters is still a big negative (-8 points per 100 possessions) but has improved from its early season -28 number. So there's progress.
Only six lineups have spent as many as 20 minutes together this season, and four of those are a net negative.
So you can see why coach Hornacek has narrowed the rotation a bit - sitting Archie Goodwin and Sonny Weems most of the past two weeks - but because of injuries and ineffectiveness he hasn't been able to narrow down successful lineups for an entire game yet.
I know many fans feel that's Hornacek's fault - that he doesn't settle on consistent rotations. But I ask this question: why keep playing a set of guys that are a net negative in their minutes together? Especially when they are inconsistent from game to game.
Hopefully, Hornacek will find consistent lineups soon. Otherwise, this will be a long season.