In the midst of an awful stretch of end-game results, coach Jeff Hornacek has finally made a change to the Phoenix Suns starting lineup that's been desired by fans for weeks.
"Jon did a nice job out there with that first group," Hornacek said to Paul Coro after the game. "So it'll probably stay that way."
Coro travels with the Suns on the road, and continues to be a font of information for Suns fans starving for anything that might turn the season into a positive one.
Hornacek decided to shake up a disappointing starting lineup of late, one racked by injuries but also by results that didn't match the talent involved. Tyson Chandler has missed four straight games (and five of the past six), while Markieff Morris missed almost a handful himself with a pair of knee bruises. Even Eric Bledsoe has missed a game and been limited in a couple of others.
Still, their early-season success as a unit has dwindled, and now coach Hornacek has made the change to see how Jon Leuer fits in the starting unit.
Markieff Morris, refreshingly, seems entirely mature about the situation.
"It's cool," Morris said to Coro of the change. "Me and Coach talked about it. Try to catch a rhythm with the second unit. Whatever's good for the team is what I'm good with. It is what it is. Jon and Mirza (Teletovic) have been playing really well. If you ask me if I deserve it, I haven't been playing too well. I'm with whatever the team wants."
Two seasons ago, Markieff Morris put up 13 points and 6 rebounds per game coming off the bench behind Channing Frye for the surprising 48-34 Suns. For his efforts, he nearly won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award. And that was after having started the season before, so Morris has proven throughout his career he won't complain about his role on the team.
Leuer started the season as a great spark plug off the bench who didn't play well when slotted with the starters (Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker), collectively posting a -28 points per 100 possessions the first few weeks.
That's changed. Over the last 15 games (75% of the season now), the starters with Leuer have posted a +3.8 points per 100 possessions, vs. -7.7 with Markieff in there. It should be noted that this in on short minutes, with the Leuer lineup only playing 47 minutes vs. the Keef lineup's 94 minutes. Considering this is over 15 games, you can see how injuries have hit the starters' continuity pretty hard.
Even better, Leuer in a lineup with Alex Len, Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker and Brandon Knight has been a +12.8/100 in 27 minutes of play recently. If Chandler cannot return today from his hamstring injury, the Suns will need Len to step up against Gasol.
Leuer did well in his debut, scoring 13 points and grabbing 2 rebounds in 23 minutes on Friday night. Today is a bigger test though, against his old team the Memphis Grizzlies. He rode the Grizz bench for two years, rarely getting enough minutes behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to impact any games.
Can Leuer provide a tough presence against those two today? And can he sustain his play over more extended minutes?
Another potential move that Leuer's presence in the starting lineup provides: now T.J. Warren fits better in the starting lineup than when Keef was in there. Warren's slashing and mid-range game won't be clogging the lanes as much with Leuer able to stretch the D on offense from three-point range.
But that's a move for another day. For now, let's see how new Suns starter Jon Leuer fares against his old team, and whether the Suns can stop this ugly stretch of losses.