The Phoenix Suns have played only two of their first six games at home, contributing to their five-game losing streak, but now at least get to stay in the same place for the next two weeks while the coaching staff and players try to solve some of their problems.
The games won’t be easy as there are no easy games for the worst team in the West, but at least serving up home cooking might get the Suns back into the win column sooner than later.
Most of their chances at winning are tied to 22 year old Devin Booker’s health, but it’s also about other things that coach Kokoskov needs to start whittling down.
Stay in the game the whole first half.
First of all, let’s just all do a hearty LOL. Not only have the Suns lost five straight, they haven’t even been in sniffing distance of a win in the second half of any game since opening night.
If you filter the Suns’ stats to ONLY first-halves of their six games, they have a -29 net rating. Meaning if both teams played the same ALL game like they have in the first halves of the six games so far, the Suns would lose by 29 each night.
It will help to have some more home games in the sample size. In two home games, they’re only a -10 net rating in first halves, so maybe the season will right itself a bit here at home. Just the law of averages, right?
Actually, focus on the SECOND QUARTER.
The Suns’ net rating in second quarters is a whoppingly bad -41. (Versus a -17 in first quarters and +6.3 in when-its-already-over second halves, per nba.com/stats.)
Their defensive rating in the second quarter is 141 points, meaning if the same guys on both teams played the whole game like they do each second quarter... the Suns would lose by 41 points every night.
How is this happening? Who’s the biggest culprit?
Apparently, the second quarter is where coach Kokoskov is heavily experimenting with various lineups, which predictably leads to really bad defensive rotations.
Kokoskov has trotted out an unbelievable 31 different five-man combinations for at least one minute in second quarters this season. Total possible second quarter minutes? 72.
Even more batty, none of those combinations have played together in more than 2 of the 6 games.
If Kokoskov could just re-constitute his starting lineup, he would be okay. The starters, Isaiah Canaan-Booker-Trevor Ariza-Deandre Ayton-Ryan Anderson, are a net-0 in the second quarter over 8 of those 72 minutes. But unfortunately, they’ve only played in two of the six second quarters so far.
However, just swapping Canaan with rookie Elie Okobo (Okobo with Booker-Ariza-Anderson-Ayton) has been abject disaster so far. That group is a -121 net rating in 4 minutes of play (one game).
The second most-common five man combination in the second quarter? Elie Okobo-Bridges-Jamal Crawford-Tyson Chandler-T.J. Warren have played 5 total minutes together over two of the second quarters with a net rating of -41.
Have any been successful in the second quarter?
As mentioned before, the regular Canaan-Booker-Ariza-Anderson-Ayton starting lineup is a net-zero in the second quarter. That’s better than a stick in the eye.
Swapping Canaan with Crawford (Crawford with Booker-Ariza-Anderson-Ayton) had a +17 net rating in 3 minutes of play together once.
Or how about swapping Ariza with Mikal Bridges in that starting lineup? Bridges with Canaan-Booker-Anderson-Ayton was an incredible +100 net rating in three minutes one game.
Also, Canaan-Booker-Anderson with Bridges-Ayton (instead of Ariza-Ayton) got a +83 in three minutes one game.
Those 2-3 minute stretches in one game is the smallest of small sample sizes. But at least that’s a place to start, right?
So far it tells us that no 5-man combination featuring fewer than 3 of the regular starting lineup has played well together in the second quarter for more than a minute at a time.
Can Kokoskov narrow down his lineup changes?
I hope so. 31 combinations in 72 second-quarter minutes is a LOT.
But none of them are playing well together. When the lineup is more backups than starters, they have played poorly, and he can’t be playing a majority of his starters ALL the time together.
Heck even the starting lineup is precarious, as you know. Canaan and Booker are injured and might not even play much this week.
Ryan Anderson is an anomaly — playing poorly but having a good net rating because he most often only plays with a majority of the starters. He can’t be expected to keep this up all season. He either needs to get better, or his net rating will finally start reflecting his real output.
Ariza has been awful outside the starting lineup combinations too. He can’t prop up the bench.
Good luck finding positive combinations, Igor.
Neither Crawford (good lord he’s been bad) nor Elie Okobo, outside the second half of Sunday when the game was no longer even in question, have been any good at point guard in the first half of games.
Tyson Chandler and Richaun Holmes have been terrible at backup center, especially in the first half when the game is still in the balance.
At forward, T.J. Warren, despite his good three-point shooting, hasn’t been able to prop up any bench units. Neither has Josh Jackson. In fact, they’ve dragged them down.
What options does Igor really have?
Mikal Bridges has been the only non-starter who’s been effective in most lineups, even bench ones. And even in first halves. So you might see more of Bridges as every game goes on. But if you put him with all bench guys, he’s been a disaster too.
We don’t know what will work once more than two of the starters need a rest. But I just wanted to point out what HAS NOT been working so far.