When the NBA kicks off again on July 31, the Suns will have a chance.
It’s not much of a chance. As our Dave King has outlined, the Suns would need to go at least 7-1 against some of the best teams in the league just to finish in the 9th seed. After that, they’d have to take two more games in a row just to make the playoffs, officially.
But still, it’s all possible. Whereas some of the 22 teams joining the bubble will have little incentive to treat those initial games as anything more than a warm up, Phoenix will have to come roaring out of the gate.
To do so, it is imperative that they throw out only their best lineups. Apologies to some of the deep bench players who have infiltrated rotations this season (Ty Jerome, Cheick Diallo, even Elie Okobo and Jevon Carter), but the Suns will not make the playoffs by employing a 10-man rotation. They need to focus in on their most productive players and ride those guys as hard as possible.
With that being said, here’s a reminder of how all 5-man lineups with at least 100 minutes played fared so far this season.
Even before analyzing anything else, take note of the fact that all 4 of the team’s most-used lineups sported positive net ratings—even though the team as a whole has a negative rating this season. That’s an encouraging sign moving forward, as it points to the core of the roster having sustained tangible chemistry. What has held the Suns back, then, is injuries, suspensions, and ultimately lack of depth.
But beyond that, look closely at the top lineup...the BOBRA lineup. B(ooker), O(ubre), B(ridges), R(ubio), A(yton), in case you needed a reminder. THE Valley Boyz, in their purest form.
With a net rating of +20.2, it was this “smaller” lineup sporting Kelly Oubre Jr. at PF that found a way to dominate opponents. Not only was the BOBRA Phoenix’s most successful lineup, but among all 5-man lineups across the NBA (min. 200 MP), it was the 2nd best.
Here’s an example of just how lethal the BOBRA was. Back on January 28, the Suns blew out Dallas on the road in one of their most decisive victories of the year (133-104). In 16 minutes played together that night, the BOBRA outscored Dallas 51-29. That’s right, virtually the entire point differential of the game was determined by just this one starting lineup.
Below is a compilation of how well those five meshed in that particular game. It also seems worth noting that of 19 field goals made by that lineup, 16 were assisted.
As the Suns now get set to take on Dallas in two of their opening three bubble games, perhaps they should stick with the strategy that allowed them to prevail last time.
So my official suggestion is this: until the Suns lose two games, they rely on a strict 8-man rotation. The BOBRA forms the starting five and plays together as much as possible. Dario Saric plays some PF minutes to provide additional rebounding and playmaking when needed. Aron Baynes continues to back up Deandre Ayton. And finally, Cameron Johnson’s floor spacing is too valuable to lose.
But that’s it. None of the backup guards on this roster are good enough to trust here, even if it means Devin Booker must become the backup PG in addition to already being the starting SG. Ricky Rubio, Booker, and Mikal Bridges may all need to play close to 40 MPG to make up for the roster’s lack of guard depth. It’s not ideal, but in a situation where a single loss knocks you out, it’s completely necessary.
There is just one thing that could throw a wrench into the plan, and that’s the status of Oubre, who underwent surgery on his right meniscus back in early March. Team owner Robert Sarver stated the other day that he anticipates a return for the team’s 3rd-option scorer, but didn’t speak to whether there might be a minutes restriction in place.
If Oubre’s minutes are limited, then the BOBRA dream is unfortunately dead. Oubre’s speed and versatility at the PF position is the key to unlocking the potency of that lineup.
But if the Suns do enter July 31st at full strength? Well, they may just have a chance.