We’ve discussed many of the general reasons why the Phoenix Suns’ season ended in mid-April, and today we will take a deeper look with the help of advanced stats.
Offense not elite anymore, defense regresses
For the first time in a decade Steve Nash’s team did not lead the league’s most efficient offense. This year he led the ninth-most efficient offense, averaging 107.0 points per 100 possessions.
However, according to Basketball Value, this should not be wholly attributed to Nash as the offense was 12.32 points per 100 better with him on the floor, a stat that should be no surprise to anybody who watched the games Two Time missed this season.
As discussed at length in my defense feature earlier this offseason, the Suns’ defense regressed this season in a big way, falling from 19th to 25th after yielding 107.4 points per 100.
A big reason for this was the team’s porous defensive rebound rate of 71.6 that ranked 28th in the league despite Marcin Gortat placing seventh in this category as an individual.
Plus/minus shows Nash’s value
There’s plenty of noise in adjusted plus/minus, but not enough to mitigate what this stat says about Nash’s value to the Suns.
The Suns were 14.41 points per 100 possessions better with Nash on the floor this season. Hedo Turkoglu (1.09) and Vince Carter (0.58) of all people were the only Suns to join MVSteve in the positives although Jared Dudley (-0.79) and Channing Frye (-1.65) weren’t far behind.
The starters get punished for playing heavy minutes with Nash in terms of the aforementioned adjusted rating as unadjusted the Suns were 7.51 better with Frye and 4.47 better with Hill.
On the other end of the spectrum the Suns were an adjusted 8.09 points worse per 100 possessions with Robin Lopez on the floor. It comes as no surprise that the Suns were very bad unadjsuted with Goran Dragic (-9.31) and Aaron Brooks (-9.15) on the court since they played the vast majority of their minutes without Nash, so this analysis shows not only how good Nash was but how bad his backups were as well.
The Suns’ best unit was Nash-Hill-Dudley-Frye-Lopez, gaining 13.56 per 100 in 77 minutes of court time. Nash-Carter-Hill-Frye-Gortat was the best group that played significant minutes as it was plus 10.69 in 196.6 minutes.
Their worst unit to play over 40 minutes was Dowdell-Pietrus-Dudley-Warrick-Gortat at -16.20 in 77.55 minutes. Not surprisingly Dragic-Childress-Dudley-Turkoglu-Warrick lost 14.68 in 88.42 minutes.
The best offensive unit to play together significant minutes was Nash-Carter-Dudley-Frye-Gortat, scoring 121.5 per 100 in 54.6 minutes, and Nash-Dudley-Hill-Frye-Lopez was just behind at 120.4 in 77.42 minutes. Nash-Carter-Hill-Warrick-Lopez (93.33 in 37 minutes) and Brooks-Carter-Childress-Warrick-Lopez (95.16 in 33 minutes) were among the worst.
The best defensive unit in significant minutes was Dragic-Carter-Dudley-Frye-Gortat, giving up just 98.25 in 29 minutes. The Nash-Carter-Hill-Frye-Gortat unit that played almost 200 minutes together was also very good defensively at 100.54. On the flip side Dragic-Richardson-Hill-Turkoglu-Frye gave up 137.66 per 100 in 38 minutes.
Nash, Gortat produce wins
The Wins Produced stat attributes responsibility to players for wins based on their box score stats, and it is said to explain 95 percent of a team’s win total.
According to NerdNumbers.com, the Suns were expected to win 38.2 games based on their team Wins Produced totals, putting them well within range of the 40 games they actually won.
To nobody’s surprise Nash is credited with 14.2 of those wins with a WP48 of .274 (an average NBA player posts a .100). Marcin Gortat ranks right behind Nash with 8.1 wins produced thanks to an outstanding .237 WP48. Next in line are Dudley (7.6, .170) and Hill (3.7, .073).
Josh Childress stands out as a player who deserved more minutes based on this stat thanks to his .139 WP48. Childress produced almost 10 wins in 2007-08 as a Hawk, one of the reasons I hope he becomes a rotation player next season.
As for the ugly side of this metric, Lopez lost the team 1.3 wins with a -.065 WP48 and Dragic lost 1.0 with a -.057. The most amazing negative stat, though, is that Earl Barron managed to lose 1.3 games in his mere 183 minutes thanks to an astoundingly bad -.337 WP48. This stat apparently doesn’t take kindly to centers who miss as many layups as Barron did.
Drops of Synergy knowledge
I’ll conclude my analysis of the Suns through advanced stats with some knowledge from Synergy Sports Technology, which provides some interesting insights on Phoenix’s season.
Synergy has the Suns as the third-best offense after scoring 0.98 points per play (a play ends in a field-goal attempt, turnover or free throws so it’s a bit different than the points per possession measure). This obviously compares favorably to their points per 100 possessions rating above.
The Suns scored on 45.7 percent of their plays, turned it over on 12.5 percent of them and shot free throws on 6.7 percent of them.
They were best on plays finished by the roll man on a pick and roll. They scored 1.19 points per play while shooting 60 percent on such plays to rank second in the league (this accounted for 7.6 percent of their total offense); they were also great in spot-up situations, scoring 1.08 to also rank second (22.7 percent of all plays). Interestingly the Knicks and Amare Stoudemire ranked sixth by scoring 1.09 per play when the roll man finishes, and considering this team’s roll men pre-Gortat Nash deserves a ton of credit for that.
The Suns were particularly bad off screens (0.8 per play, 26th), in transition (comparatively at 25th in the league at 1.11 per play), in isolation (0.8, 24th thanks to no quality isolation players) and on hand offs (0.82, 23rd).
Phoenix ranked 21st defensively by yielding 0.92 points per play as teams scored on 43.5 percent of all plays against the Suns.
The team was best against handoffs, ranking seventh at 0.87, but this play only occurred 2.1 percent of the time. Grant Hill certainly helped in this department as he was the sixth-best player in the league against handoffs, allowing 0.6 ppp.
The Suns were torched in post-up situations, giving up 0.95 ppp to rank 29th. Teams shot 49.8 percent when posting up against Phoenix and scored 48.6 percent of the time.
The Synergy numbers prove Gortat’s adeptness as the roll man. He scored 1.25 points per play in such situations while shooting better than 60 percent to rank eighth in the league in this category. Also, 38.5 percent of his scoring plays came as a roll man, as he scored 64.4 percent of the time in such situations.
By contrast, Stoudemire ranked 30th this year as he scored 1.13 points per play as a roll man, scoring 56 percent of the time. Last year Stoudemire scored 1.21 ppp as the roll man, executing on 60.3 percent of his chances.
You may not need Synergy to figure out Vince Carter struggled in isolation, as he scored 0.82 points per play while putting points on the scoreboard just less than 40 percent of the time. But he was solid as a spot-up shooter, ranking 35th by scoring 1.18 ppp although the Suns still scored on just 43.1 percent of these situations.
The numbers are even more exaggerated for Hedo Turkoglu. Turk just couldn’t create his own shot, ranking 229th by averaging 0.62 ppp in isolation situations in which he scored 31 percent of the time. But he was a fantastic spot-up guy, ranking fourth in the entire league by scoring 1.55 per play while scoring on 57.7 percent of such possessions.