During the first six years after the return of Nash, the Phoenix Suns dominated regular season play thanks to perhaps the best offense in NBA history over that length of a period.
The Suns led the league in offensive efficiency each and every one of those campaigns with some seasons that ranked among the best in NBA history.
Last season the Suns dropped down to ninth and this year — as predicted by Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE projection system — they have fallen to the middle of the pack at 17th entering play Wednesday.
The defense — ranking 22nd in efficiency — has been an issue as well with some inconsistent efforts, but it’s not far off from the kind of defense Phoenix has played the past decade.
The offense is a completely different story.
Steve Nash is still putting up All-Star numbers yet he’s leading an average offense for the first time ever, and the plus-minus numbers support the eye test contention that he’s not to blame.
The Suns are 9.74 points per 100 possessions better with Nash on the floor than when he’s reclining by the bench with a towel as Phoenix is actually pretty good offensively with a 106.1 offensive rating with Two Time in the game, according to BasketballValue.com.
That should not surprise you, it’s what he’s always done, but you might be surprised to learn that the offense is even better with Channing Frye on the floor. The Suns are 11.56 per 100 better with the UA product in the game, scoring a vintage Suns-like 108.1.
Prone to long shooting slumps Frye doesn’t seem like an offensive star, but Phoenix’s offenses have consistently been better with him playing during his time as a Sun. Last season he ranked second behind Nash (albeit by a wide margin) in offensive rating, and he led the Suns in this department in 2009-10 (barely besting the two-time MVP).
On the flip side, the Suns’ offense has been much worse (11 points per 100) with either Josh Childress or Sebastian Telfair in the game, which should surprise no one.
Of course, during the offseason the Suns hired Elston Turner to be their defensive coordinator and spoke of a renewed focus on that end. They have been good at times defensively but have once again failed to sustain an above-average defense during the first half of the season.
As the Suns are rebuilt perhaps they will find it easier to craft a roster that’s more balanced on both sides of the ball, but so long as the Suns are still a below average defensive club, their suddenly average offense is the reason Phoenix has fallen in the standings for the second year in a row.
Suns top heavy in Wins Produced
I like to analyze a variety of advanced statistical measures to develop a full picture of the Suns, but what are you to think when two different stats paint completely different pictures?
As one would think from watching the Suns, Nash’s Wins Produced numbers (0.288 WP48, 5.97 wins) are elite and Marcin Gortat (0.178, 4.24) and Jared Dudley (0.184, 3.79) are doing very well also, according to Wages of Wins.
However, the only other Sun producing an above average season by this metric is … Josh Childress (0.205 WP48). Yes, the same Josh Childress with the team’s worst offensive plus-minus numbers as well as some of the worst mySynergySports defensive numbers in the league, giving up 1.12 points per play to rank 387th league-wide.
Frye, meanwhile, boasts just a 0.037 WP48, which puts him a chunk below a league average player and makes him the kind of big man playing far too many minutes despite being so good in offensive rating.
Efficiency really counts in Wins Produced, and Frye has been anything but that this season. However, the plus-minus numbers seem to show a redeeming value in Channing’s spacing ability.
The rest of the team represents different degrees of below average players with — again — Bassy Telfair at the bottom with a -0.158 WP48.
Fun with lineups
The halfway point of the season seems like as good a time as any to take a look at which lineups are producing, once again courtesy of Basketball Value.
The Suns’ best unit is Nash-Dudley-Hill-Morris-Gortat with an adjusted plus-minus of 12.14 and the starting lineup of that unit with Frye instead of Morris is next at 8.49. The starting lineup has played almost 450 minutes together whereas the top overall unit ranks second in minutes at 63, so it’s good to see Alvin Gentry giving lots of time to his best combinations.
The worst unit getting serious burn is the Nash-Price-Hill-Morris-Gortat lineup that’s at -32.50 adjusted in 51 minutes. With Price’s minutes severely restricted lately, we haven’t seen that combo in some time.