Thanks to the NBA’s great new stats tool, today we will delve deeper into the 2011-12 Phoenix Suns’ season with the help of advanced stats.
The first half/second half offensive discrepancy
The simplest reason why the Phoenix Suns were so bad in the first half of the season and so good in the second half all boils down to their offense.
As I wrote during the All-Star break, the Suns’ first-half offense just did not get it done, be it because of a lack of familiarity, not being in playing shape or just flat-out missing shots.
I don’t know why the offense slipped so much, but I do know that according to the NBA’s stats tool that the Suns ranked 16th in offensive efficiency in the first half with an offensive rating of 100.2.
The second half was a completely different story as the Suns ranked fourth with an offensive rating of 107.1 that sat behind only the Spurs, Nuggets and Thunder, and they were tied for second in the league in this time before the final two games.
Overall, the Suns’ offense progressively improved as the season went on as they boasted a 96.2 offensive rating in December, a 98.0 in January, a 103.7 in February, a 107.1 in March and a 107.0 in April.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, the defense steadily declined throughout the season by sporting a 100.2 defensive rating in December, a 102.6 in January, a 103.5 in February, a 104.6 in March and a 105.1 in April.
The Suns ranked 21st with a 104.9 defensive rating in the second half and although that’s worse than their first half rating of 102.7, that early season mark actually ranked 23rd as offense picked up league-wide once the lockout rust was shaken off — just not as significantly as it did in Phoenix.
Overall the Suns were eighth with a 103.5 offensive rating and 23rd with a 103.8 defensive rating, which means both that their .500 record makes sense based on their offensive and defensive efficiencies and that when all was said and done their offense was above average and defense below average (surprise, surprise).
Last season the Suns ranked ninth with a 107.0 offensive efficiency and 25th with a 107.4 defensive efficiency, so although both of those numbers dropped their offense and defense stayed in the same general areas when compared to the rest of the league.
The Suns’ top and bottom lineups
Among lineups that played at least 48 minutes together, the Suns’ top unit was one consisting of Nash-Brown-Dudley-Morris-Gortat as that alignment outscored opponents by 26.9 points per 100 possessions over the course of 86 minutes in 25 games.
Next on the list is the Suns’ starting lineup when healthy of Nash-Dudley-Hill-Frye-Gortat as in 747 minutes over 45 games the starters outscored opponents by 12.5 points per 100. The Bassy-Redd-Childress-Morris-Lopez group was also great with a net rating of 11.5 in 147 minutes over 19 games thanks to a torrid second half.
On the flip side, Bassy-Redd-Brown-Morris-Lopez was absolutely abysmal, as in 108 minutes over 21 games they compiled a -17.1 rating, largely during the otherwise stellar second half when they played all but 21 of those minutes.
They were only broken up when Hill got hurt, shifting Brown into the starting lineup and Childress to the bench unit, and once that happened the bench suddenly turned into a juggernaut that played 22.9 points per 100 better — a whopping difference of 46.7 points per 100 compared to the Brown bench’s -23.8 net rating.
The Nash-Price-Hill-Morris-Gortat lineup that the Suns also tried early in the year was pretty bad as well with a -15.5 rating in 65 minutes.
The Suns’ top four-man lineup consisted of Price-Warrick-Morris-Lopez of all things, but they played just 58 minutes to compile a net rating of 22.8. Next was Nash-Brown-Dudley-Morris at 21.8.
The starting lineup quartet of Nash-Dudley-Frye-Gortat played 1168 minutes over 59 games together and produced a 9.2 rating.
Down at the bottom, Bassy-Redd-Warrick-Lopez were horrid with a -43.8 net rating in 60 minutes, and Bassy-Redd-Brown-Lopez were the worst group that played over 100 minutes (142 to be exact), as they put up a -19.9 net rating. Once again, Brown was just a poor fit with the bench.
Moving on to three-man lineups, Morris-Price with either Telfair (27.0) or Warrick (18.2) cleaned up in small sample sizes, but the Suns’ top trio that played together for over 160 minutes was Hill-Frye-Gortat (11.2 net rating in 863 minutes), followed closely by Nash-Hill-Frye (10.6 in 887).
Down at the bottom, Bassy-Dudley-Gortat did not work out to the tune of a -25.7 in 118 minutes and neither did Bassy-Brown-Morris (-10.3 in 311 minutes).
Nash-Dudley-Gortat played the most together, logging 1471 minutes in 61 games. They were a positive 8.4 per 100 possessions, and it certainly reflects well on Gentry that their top 17 trios all finished in the positives.
Finally, the Suns’ top two duos involve Channing Frye: Frye-Hill (9.8 net rating in 935 minutes) and Frye-Nash (7.2 in 1378 minutes). Next are Nash-Dudley, Frye-Gortat and Dudley-Hill, all three of which played over 1000 minutes together. In fact, with a minimum threshold of 200 minutes for duos, all but a random Lopez-Price duo played at least 900 minutes together among Phoenix’s top 11 pairs.
Bassy-Gortat pull up the rear with a -18.1 net rating, and Dudley-Warrick (-15.3) weren’t much better.
Nash and Gortat played more than any other combination, logging 1780 minutes and producing a 5.6 net rating. It certainly makes sense for the Suns’ most-played duo to consist of their best two players, especially when their games complement each other so well.
Nash, Frye shine in plus/minus
As has become an annual tradition, Steve Nash led the Suns in adjusted plus/minus with a 13.35 adjusted rating, according to Basketball Value. Robin Lopez surprisingly finished second at 11.74.
So far as net rating is concerned, Channing Frye paced Phoenix as the team was 12.75 points per 100 better with the UA product on the court, including a team-best 11.13 better offensively. Frye ranked second in this category last season to Nash and first in 2009-10 ahead of Two Time. Predictably Team Canada’s new GM was right on his heels this year at 11.02.
Using the NBA’s stats tool to dig deeper into on court/off court issues, we can see the Suns scored 106.5 per 100 possessions with Nash on the floor but a mere 98.5 when he sat. This season that was the difference between the Nuggets and the Raptors.
Moreover, the Suns shot better from every spot on the floor save for threes between 25-29 feet (and barely at that) with Nash in the game as well as every type of shot aside from the above the break three. For example, the Suns shot 45.9 percent in the paint (aside from the restricted area) with Nash but 35.4 percent without him. Yes, that man deserves the contract he is about to sign and then some.
The Suns were also significantly better offensively with Frye on the floor, scoring 107.7 per 100 with him but just 98.8 without him. If Channing were a team, he would have ranked second in offensive efficiency this season. Phoenix also shot better from every distance and floor area with Frye in the game, pretty crazy considering Frye himself shot just 41.6 percent from the field.
One would not think that would be the case for a streaky shooter who was so bad to start the season, yet his spacing ability really is that important to the Suns’ offense, and it has been the last three seasons. It’s debatable whether he would be this important to every offense league-wide, but it’s safe to say his presence really helps the Suns. This was also obvious in the de facto play-in game in Utah that he missed.
- The Suns upped their rebound rate this season, improving from 29th to 23rd. This season they corralled 49.0 percent of the available rebounds, including 71.7 percent of the possible defensive boards to rank 24th (up from 28th last season). Both Gentry and Lon Babby were pleased that the Suns improved in this area but both would like to see the team continue to get better on the glass.
- As for the other Four Factors, Phoenix shot a 49.9 effective field goal percentage (ninth) and yielded a 49.1 effective field goal percentage (19th). The Suns also produced a turnover ratio (turnovers per 100 plays) of 10.95 (eighth) and an opponent turnover ratio of 10.94 (22nd) as well as a free throw rate (ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts) of .257 (23rd) and opponent free throw rate of .262 (10th).
- The Suns were not very good in the clutch (defined as ahead or behind by five points in the final five minutes), getting outscored by 15.8 points per 100 possessions in such situations, sixth worst in the league. None of the squads below them sniffed the playoffs. Surely, Phoenix’s lack of a closer is a big reason why, and slightly improved play in the clutch probably makes the Suns a playoff team.
- Phoenix was significantly better offensively at home (107.0 offensive rating) than on the road (100.1). The defense did not fluctuate nearly so much with a 103.4 defensive rating at home and a 104.1 rating on the road.
- The Suns shot 62.5 percent from less than five feet (third in the league), 41.0 percent from 5-9 feet (third), 38.8 percent from 10-14 (17th), 43.8 percent from 15-19 (second), 37.7 percent from 20-24 (13th) and 33.6 percent from 25-29 (18th).
- They finished ninth in pace at 95.0 possessions per game. Last season they were eighth and the previous six seasons in the Nash era they ranked in the top five.
- This isn’t an advanced stat but interesting nonetheless. The Suns were the only NBA team not to play an overtime game this season.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.