PHOENIX — Alvin Gentry has reams of lineup data covering his desk, so he’s surely aware that the Suns’ old starting lineup was being outscored by about 40 points per 100 possessions over the course of the last six games.
The Suns’ coaching staff has met for a few hours a day the last several days debating those numbers as well as the fit of their lineups and decided to make two changes: Shannon Brown for Jared Dudley and Markieff Morris for Luis Scola.
Brown for Dudley was expected as Shannon has outplayed JD thus far. Morris for Scola was not being that Scola has started every game since his rookie season in the league and Morris is shooting 35 percent.
“We have all of these things here, we have every combination of every guy we’ve ever stuck out on the court and the minutes they’ve played and how they’ve played, and we just try to look at it and analyze and make a decision for how it may be best for our team overall,” Gentry said.
The thought is that the Suns can inject some athleticism into the starting lineup and create units that fit better together. Moving Scola to the bench opens up space for Gortat on the interior while pairing him with a spacer in Morris that could be reminiscent of the Gortat-Frye pairing from last year. Meanwhile, Scola starred as the focal point of the second unit’s offense in the comeback against Chicago last week and could get more scoring opportunities in the post as the main offensive figure with that defensive-oriented group.
Dudley’s game seems to fit the identity of the bench unit, and Gentry hopes that he can perhaps get a few more shots with that crew that could potentially help him find a rhythm that has largely escaped him thus far this season. Gentry also lauded Brown’s defense and likes his ability to create offense for himself in that first unit.
“Hopefully this can help that second unit that’s very solid defensively but we struggle a little bit to score,” Gentry said. “We’d like to have a situation where we know this team from top to bottom and really know what we’re going to get. It’s just not the case. No one wants to be in a situation where you don’t have a total feel to what we have and how we can use it, but that’s where we are right now.
“We’re just trying to find out what’s best for our team. There’s no demotions or anything like that.”
The Suns’ new starting lineup has shared the court for 12 minutes and been outscored 39-29 while knocking down 44.0 percent of its shots, according to the NBA’s stats tool. The assumed new primary bench alignment of Telfair-Dudley-Tucker-Scola-O’Neal has yet to play together.
Gentry is most concerned about how Scola might take to a reserve role being that he has started every game since his second season. Grant Hill, who similarly started the majority of his pre-Phoenix career, never could adjust to coming off the bench so he eventually became a permanent starter with the Suns as well.
“We’ll have to take a look at this if it’s something where Scola’s production is going to fall off,” Gentry said. “We’d have to consider sticking him back in the lineup. I know one thing, I know when he’s on the court we get everything that he [has]. I don’t have any doubt that we’ll get his best every night. Sometimes that doesn’t translate into playing great, but I always know when he’s out there on the court we’ll get everything that he has. … Maybe he’s a guy that won’t be productive off the bench, and if that’s the case it’s crazy for us to play him off the bench.”
Gentry, ever the expert communicator, discussed the situation with all of the players involved before announcing it to even the team. He acknowledged that although everybody would prefer to start, he’s not concerned that any of the players will take it the wrong way.
Thus far this season the only lineup we have a significant amount of data on is the old starting lineup, with no other unit even playing 25 minutes together. Now we will presumably get two more data points, and perhaps one of these units will morph into one Phoenix can count on.
If not, Gentry has no problem pulling the plug and trying something else.
“It’s not anything that I think he would enjoy doing, but I know this: He’s a warrior, and I know that he’s a great teammate,” said Gentry, speaking of Scola. “He’ll give it a shot, and I told him it’s nothing we’re married to, we just have to take a look at it and see.”
Gentry on Gortat: “If you study as much as we do, he gets quite a few touches, contrary to what he thinks.”