A shortened bench could be on the Suns' horizon


PHOENIX – Alvin Gentry’s patience is being tested.

He admitted as much before Wednesday’s win against the Philadelphia 76ers, and at the forefront of his problems has been – and might always be – how he handles his lineups. With this particular roster, change might no longer consist of combination alterations. Some parts of the equation might be negated altogether.

“Maybe we can’t sub in a whole second unit,” Gentry said. “Maybe we’re going to have to put in a few guys here and there, and not sub in an entire unit. We’ve played that way forever, but this may be a situation where we can’t because we’ve gotten ourselves in a lot of trouble.”

Gentry’s bench units have been a staple in the past. In 2010, Dragic and Dudley were part of the energetic bench that injected a new feel into the game (here is where you might point out the lack of talent on the roster). Last season even, Phoenix’s bench came with a different feel than the starting unit.

Gentry hasn’t been known to have knee-jerk reactions as a coach, and any complaints about him could be the opposite; he sticks with his guns too long. Michael Beasley starting perhaps went on a few games longer than most Suns fans would have liked, and Beasley is still trying not to be phased out completely.

But slowly and surely, it’s become more clear that the Phoenix bench unit just doesn’t have it, especially if this new starting lineup with P.J. Tucker continues to look solid in its chemistry.

The shortening of the bench has slowly become apparent in the past three games. Beasley didn’t play in the second half three games ago against Minnesota, didn’t play at all against Oklahoma City and was again phased out in the second half against Philadelphia. In those three games, Scola, Tucker, Dudley and Dragic have played at least 40 minutes per game once.

Sebastian Telfair’s sore knee added to the heavy minutes for Dragic on Wednesday, and that combined with Beasley’s absence saw the Suns take a lead quickly after they trailed by one – they never relinquished it.

Against Philadelphia, it was clear the bench wasn’t close in replicating the success of the starters. Out of those starters, the worst plus-minus was Tucker’s plus-9. Markieff Morris had the best plus-minus of the bench players with minus-8.

“It’s something we’ll look at and have to decide,” Gentry said of shortening the bench.

P.J. Tucker makes a case to remain with starters

After the win, Gentry didn’t reveal what he’d like to do with the starting lineup moving forward.

Asked if he liked the lineup tonight, he said, “tonight. Tonight. We’ll see (moving forward). I do like P.J. in there because he gives us a defensive presence and an energy level the other guys feed off of.”

As much as an offensive liability Tucker might be, he still had 10 points, six rebounds and won the 50-50 balls that Gentry said were more like 20-80 balls in past games. The ball moved crisply overall, and Tucker had much to do with that. Scola again reaped the benefits.

“I think we moved the ball better,” Scola said. “I think we’ve learned to play with each other a little bit more. It took us some time to click, but we’re getting better. The other guys kind of know what I’m doing, what I’m going to do. That gives me a chance to make a pass, make a play. I know what they’re going to do.”

Of course, Scola warned, now the challenge is putting together another game.

Suns emphasize gang rebounding

Phoenix has compounded turnovers, missed shots and perimeter defense problems by being overly aggressive. The Suns’ goal on Wednesday was to stay in front of their men and the basket – no going for steals that would risk blow-bys and shots at the rim. And when the shots went up, the Suns emphasized rebounding from the guards rather than leaking out to start a fastbreak.

Said Gentry: “We have a tendency sometimes to leak out, and sometimes what happens is they have an offensive rebound and they end up hitting a guy for an open three-pointer.”

Quotable

Gentry on the 1,200-plus Kansas State fans booing Markieff Morris (a former Kansas Jayhawk): “I told Markieff that Big 12 stuff runs deep. I think that’s the first time he’s been booed when he checked into the game.”

  • silver

    “Maybe we can’t sub in a whole second unit”

    GOD DAMMIT GENTRY!!!!!

    It’s so hard to defend you sometimes. Especially now when we know for sure now that you don’t know what you’re doing right now.

  • Ty-Sun

    I see this as a positive for Gentry as he’s beginning to realize that what he’s been doing in the past – having seperate 1st and second units – just isn’t going to work this season with the players he presently has.

    As I see it, he has only 9 reliable players. Straight subbing works at the 1, 4 and 5 (Dragic/Telfair, Scola/Morris, Gortat/O’Neal) but not at the 2 and 3 spots. There he has Dudley, Brown and Tucker which he will need to rotate and keep at least two of them in the game at all times. The only way he could rest more than one of them at once would be to move Dragic over to the 2 with Telfair at the 1 with either Dudley, Tucker or Brown playing the 3.

    For this team to play it’s best, Gentry is going to have to abandon the two-team system he’s been trying to use and turn those straightforward 2 team rotations into a juggling act.

  • cdubbb

    Shows that Gentry is starting to get feel for this team. After a better sample size, he realizes what is working and what is not, and will now make adjustments. Perfect timing if you ask me, Scola is feeling more comfortable and providing a level of consistency, as with Dudley and Gortat. We are optimizing, so that we can maximize.

  • Harry

    What’s sad is that it took him over 30 games to figure this out. Really shouldn’t have taken more than 15, maybe 20 games to have a working framework in place. Telfair should play some at the two to best balance the rotations.

    Anyone know anything on Telfair’s knee?

  • Ty-Sun

    While I’m sure a lot of people won’t like this idea for various reasons, its very possible for Phoenix to make another trade with Orlando to bring JJ Redick to the Suns.

    He becomes a free agent at the end of this season and everything I’ve read say that he’s not in Orlando’s long range plans. A one-for-one trade of Johnson (an expiring contract) for Redick actually works but Orlando would never go for that… unless the Suns sweetened the deal with one of the first round picks they’ve acquired. NOT their own but one that will probably be a later 1st round pick. Orlando seems to do much better with making later picks than the Suns so they might bite on the idea.

    Redick certainly couldn’t turn this season around for the Suns but his numbers are better than Brown’s and he would give us at least a good backup 2 for the rest of the season.

    Just a thought. It could help the Suns this season but it isn’t a cure-all by any means. And Orlando could probably find a better deal for Redick elsewhere.

    And perhaps it’s just best to stand pat and hope for luck in the draft this year. After all, the worse the Suns play this year the better the chance that they get lucky in the lottery and get one of the 1st 3 picks.

  • azbballfan

    I think the Suns could stick with this lineup the rest of the year, as no one else on the bench have proven themselves to conisistently come in and produce

    of course if a trade comes along, they will have to change it up but hey if i am coach gentry, i ride this lineup as long as possible

    Being in the last year of his contract, Gentry isnt just coaching the Suns, he is also auditioning himself for a future coaching job

    sticking to a consistent lineup, unless injury or trade occurs would also prevent players from expecting to play 30 minutes a game and they play 10

  • bk

    So….. no minutes for Marshall all the way?

  • Ty-Sun

    Once the Suns are completely out of the playoff picture then Marshall will probably get some minutes… unless Dragic or Telfair get injured. Or if he suddenly develops a jump shot. Or if he suddenly starts playing good defense.

    Marshall is great at passing but doesn’t do anything else at the NBA level. That’s why he’s riding the pine instead of on the court.

    As azbballfan pointed out, Gentry isn’t just coaching for this season, he’s auditioning for his next coaching job whether that is in Phoenix or elsewhere. He’s going to do the best he can with what he’s got until someone in the FO tells him that his job is safe and that he should concentrate on developing younger players for the rest of this season.

  • Scott

    @bk -

    Marshall is fooling himself if he really believes he can play without scoring. He needs to demonstrate that he’s got a go-to shot if he ever wants to get on the court.

    Marshall said before the draft that he was aware he needed to work on his offense, but he ought to have a simple go-to move by now. Something like a midrange scoop or fallback jumper that he’s got a high percentage on and he knows when to use it. He’s had about 2/3 of a year to work on it, and from what I see, he’s got nothing. He can’t make a shot if they leave him wide open, and he can’t reliably make a layup.

    I’m all for Marshall being a success, but he’s got to help himself by stepping up and hitting a shot every time he steps on the court.

    Possibly he needs to be more proactive and pick the brains of Igor Kokoskov, Lindsey Hunter, Dan Majerle, and Corey Gaines. With their help, surely he can figure out a move that he can reliably execute.

  • Scott

    Let me emphasize that in addition to the D-League, the Suns have 4 assistant coaches to help players out, plus 2 developmental coaches who have been hired specially to develop the junior players on the team.

    I don’t know what these coaches are doing, but I don’t see any sign of improvement from Marshall, Garrett, or Zeller. All three of these guys need to show they can score.

  • Ty-Sun

    The sad thing for the Suns is that, from everything I’ve been reading, so far there aren’t any great 2 guard prospects that even might be available in this year’s draft. Unless the Suns can make a trade for at least a good 2, the draft won’t help them out at that spot even if they get lucky enough to get the #1 pick in the draft lottery.

    With that in mind I think they should be looking to making a trade to get at least a good 2 this season and then just taking the best talent available during the draft no matter what position he plays. Facts are facts and the Suns need help almost everywhere so pretty much everyone on this season’s team is expendable under the right circumstances.

  • Polish_fan

    and my question is how do u know that he is not a good scorer and defendet AT THE MOMENT? he is ironing with hiss ass the banch… ;-)

  • Harry

    Exactly Polish Fan. Unless Scott is at practice, you can’t make that assessment.

  • Ty-Sun

    It all depends on whether you have any trust in Gentry or not as to whether Marshall is NBA ready or not. We all knew that Marshall had well known shortcomings when he was drafted. Yes he was a great passer but a weak scorer, a weak defender and not very athletic.

    It’s still Gentry’s call as to who he plays and why.

    Plus Marshall was at best a mediocre scorer and defender in the D-league so why would anyone assume that he would suddenly become better in the NBA?

  • Scott

    I’m basing my observations on what Marshall has shown us so far. That includes his D-League play and his last outing with the Suns.

    What I would expect is that since Marshall knows people believe he can’t score, he should demonstrate his competency with a scoring move fairly soon after he sets foot on the court. Prove he can do it. He was on the court just a few days ago, and he didn’t do that, and the most likely reason for that is that he can’t.

    I suspect Gentry has the same issue with Garrett. Garrett passed the ball well in his earlier play, but he didn’t score. This inability strikes double-hard against Garrett, as (from what I’ve read) the Suns envision him as a possible SG / combo guard. So even more than Marshall, Garrett needs to demonstrate scoring ability.

    This is just my take on the situation – and no, I’m not a Suns insider. But IMO what is causing Gentry to hold back on playing the rookie PGs is that they haven’t demonstrated their ability to score. This is interpreted as being too soft, too tentative, and lacking assertiveness, which you can’t have in your floor general.

    Other than that, what can it be? IIRC, when they have played their defense has seemed adequate, they did a reasonable job of distributing the ball, and they weren’t turnover prone.

  • Pingback: Gentry has stopped tweaking the #Suns lineup. Good | the valley savage

  • cdubbb

    The reason they arent getting playing time is because there are better players in front of them. Marshall is not gonna come in and out play or out hustle Telfair, niether is Garret. To say they arent developing is laughable at best. You nor I nor anybody commenting on this post has any clue if they are better players now then they were 1 month ago, save your assumptions and quit trying to play psychic.

    Look at facts. We are trying to win. The playoffs is what we are aiming for. Now whether this is the right or wrong decision is debatable and irrelevant. What is relevant is Telfair. He is by far a better player right now then Garret and Marshall. Playing Telfair gives us best chance to win. Winning is what we are trying to accomplish. Thus Marshall and Garret dont see playing time.

  • Luka

    Gentry needs to be fired. The roster is bad, but the pisspoor coaching isn’t helping matters.

  • Andres

    @ Luka – Who do you think should replace Gentry? Its too easy to say Gentry needs to be fired, but its not like there are a bunch of great coaches out there that may and/or be willing to coach the Suns

    Gentry has demonstrated that with the right personnel he is able to put together a competitive team that is nice to watch and with chances in the playoffs

    Why do you think all the offseason predictions were so bad on the Suns? Because of Gentry being the coach? I dont think so. Its because the Suns just didnt put the right pieces together in the off season. We as Suns fans were trying to be positive and hoped the pieces did work but so far they havent. Its a series of bad decisions made by the FO not only this offseason but the previous years as well.

  • Luka

    @Andres

    I’m not blaming Gentry entirely. The easiest move to make when a team is struggling is to replace the coach. It certainly wouldn’t hurt. Especially since management has placed him in such a predictable “lame duck” status in a contract year. Sarver won’t be able to bring himself to extend Gentry I feel. Doing so would require paying an experienced coach fair market value which is atypical behavior for Sarver.

  • Andres

    @ Luka – While it wont hurt because the team is losing anyway it wont help to win either this season with the season almost halfway through.
    Gentry at least has tried to adjust the lineups. You can see that Gortat has had better games with the adjustments Gentry has made. Same for Scola.
    I think your opinion is biased because you feel that with a different coach that runs the offense through Gortat he will shine and probably he will but this is not a long term solution either as he wont be with the Suns after his contract expires.
    I still think Gortat needs to be traded to a team that he feels happy with and that runs the offense through him to maximize his potential and get a good piece in return that will be part of the long term plan for the franchise (hopefully a good 2).

  • Vikaas

    @Harry Bassy’s knee was “just sore” according to Gentry. He should be back tonight against Utah. Looking for a win…

    Anyhow, Brightsideofthesun was proposing a trade of Beasley, Wes, and Marshall for Bargnani and Ross. Any thought?

  • Forever is2long

    Vikaas, If we could do a deal to net the Suns Ross, we should do it as long as Dragic is not part of the deal. Ross is going to be a baller. While I hate Bargnani (always injured) I hate Marshall’s game as well and said before the draft do not draft Marshall. Those on this board who feel Marshall has improved but the Suns refuse to play him due to delusions of making the playoffs are fooling themselves. If Marshall has made significant improvement you can bet the GM would insist their lottery pick get some quality minutes. You do not stunt the growth of a lottery pick to secure the 8th spot in the playoffs. We are a last place team and Marshall doesn’t play because he is deficient in multiple areas and Telfair is way better. Marshall is not an NBA caliber player and should never have been a lottery selection.

  • Ryan

    I guess I missed the part about Wes being in the trade. Although for it to work I think the Suns will have to offer up Wes rather than Beasley. Which isn’t a bad idea. Suns need to start acquiring assets. If I was in the FO I would be focused on getting KLove….not this year, or even next, but that guy is for sure leaving Minny. Suns need to put themselves in a position to get him. If Toronto was willing to get rid of Bargnani in a straight salary dump and offer an asset or two I say the Suns jump at that opportunity.

  • bill.thomas

    @Luka: Are you immune from being fired yourself ???

    I doubt it, unless your job is changing tires at Big O or driving a tow truck. Neither of which I would rule out.

  • bill.thomas

    @Vikaas: I would do that deal in a New York second.

    And I believe MJ is decriminalized in Canada.