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A final look at Suns-Lakers through plus-minus


With the help of former Mavericks stats expert Wayne Winston, I have been able to analyze the Western Conference Finals by looking at which lineup combinations are performing and which ones aren’t.

I learned that small ball was about the only thing that worked in the first two games of the series, and that Robin Lopez — not Amare Stoudemire — made the biggest impact on Game 3.

Upon final examination, the Suns’ best lineup this series was the bench crew of Dragic-LB-Dudley-Lou-Frye, which gained 19 points in almost 42 minutes. This is slightly less impressive when considering the fact that the bench was +15 in Game 4 alone and thus just +4 the rest of the series, but even so you’ve got to hand it to the bench this series, a unit that also turned around Games 4 and 5 before Phoenix ultimately fell short.

In a series in which Phoenix was overall -25, the Suns also gained nine points points with the small ball lineup of Nash-Richardson-Dudley-Hill-Stoudemire in 12 minutes. Their success largely came in the second half of Game 2, and because this unit played so well then it would have been nice to see if it could be sustained in stretches later in the series.

The unit of Dragic-LB-Dudley-Amare-Frye also was +7 in almost 17 minutes, largely because it was +9 in 12 minutes of Game 6, so it’s too bad this lineup wasn’t tried more earlier in the series. No other Suns lineup gained more than four points together.

There is plenty of bad news on the flip side. The lineup of Nash-Richardson-Dudley-Amare-Frye lost 24 points in 32 minutes, including nine points in 6.5 minutes of Game 6, making it easily Phoenix’s worst lineup. That’s noteworthy because it was the Suns’ best lineup against both Portland and San Antonio, according to Winston.

In a story on Dudley’s fantastic first two rounds in terms of +/-, I wrote:

"According to Indiana professor and former Mavs stat guru Wayne Winston, the Suns are +95 in Dudley’s 234 minutes but just +4 in the 246 minutes he has sat. That is INSANE.According to Winston’s adjusted ratings, the Suns are 46 points better than an average team in the 81 minutes played by Nash, Dudley and Channing Frye and 44 points better than an average team in the 31 minutes played by Nash and Dudley with Frye out."

So much for the Nash-Dudley-Frye lineup being the key to success as it was against the Blazers and Spurs.

The Suns also struggled when the bench trio of Dragic-LB-Lou teamed with J-Rich and Amare, losing 10 points in just over four minutes.

What’s kind of amazing is that aside from the aforementioned units, the majority of the lineups the Suns threw out there played the Lakers moderately even. That includes the starting lineup of Nash-Richardson-Hill-Amare-Lopez that gained two points in 79 minutes and that same unit with Frye instead of Lopez that lost four points in almost 49 minutes.

On the Los Angeles side, the Lakers’ best lineup came when Jordan Farmar joined Kobe-Artest-Odom-Gasol, as that quintet gained 22 points in just 11 minutes. Maybe Phil should have gone with that lineup a bit more?

In addition, the Lakes beat the Suns by 12 in nine minutes with Farmar-Sasha-Kobe-Odom-Bynum, and nine in 11 minutes with Farmar-Brown-Artest-Gasol-Odom, regardless of what you might think of such a Kobe-less lineup. Fisher-Brown-Kobe-Artest-Gasol also beat the Suns by seven in seven minutes, so going small with three guards clearly was favorable for Los Angeles.

The Lakers also found success in the 108 minutes played by Fisher-Kobe-Artest-Odom-Gasol, beating the Suns by nine in that time.

Los Angeles’ worst lineup was the Kobe-less unit of Farmar-Brown-Artest-Odom-Bynum, which lost 10 points in 10 minutes. Farmar-Brown-Kobe-Odom-Bynum also lost nine points in about 12.5 minutes. The common link in both those lineups is no Gasol or Fisher.

The Lakers’ starters (Fisher-Kobe-Artest-Gasol-Bynum), their second-most used lineup, lost five points in 61.5 minutes.

What can we learn from this?

Well, for one Alvin Gentry was asked on Sunday if he regrets waiting until only 3:26 remained in the game to bring back Steve Nash, Jason Richardson and Grant Hill as a five-point deficit at the 6:09 mark had been extended to seven by the time all the starters returned.

Gentry said he has no regrets because he’s a no regrets type of guy, but he also shouldn’t feel bad because the lineup he kept in was Phoenix’s best in Game 6 and that bench crew with Lou Amundson instead of Amare was the Suns’ best in the series.

In the end the Suns lost this series because a cold-blooded Kobe hit some indefensible shots, but this +/- data takes a deeper look at what worked and what didn’t in the Western Conference Finals.

Gentry on Kobe, postgame dinner

After Kobe Bryant hit that tough 23-foot fadeaway with Grant Hill draped all over him right in front of Alvin Gentry, the Suns’ coach applauded Hill on his defensive effort only to hear Kobe tell him it was “not good enough” as he slapped Gentry’s butt. …

After the Game 6 loss, Gentry and his family ventured out to — shocking — The Cheesecake Factory and the poor waitress explained that the day’s special was none other than artichoke hearts. Gentry’s party had a good laugh over that one before he described to her his Game 5 queasiness and why he was going to opt for something else on this night.