Typically, this preview would focus on the statistical differentials between the teams in various advanced metrics — offensive rebound rate, effective field goal percentage and the other Four Factors — but this isn’t a typical game. This is a clash between a Suns team that can’t seem to find any traction in a desperate attempt to avoid being sucked to the bottom of the Western Conference by a maelstrom powered by a lack of depth, chemistry issues and overall ineffectiveness in rebounding and a Bobcats team that already lies at the bottom of the ocean floor, already victim to basketball’s Charybdis.
For the “too long; didn’t read” crowd, these teams are really bad. Charlotte is worse; they’re the worst team in the league, really, both by winning percentage and ability to lose to the Wizards multiple times. The Suns aren’t a whole lot better, though, and that’s a depressing statement. How do you make a game between these two teams interesting, other than Steve Nash to Marcin Gortat pick and rolls for 30-plus minutes?
Put Bismack Biyombo into the starting lineup for the Bobcats, that’s how!
Due to what scientists refer to as a “truckload” of injuries recently, Charlotte will start Kemba Walker, Reggie Williams, Tyrus Thomas, former Sun Boris Diaw and Biyombo. That’s two lottery picks, a player who’s gifted at appreciating French cuisine, an ex-Sun who’s really good at making passes from in and around the post* and Tyrus Thomas, whom I’m legitimately afraid might try to block a shot that Biyombo already blocked.
*You assumed I meant Boris when I mentioned an appreciation for French cuisine, didn’t you? I know, it was a trick statement (yes, that’s a thing). Reggie Williams played basketball in France.
One of two things is bound to happen with that starting lineup. Either all 18 tires on the truck will blow out, the vehicle will flip over and Paul Silas will be forced to switch to a backup truck driven by Byron Mullens and Cory Higgins, or all of that will happen in spectacular fashion — with flames everywhere, Biyombo rejecting the Gorilla’s dunks during timeouts as well as every shot attempted by Channing Frye and DaSagana Diop sneaking into the freezer at the Cold Stone Creamery inside US Airways Center.
After all, while Biyombo is foul-prone (to put it lightly), he’s also shown glimpses of being a defensive force simply due to his length. His knowledge on the defensive end is growing with every game; if he can avoid picking up early fouls, he’ll be a disruptive force against a Suns offense that needs all the help from the opposition it can get. Little went well for Phoenix on offense against the Rockets once the starters sat for the first time last night. The only positive, really, was the rest that the starters received.
Charlotte is an awful team, and things tonight will likely go very poorly for them, but the Suns are having struggles of their own. They have two losses on their record that, with a little hindsight, are pretty awful — at home to both the Hornets (now 4-19) and Nets (8-16). Phoenix is perfectly capable of laying an egg against a team like Charlotte, sadly. Starting the rookies might increase those odds for the Bobcats, especially if they come out with energy and catch the Suns off guard. In that unlikely event, something as small as forcing Biyombo (and the other starters) to the bench might have a significant impact on the game.
If there’s anyone capable of getting Biyombo into foul trouble, it’s Marcin Gortat. Gortat, as noted by Paul Coro, has become a beast since the splint came off his broken thumb. His total rebounding percentage has returned to nearly the same rate as last season (18.0% of available rebounds last year, 17.9% so far this season), and he’s scoring a career-best 17.3 points per 36 minutes, even as Phoenix’s pace plummets to lows unseen in the Nash era. His chemistry with both Nash and Ronnie Price is notable, but the combination of Gortat and Nash has few contemporary parallels in the pick and roll.
However, the Suns don’t have much to offer behind those two this season. Perhaps the Bobcats will provide the remedy for Phoenix as a whole and some of the individual players, as well. Grant Hill (41.3% effective field goal percentage, which takes into account the added value of three-pointers) and Channing Frye (41.9 eFG%) are having career-worst shooting seasons, and Markieff Morris has cooled off substantially since his hot start. In his last 10 games, Morris is 19-for-64 from the field and 4-for-12 from three. That’s a 32.8 eFG%; for context, the most minutes played by anyone shooting that poorly this season is 269, by Marquis Daniels.
Morris’s percentage will improve; he’s neither as good as his early season start made him seem nor as bad as this recent stretch appears. The Bobcats, who allow the third highest opponent eFG%, might be the perfect team against which to start that regression back to the mean, for Morris and the rest of the team.
As long as the Suns don’t go off the rails themselves, that is.
UPDATE: Dudley to miss first game since 2009 with thigh bruise, Redd to start
Jared Dudley will sit out tonight’s game after suffering a thigh bruise Wednesday in New Orleans. He played through it last night in Houston, although head coach Alvin Gentry said he probably should have missed that one as well since his thigh is “really swollen.”
Michael Redd will get his first Phoenix start in Dudley’s place. Redd has averaged 3.7 points in 9.9 minutes per game in nine contests this season.
This will be the first game Dudley misses since March 6, 2009.
- The jury’s still out on how the second night of a back-to-back is affecting the Suns. They’re 2-3 in those games, but the combined record of the teams they played in those losses is slightly higher (48.6% winning percentage) than the teams they beat (43.5%). However, the first number is buoyed by a loss to the Thunder — the other two losses were the aforementioned Nets loss and a loss to Toronto. The wins came against the Knicks and Grizzlies.
- Gentry pregame on playing the worst team in basketball: “There’s no easy games, there’s no games you can just put a checkmark by. They have trouble finishing games like we do. We’ll have to play extremely well and play with a great effort to beat them. That’s the way it’s going to be for us in a lot of situations.”