With a 7-11 record and in the midst of a three-game losing streak, it may now officially be panic time for the Phoenix Suns.
Although it's impossible to single out any one person as the source of the team's early-season stumbles, there have been some disappointing players so far to say the least.
Now with an extremely tough month ahead, it may be time to go about fixing those problems before the situation gets out of hand. One way to try and instantly improve the team is to bench Michael Beasley.
Coming into this season, Beasley was expected to be a go-to scorer for the Suns. He was coming off a bad year, but he had shown flashes of stardom in the past. But so far this season, Beasley seems to only have regressed even further. He is averaging 11.8 points and 4.2 rebounds a game, and shoots an awful 39 percent from the field.
Up to this point, many people have defended Beasley, using the "off to a slow start" argument. While that argument may have some merit, Beasley is still showing the same inconsistency he did at the start of the season and the Suns have already played almost a quarter of their games. Beasley can still prove his value to the team, but as of now this signing is seeming more and more like a failed experiment with each passing game.
Whether the team will pursue a trade at this point is unknown, and it's also not known whether management will begin looking at new options to play the small forward position through free agency or the draft. But for now, the temporary solution is to insert Jared Dudley back into the starting lineup as the team's starter.
Yes, I know what you're thinking. The team already gave Dudley a chance to start this year, and he was pretty terrible. But we're talking about a different position here, and there are a few reasons why Dudley could vastly improve a starting lineup that has been consistently struggling.
First of all, Dudley's natural position is small forward. The team will often use him elsewhere, but Dudley has been playing much better as a small forward this season. So far, Dudley has posted an awful PER of just 7.8 when playing shooting guard. But as a small forward, that number jumps to 16.3, which is above the league average.
In addition, Dudley's effective field goal percentage jumps from 49 percent as a shooting guard to 58 percent at small forward, a huge increase. He also averages 13.5 points per 36 minutes as a small forward, up from just 10.8 as a shooting guard, and that increase is despite the fact that he takes less shots at small forward.
Compared to Beasley, Dudley's stats seem almost all-star worthy. While playing small forward this season, Beasley has an effective field goal percentage of 43 percent and carries a PER of 8.5. Per 36 minutes, he averages the same amount of points as he does field goal attempts, making him one of the least efficient players in the league.
The added efficiency on offense is nice, but what this lineup change really does is improve the defense. Dudley isn't exactly known as an amazing perimeter defender, but he does play decent defense. With Dudley on the court, the Suns allow 101.7 points per 100 possessions. With Beasley playing, they allow 118.4 points per 100 possessions.
Also, unlike Beasley, Dudley is actually more efficient than the opponents he guards. When playing small forward, Dudley holds players to 12.2 points per 36 minutes and a PER of 12.7 Meanwhile, Beasley allows his opponents to score 16.9 points per 36 minutes with a PER of 16.1. It's clear who is a better help to the defense.
What Should the Suns Do With Michael Beasley?
One more thing to consider is how each of the two players fit with the Suns' style of play. Gentry may be slightly more defensive minded than D'Antoni, but the Suns still maintain a quick offense. Dudley is much more suited to play the run-and-gun game than Beasley.
Inserting Dudley in the starting lineup immediately gives the unit yet another three point option. Dudley is a career 41 percent shooter from behind the arc and can be deadly if left open. And with Dragic, Brown, Morris and Dudley all spacing the floor, it's guaranteed that he will find some open threes.
Also, Dudley thrives in the fast break, and he gets a lot of open looks on quick threes. In fact, 49 percent of Dudley's field goal attempts come within 10 seconds after the shot clock is reset. For Beasley, that number is reduced to just 34 percent. You might think that just means Dudley is more likely to rush his shot, but Dudley is more efficient shooting in less than 10 seconds than Beasley is at all.
As for the bench, inserting Beasley will hopefully not disrupt any current chemistry among the reserves. The current bench unit of Telfair-Tucker-Dudley-Scola-O'Neal has been great defensively, and moving Beasley to the bench should not have a huge impact on the performance if he is playing limited minutes.
As for a starting lineup of Dragic-Brown-Dudley-Morris-Gortat, it is still fairly untested, and it definitely isn't what I imagined at the start of the season.
But those five players have shared the court for a total of 19.5 minutes this season and have been pretty good together. It is one of the greatest offensive units the team has to offer, and the unit has outscored it's opponents by eight so far this season.
Perhaps benching two of the Suns' biggest offseason acquisitions doesn't seem like a great idea, but it has to be done.
Beasley has to realize that he isn't a superstar. He doesn't have the power to waltz in and demand a starting job or a bigger role with the way he has been playing. Beasley has to earn his minutes, and until he starts playing better, sending him to the bench is in the best interest of the team.
All stats used in the article are from basketball-reference.com and 82games.com.