With the 2012-13 season mercifully winding down, the Phoenix Suns have no other choice but to embrace tanking games for the remainder of the season.
The playoff picture was out of sight months ago for the Steve Nash-less Suns, and they now occupy the Western Conference basement at 23-54 (four games worse than any other Western Conference team).
As it stands, the Suns are the third-worst team in the entire NBA. They’re already in solid draft position even though the 2013 draft class is shaping up to be the weakest in 13 years.
The chances the Suns draft a franchise player this summer are slim to none. However, inching their way closer to better draft lottery odds is still the way to go from here on out.
So the question is, what five-man lineup gives the Suns the best chance to lose (or perhaps worst chance to win) moving forward? In other words, what is the 2012-13 Suns “All-Tank” team?
Note: All statistics in this article are accurate as of April 9, 2013 (prior to games played).
The Phoenix Suns’ frontcourt has been stretched thin due to the injury to Marcin Gortat. As a result, Luis Scola has occasionally found himself playing out of position at center during the late-season.
It’s not necessarily a knock on Scola, because he isn’t meant to be playing the center position. However, both Jermaine O’Neal and even the surprising Hamed Haddadi have provided the Suns with more gusto in the post.
Scola, meanwhile, is having one of his worst statistical years on record for the Suns. His 47.1 percent shooting from the floor is the worst of his career. His 6.3 rebounds per game are also a career-low and his 12.4 points per game average is the lowest since his rookie season (when he averaged 10.3 per contest).
Picking up Scola via amnesty auction wasn’t seen as a bad move for the Suns, but it wasn’t seen as a good move either. Phoenix already had Gortat, O’Neal, Markieff Morris and Channing Frye solidifying the power forward/center positions. When news broke that Frye would miss the entire season due to an enlarged heart, the depth Scola added was appreciated. His overall performance, however, has failed to meet expectations.
Scola brings this lineup solid post offense, but he doesn’t have the physicality needed to defend against opposing centers.
For the sake of creating the worst Suns lineup, we have another player playing out of position.
Although Michael Beasley can benefit from playing power forward at times, because he can use his athletic ability to an advantage against opposing power forwards, the former No. 2 overall pick has been a complete enigma this season.
Relative to talent level and potential, you could easily argue that Beasley is the worst player in the NBA. He’s a physical specimen who dominated the collegiate atmosphere, but it simply hasn’t translated consistently to the NBA style.
After signing a three-year, $18 million contract with Phoenix, the first year of Beasley’s new deal has left Suns fans scratching their heads (or perhaps banging them against hard surfaces).
The former Kansas State star is shooting a career-low 40.8 percent from the field, grabbing a career-low 3.8 rebounds per game and scoring a career-low 10.2 points per game.
There have been times this season when Beasley will treat fans to a great performance. For example, his April 5 showing against the Golden State Warriors, in which he scored 25 points on 12-of-17 shooting (70.6 percent), is what Suns fans dream of seeing.
In true Beasley fashion, however, he followed that outing by shooting a paltry 1-of-11 in just 15 minutes against the New Orleans Hornets.
When Beasley has been on the court for Phoenix this season, the Suns’ offensive rating has been 2.2 points per 100 possessions worse. Additionally, the offensive rating of opposing teams is 4.4 points per 100 possessions better when Beasley is on the court pretending to play defense.
In other words, the Suns make up 6.6 points per 100 possessions when Beasley is sitting on the bench.
He’s the proverbial MVP of the All-Tank team.
Wesley Johnson did have a shining moment this season when he buried this three-pointer against the San Antonio Spurs to force the game into overtime (a game the Suns miraculously won). Sandwiching that clutch shot, however, has been a buffet of underachievement.
Of course, in Johnson’s case, one could argue that he’s performing exactly up to par given his track record. In his career, the former fourth overall draft pick has never shot higher than 39.8 percent from the field in a season.
What’s his shooting percentage this year you ask? That would be a career-low 39.5 percent (Yes, worse than Michael Beasley).
Don’t be fooled by Johnson’s 15.1 points per game average over the past 15 days, because his shooting efficiency has been dreadful.
Other than his shooting, something that doesn’t help Johnson’s case is the fact that he doesn’t play good defense and he doesn’t add much of anything in other statistical categories. He’s a non-existent rebounder despite being 6’7”, and he’s averaging 0.7 assists per game this season.
Last, but certainly not least, the Suns’ offensive rating with Johnson on the court is 6.1 points per 100 possessions worse compared to when Johnson is sitting on the sideline. Also when Johnson is on the court, the offensive rating of opponents is 3.1 points per 100 possessions better.
So even though interim coach Lindsey Hunter decided to give Johnson 30.3 minutes per game in the month of March, the Suns would make up 9.2 points per 100 possessions if Johnson's car broke down on the way to the arena.
I think this All-Tank team has quite a bit of potential to this point.
Let me preface this slide by saying that I love P.J. Tucker. He’s certainly one of the most deserving Suns players to win the Dan Majerle hustle award, and he’s easily the best defender on the Suns’ roster.
With that said, Tucker simply doesn’t add enough firepower on the offensive end of the court, which is why he makes this lineup.
He can play all the defense he likes, but the defensive black holes created by Beasley and Johnson would make all of his hard work go by the wayside.
Additionally, there’s the fact that Tucker doesn’t often create turnovers. He’s a great one-on-one defender, but he only averages 0.7 steals per game. So the Suns wouldn’t have the benefit of pouring in fast-break points with Tucker on the floor.
Tucker is shooting a respectable 46.3 percent from the field, but he only attempts 5.4 shots per game. His 25.9-percent shooting from beyond the three-point arc just flat out isn’t good, and he only contributes 5.9 points per game on average.
Is Tucker a tremendous defensive player who plays hard on every possession? No question.
Despite that fact, Tucker’s inability to contribute on offense would make up for the one game out of 10 when either Beasley or Johnson catches fire.
For the All-Tank team, you can’t go wrong with anyone not named “Goran Dragic” in this spot.
Rookie point guard Kendall Marshall has surprised some fans this season by shooting (and knocking down) three-pointers, but his offensive game still needs a lot of work. He’s shooting an ugly 38.4 percent from the field, but he prides himself on passing the basketball and setting up teammates for scores.
With the ugly shooting percentages all around him in this lineup, however, Marshall’s passing ability probably wouldn’t help the Suns score many points.
He’s averaging just 1.2 turnovers per game, but you have to take into account that Marshall is playing only 13.7 minutes per contest.
The former UNC standout doesn’t have tremendous athletic ability either. That’s hindered him quite a bit on the defensive end when trying to keep up with quicker, stronger guards.
No disrespect to Marshall, but his inexperience as a rookie, and his severely lacking offensive game, “earns” him the spot here.