On Monday we focused on breaking down what the Phoenix Suns small forwards need to improve upon before next season, and now we move on to the guards. Here are the offseason to-do lists for Steve Nash, Goran Dragic, Jason Richardson and Josh Childress:
Most two-time MVPs have nearly no weaknesses, and Steve Nash is no different. Like Grant Hill, the seasoned veteran isn’t going to add any new elements to his game at this stage of his career.
Nash will again chase a 50-40-90 season while landing atop the NBA in assists. But if we want to be picky, there are a few things he can improve upon before next season. Here’s Nash’s brief offseason to-do list:
Despite being a phenomenal help defender, always willing to slide over and take a charge, it’s no secret that Nash is one of the worst on-the-ball defenders in the league.
Because of his lack of physicality and lateral quickness, opposing point guards abuse Nash on the dribble-drive. The point guard is the first line of defense, and Nash’s defensive deficiencies are a big reason the Suns are a mediocre defensive team.
Here are a few examples of Nash getting abused defensively:
Nash isn’t in too bad of a spot here as he defends Devin Harris, who’s coming with a full head of steam. If he was physical and quick enough laterally, Nash would be able to slide over and either take a charge or shade Harris away from the hoop.
But as you can see below, Harris blows by Nash and gets to the hoop for an And 1.
Nash has always struggled to defend bigger guards, and the series below against Deron Williams is a perfect example of exactly that.
Like Harris, Williams comes at Nash with a full head of steam and gets him teetering a bit to the left. Again, Nash could adjust and force Williams back to the middle, but because of Nash’s physical limitations defensively, Williams gets to the hole for an uncontested layup.
Luckily for Nash, he’s one of the most efficient offensive players the game has ever seen, so some spotty defense isn’t going to send him to the bench.
Given that Nash led the league in assists last season, it’s obvious he’s going to turn the ball over more than most point guards. But Nash led the league in TOs, with 21 more than the second-place player (Dwight Howard), and 27 more than the next highest point guard (Russell Westbrook).
There aren’t many things Nash could possibly improve upon, but turning the ball over is certainly one of them.
Heading into last season Goran Dragic’s list would have been never ending, with the majority of the improvements needed in the mental aspect of the game. But after a breakout sophomore campaign, Dragic no longer needs to address confidence and aggression.
But Goran is still only 24 years of age, meaning he still has some elements to add to his game. Here’s Dragic’s offseason to-do list:
Dragic emerged as a reliable and confident three-point shooter last season (39.4 percent), but adding a mid-range, pull-up game is the next step. As you can see in the Hotspots chart below, Dragic doesn’t shoot it well from just inside the three, and has less attempts in that range than anywhere on the floor.
If Dragic can add any type of mid-range game it will expand his game considerably. He’ll be more effective on the dribble-drive and from three because defenders will have to respect his pull-up game.
Suns fans are spoiled by the ambidexterity of Nash and often take for granted how special he is with his left hand. But Dragic could be just as effective with both hands with some more work. He has no problem crossing over to his right, but once he gets there he either spins back to his left or goes behind the back to his strong hand.
But Dragic needs to be able to size up an opponent and drive hard right all the way to the hoop and finish. If he adds a right hand to his game, along with a pull-up jump shot, he’ll be almost impossible to guard next season.
With Amare Stoudemire in The Big Apple, the Suns will lean heavily on Jason Richardson next season, which if last year is any indication, should be no problem. But there are still some things J-Rich needs to improve upon heading into next season. Here’s Richardson’s offseason to-do list:
The Suns were far too optimistic in thinking J-Rich could come in and be the defensive savior in Phoenix. It didn’t take long to realize that, but J-Rich needs to at least be solid defensively to stay on the floor and be effective.
Richardson was statistically the worst perimeter defender on the team last season. As you can see in the chart below via Synergy Sports Technology, he struggles defending in isolation situations — yielding 1.04 points per play and allowing a score 49.5 percent of the time. The rest of his defensive stats aren’t very impressive either.
There’s no reason J-Rich shouldn’t be a solid defender. He was a defense-first guy at Michigan State, and has the tools to be a serviceable defender. It just comes down to effort and IQ for J-Rich, both of which need to improve next season.
J-Rich turned into a glorified spot-up shooter last season, had some success in the post and scored an occasional bucket off a cut or in transition. But he proved he wasn’t all that comfortable making plays with the ball in his hands.
That isn’t completely necessary with Nash on the floor, but with a bigger role ahead for Richardson, a fine-tuned isolation game could up his production. While he scored 1.21 points per play in spot-up situations, J-Rich posted only 0.79 points per play in isolation situations.
Too often he settles for a deep jumper with the ball in his hands, because he’s not a guy who’s going to cross you up and take it to the hole. But if J-Rich can add that dribble-drive element to his game, he’ll be more effective as the Suns’ No. 2/3 option next season.
I broke down Josh Childress’ game recently after his acquisition, but didn’t touch much on his weaknesses. He’s a good defender, great slasher and terrific in transition, but he does have some things he could improve upon. Here’s Childress’ offseason to-do list:
Childress’ hip-chuck jump shot is unorthodox, but he has proven to be decent from three when he’s called upon — 36.0 percent career and 49.2 percent in 2005-06. The style of play is obviously much different in Phoenix than it was in Atlanta, however.
The lanky guard may be asked to fire two or three triples a game, so he needs to add more consistency to his three-point stroke in preparation. He said during his introductory press conference that he will put an emphasis on improving his deep ball this offseason.
Here are a few of Childress’ three-point attempts during his time in Greece:
Childress is a player who will jack up the three or take it all the way to the hoop, there’s no in between. And there’s a reason for that.
According to Hoopdata.com, Childress shot only 13.0 percent from 10-15 feet in 2007-08 and only 21.0 percent the year before. If Childress can add some type of pull-up jumper, he’ll be much more effective in Phoenix.