Something to shoot for: Statistical goals for the upcoming season

The 2012-13 NBA season kicks off in 12 short days, and optimism is swirling around the new-look Phoenix Suns. New faces always seem to breed optimism in and around a franchise, especially when that franchise has been on the treadmill of mediocrity for two straight seasons.

No matter how excited Suns fans might be for the Dragic/Beasley/Scola era to begin, however, some expectational temperance may be in order. Fans and analysts alike must keep in mind that nearly every player on the Phoenix roster is adapting to a new role. Though the team has had a very productive training camp and preseason thus far, adaptation is a process that takes time and repetition. The process cannot be cheated or artificially accelerated.

The Suns’ success this year will depend on how quickly each player in the rotation embraces his new role. But how do we evaluate their progress? The Suns may very well struggle out of the gate. If they’re 12-16 at Christmas, I wouldn’t be shocked. Consequently, wins and losses may not be the best way to judge individual player progress.

Instead, there are some individual statistics that might gauge success more accurately. The following are statistical benchmarks for the players in the main rotation on which they can be evaluated independent of the team’s overall success. My goal was to find a stat for each guy that captured the essence of his role or expected level of production for the upcoming season.

Goran Dragic – 8.0 assists per game

Like Steve Nash before him, Goran Dragic has been given the keys to the Suns’ Ferrari offense. It’s a machine that thrives on both speed and precision handling. It provides great opportunity for production provided the point guard at the wheel is up to the challenge. Phoenix’s front office brought Dragic back to the desert because it believe he has what it takes to drive this potent offense. If he can pick up where he left off last year, that belief will be greatly rewarded.

If you look at last season’s assist leaders, the truly elite point guards all averaged at least 7.7 assists per game. Over the final two months of last season, Dragic averaged 8.3 assists per game. As the point guard for the Suns, Goran should have better weapons and more possessions than he did in Houston, so he should have no problem continuing or increasing that level of production over a full season. At the end of the year, I expect the Dragon to be talked about as one of the game’s elite distributors.

Jared Dudley – 12.5/4.0/3.5 FGA/3PA/FTA per game

Dudley showed last season he could maintain solid shooting percentages while playing starter’s minutes. Now it’s time for him to up his shot attempts and really assert himself as a scorer. The Suns will need their starting two guard to shoot the ball and be a player defenses have to worry about. There’s no way Dudley can fit that bill shooting less than 10 shots per game like he did last year. The shot attempt figures above represent a 25 percent increase over his stats from last year. To get up that many shots from the field, Jared will have to have the ball in his hands more. That in turn will lead to more free throw attempts. Dudley is the de facto leader in the Suns’ locker room. Now it’s time for him to be a leader on the court as well.

Michael Beasley – 17.0 points per game/45% FG

Beasley requires two stats in tandem. The Suns’ coaching staff may want Michael to lead the team in scoring, but without a doubt, they want him to do so efficiently. If Beasley averages 20 points per game, but shoots 40 percent from the floor, the Suns will end up with a high lottery pick. Phoenix’s system has always relied on a strong FG% to drive its offensive efficiency. A volume shooter who takes 20 shots to score 20 points doesn’t fit that system at all. I would prefer Michael to shoot 48-50 percent from the field, but he has yet to do that in his four years in the NBA. Baby steps.

I set the scoring figure at 17 points per game because every 2012 playoff team except Philadelphia had at least one player who averaged 17 ppg or more. The Suns have gone two seasons without a player summiting 16 ppg. They’ve also gone two years without making the postseason. Coincidence? I think not. Phoenix needs Beasley to end this streak.

Luis Scola – 17.00 PER

Scola is the only starter whose intended role and expected production are still uncertain. Phoenix will rely on the big man from Argentina to score in the paint, rebound, and be more than a warm body on defense. But how much he’ll be asked to contribute in each of those categories is unclear. If his scoring drops off because other players are carrying the load, then Luis will need to grab more rebounds or dish out more assists. If his rebounding production doesn’t return to previous levels, then the Suns will need more scoring from him.

Whatever his role ends up being, his total contribution is what’s most important. Scola needs to be the guy whose line stands out not because of huge numbers in one category, but because of the numbers put up in several different categories. Scola had an average PER around 17.00 over his first four years in Houston. That dropped to 15.50 last season. All I’m calling for is a return to previous form, which should not be too difficult with the weapons around him and the confidence the coaching staff has in him.

Marcin Gortat – 50 Double-Doubles

I know this is a very tall order (pun partially intended.) Gortat was seventh in the league last year with 31 double-doubles. That number translates to about 39 over the course of a full 82-game slate. I firmly believe Marcin can do better. Of the players who averaged at least 10 points and 10 rebounds last season, only Kris Humphries posted fewer double-doubles than Gortat. There are players, like Kevin Love and Dwight Howard, who post a double-double nearly every night. I believe Gortat can be that kind of player. I chose this stat because it’s, in a way, a measure of consistency. Gortat needs to bring it as a scorer AND a rebounder every night. The Suns can’t afford for him to take a night off in one area. Marcin needs to record a double-double in 60 percent of Phoenix’s games to meet this goal. Anything is possible for the Polish Gazelle.

Sebastian Telfair and Kendall Marshall – 2.5:1 Assist:TO ratio

I wanted to stress efficiency with these two. I don’t know who will end up with more playing time this year, but whoever is backing up Dragic must take care of the ball. Telfair maintained a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, but I think he and Marshall can do better this year. The second unit should be more potent and effective scoring the ball this time around. Markieff Morris and Wes Johnson are both capable scorers. So is Shannon Brown. Defensively, the reserves might need work, but they should have no trouble putting the ball in the basket, so long as the point guard running the show plays within himself, doesn’t try to do too much, and takes care of the ball. Phoenix can’t afford turnovers and inefficiency this season.

Shannon Brown – 45% FG

What I said about Beasley above goes for Shannon Brown as well. Brown averaged 10 shots per game last season, the most of his career, but he shot only 42 percent from the field. He has scoring ability, but he also has a tendency to over-dribble and fall in love with his jumper. Neither of those practices is good for his FG%, which means neither is good for the Suns. Brown needs to attack the basket instead of settling for perimeter jump shots. He has the quickness to get by most defenders and the athleticism to attack the rim even amongst 7-footers. He’s more of a slasher than a jump shooter. The sooner he realizes that, the better off Phoenix will be.

Wesley Johnson – 150 3PM

While I stressed efficiency with the other reserves, I’m advocating pure production for Wes Johnson. He’s been great from long range so far this preseason, and I think the outside shot will be a big part of his role this year. 150 3PM will put probably put him among the top 10-12 3-point shooters in the league. In the SSOL era, the Suns always had at least one guy in the top 10, if not two. Johnson should bring about a return to form in that respect.

I declined to put a percentage on his 3-point shots because coach Alvin Gentry will take care of that. If Johnson is playing with confidence and shooting the ball well, he’ll get more playing time. If he comes out cold or tentative, Gentry won’t hesitate to sit him down. I’m not worried about Wes shooting Phoenix out of games. This is a lofty goal, but for Phoenix to be successful, the team needs Johnson to be a weapon. Beyond the arc is definitely where he’s best deployed.

Markieff Morris – 45/38/78 FG%/3pt%/FT%

Markieff can play at this level. There’s no doubt about it. Sure he had his ups and downs last year, but over the course of the season, he made a believer out of me. I think he’s going to be a big part of this franchise for the next several years, but with that said, he has to shoot the ball better this season. Morris shot 39.9 percent, 34.7 percent, and 71.7 percent from the field, the arc, and the free-throw line, respectively, last year. Those numbers are acceptable for a rookie, but they won’t cut it for an NBA sophomore trying to earn more minutes. His scoring production will increase because his minutes are going to go up this season. But if he wants to be on the floor in crunch time or legitimately battle Scola for the starting job, he’ll have to be more efficient and focused on improving his shot.

Jermaine O’Neal – 12 rebounds p48/65 games played

Jermaine gets the dual stat tandem treatment, just like Beasley, because how much he’s on the court is just as important to the Suns as what he does on the court. Over the last four years, O’Neal has missed 125 games due to injury. He came to Phoenix, like so many ailing veterans before him, because the legendary training staff provides the possibility of a career renaissance like the one experienced by Grant Hill. Phoenix will be relying heavily on O’Neal this season, especially with Channing Frye lost for the year. I set the goal at 80 percent of total games on the schedule. The training staff has worked bigger miracles than that before.

As for his on-court production, O’Neal will be relied upon for rebounding and blocks. His shot blocking has never been an issue, so I chose instead to focus on rebounding. I’m not sure how many minutes he’ll get per game, so I went with per minute rebounding instead of per game. All the Suns need from O’Neal is efficiency and aggression on the boards. Everything else is just gravy.

So there you have it. If you agree, disagree, or have a better idea, please let us know in the comments section.

Tags: Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Analysis Statistics

  • john

    Good goals. Count me in the crowd that’s excited about the fresh start. I can’t wait for this season to get started.

  • Luka

    If this team overachieves, they’re a lock for the 8th seed. The Suns have to trap, and press more defensively where they can utilize their team speed and athleticism on the break. Goran is pretty effective at doing that.

  • Scott

    I think …

    Dudley can have a higher scoring average and also be one of the most efficient Suns. I project about 15-16 pts on average.

    Beasley is going to have to work more on his efficiency, and he won’t be getting the ball in the regular season till he proves his efficiency. This will be a major issue for Gentry, because getting this efficiency may require moving Beasley around in the lineup. (I’m not saying Beasley can’t become more efficient, but even if the can, it will take time, during which the Suns will want to avoid losing games.)

    Scola’s scoring average is going to be more in the 12-13 pt. range, lower than last year, as they may rely on him more as a facilitator and defender.

    Shannon Brown will be pressing Dudley all year for the starting SG spot, despite his liabilities.

    I agree that the challenge for WJ will be to come out of his shell and score in a variety of ways.

    Morris has largely the same situation as WJ: he needs to become a reliable producer.

    I still see the possibility of the Suns running a smaller 2nd unit with Morris at C, Beasley at PF, and WJ at SF. If that unit could play with a chip on their shoulder, they could do some damage to opposing 2nd units.

  • Luka

    From what I’ve been observing, and hearing from Gentry in preseason, it seems that he wants Beasley to facilitate the ball.

    I think Wes Johnson has the potential to start on this team. He’s clearly more athletic than Dudley, has the tools to be a respectable defender, and if they find him in the right spots can be efficient offensively.

  • Scott

    @Luka -

    My take is that the team has wanted Beasley to not be a black hole, so he’s been encouraged to pass … which is great. However, the team also needs him in the role of not just scorer, but efficient scorer. So now that he’s shown an ability to dish assists, I think the next thing is for him to try to make his shots count.

    Gentry commented recently that Beasley is trying a little too hard to be a “pleaser.” He wants Beasley to score the ball.

  • Harry

    There is no reason to think this team will struggle out of the gate. The most important part of consistency in basketball is shooting. The Suns have very good shooters in the starting line-up. They’ll start the season great. The one stat that matters is wins.

  • http://none Mikel

    did anybody else get upset reading that article that O.j Mayo.didnt sign with PHX because he wasnt promised a starting job here, thay job was promised in dallas. as if dudley si more talented than mayo……SMH

  • Jeremiah


    Gentry has already been on record saying that he wants to see Beasley shooting the ball more than he has in the preseason thus far. Basically if he has a decent look to either shoot or drive he wants him taking it.

  • Jeremiah

    The only question I have about Dragic is whether or not he is physically prepared for a full 82 games of starter minutes. I have seen many times where a player gets the starter job for the first time and they get injured a couple months in because their body isn’t used to it yet.

  • Mike

    I think Scola needs to aim for more than a PER of 17. shows he was below average at almost everything.

    On a team with very few rebounders, he needs to get some more boards for the Suns to stand a chance.

  • Scott

    @Jeremiah -

    Dragic has been trying to get his body into shape for the season, making sure his muscle groups are balanced so as to better avoid injury. But you can only experience 82 games of starting by doing it, so there’s a bit of a catch-22 for him.

    I think it’s highly likely he’ll miss some games due to injury, possibly something a lot like what he’s already experienced: an ankle sprain due to stepping on someone’s foot.

    IIRC, Nash would generally miss about 4 games a year, which wasn’t bad, except that the Suns would normally lose games in his absence. It’s up to Gentry to make sure Dragic’s understudies – Marshall and Telfair – are ready to step in when needed. That’s what they’re there for.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I think a good idea for a 2nd unit is to put Morris, Beasley, Johnson, Telfair, and Marshall (as PG) out there, with Marshall and Telfair switching on defense if the PG is a tough guard. Not only would this provide an offense with a scoring front court and two PGs in the back court to feed them, but it would give Marshall and Telfair valuable court time, which would help prepare them for Dragic’s probable bunch of missed games.

    Additionally, every member of that lineup can hit perimeter shots, which means this second unit could not only be young and fast, but they could also ring up the points quickly, providing a knockout punch against some teams.

    Of course, you’d start Gortat, Scola, Beasley, Dudley, and Dragic. Then pull Beasley out first, moving Dudley to SF and bring Brown in at SG. Then when it’s time to swap in the 2nd unit, leave Brown at SG at first, but pull him after a bit to put Telfair in there.

    I realize O’Neal is on the roster to provide shot blocking and experience at C, but I’m concerned that if he plays as part of a regular lineup he’ll be out injured by the time the playoffs roll around. So I’d use him sparingly throughout the season to spell Gortat (and possibly Scola), but otherwise just try to keep him in shape and ready in case the Suns end up in the playoffs and need to grind out wins.