Goran Dragic up against long line of elite Suns point guards


Point guard Goran Dragic leads the Suns in scoring with 14.1 points per game. He’s tops on the team in assists (6.1apg), steals (1.5spg) and Player Efficiency Rating (17.4). He may be the only member of the Suns deserving of the word “consistent” this season.

He also might be the worst point guard Phoenix has had in 15 years.

That’s no knock on “The Dragon”, whose nickname is more proof that Dragic might end up being the lone (and marketable) bright spot in an otherwise trying season. The truth is, however, that Dragic inherited the point guard spot after a long list of All-Star quality floor generals, including three potential Hall-of-Famers.

Steve Nash. Jason Kidd. Kevin Johnson. Stephon Marbury (don’t laugh, we’ll get there). It’s a pedigree — with all due respect to University of Arizona alum Michael Schwartz — strong enough to call Phoenix the elite point guard producer in the nation.

Here’s a look at Dragic’s predecessors and how he stacks up to them (note, this breakdown does not include the period between the Suns’ trade of Marbury to New York and signing Steve Nash, otherwise known as “a really, really bad time”):

Steve Nash (1996-1998, 2004-2012

Stats: 14.4 ppg, 9.4 apg, 3.1 rpg, 1.2 spg, 50.4 FG%

Similarities: It’s worth wondering if Dragic ever thinks about the similarities that do exist between him and Nash. It might give him more confidence. Like Nash, Dragic started his career as a backup in Phoenix before being traded away (Nash to Dallas in ‘99, Dragic to Houston in 2011).

As they did with Nash, the Suns decided to reacquire Dragic after their previous point guard moved on (or, in Marbury’s case, was moved on).

It’s hard to blame Phoenix for pursuing Dragic, an above-average scorer and a much better defender. He also shows a similar knack for seeing all his teammates on the floor, an ability which makes him an exceptional passer, though the Slovenian’s 6.1apg look paltry to Nash’s numbers while in Phoenix ().

Then again, Gortat/Dudley/Scola isn’t exactly Stoudemire/Marion/Richardson, is it?

Differences: The shooting, for one. In eight seasons with Phoenix, Nash’s shot dipped below 50 percent just once, and that was by a whopping .008 percentage points. Dragic is currently hovering just under 45 percent.

Another point on their shooting is the “when.” Whenever Nash sensed the game might be slipping out of control or if crunch time buckets were needed, he’d step up.

Like this (starting at 0:43):

Dragic has donned the cape a couple times for Phoenix, but is far more comfortable playing within the flow of the game than putting his personal stamp on it. There are a million other differences between the two, but that might be the most glaring.

One other difference worth noting: Nash made teammates better. A lot better. It’s a big reason why management never never felt bad about slowly whittling the talent around him. They knew Nash would probably make it work, and he usually did.

If anything, the Suns are under-achieving this season, though that’s not Dragic’s fault as much as Michael Beasley’s. Still, Nash had an effect that helped boost his teammates’ numbers between two-to-four points per game, an effect Dragic has yet to achieve.

Stephon Marbury (2001-2004)

Stats: 21.3 ppg, 8.1 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 spg, 43.9 FG%

Similarities: Marbury played in China and the “Dragon” would be a popular nickname there? Sorry, moving on.

Differences: Swagger. Marbury carried himself on the court like he was Jordan, even when everyone in the arena (or shouting at the TV) knew he wasn’t.

The Suns probably wish Dragic had more swagger than he does now. Maybe he just needs to visualize Sasha Vujacic before every game.

The thing is, Marbury played like that all the time. Granted, his lack of efficiency made that more of a bad thing than a good thing, but that was the reason the Suns picked him as their new point guard in the first place: he wasn’t afraid of the moment.

Jason Kidd (1996-2001)

Stats: 14.4 ppg, 9.7 apg, 6.4 rpg, 2.1 spg, 41.9 FG%

Similarities: Like Kidd, Dragic can stuff a stat box, though not nearly as often or to the degree Kidd did. Defensively, they have similar height and length that allow them to hawk the ball (again, Kidd was far more consistent with this).

Neither of them should ever bleach their hair, though only one ever did it.

Differences: Kidd was a pitbull, particularly when grabbing a rebound. Once he secured the ball, Kidd started the fast-break by himself. Since he rebounded the ball at such a high rate for a guard, that become something opposing defenses had to account for every game.

Kidd was also a triple-double machine and dominated games without needing to score. He did this to the point that he finished fifth in MVP voting in 1999 despite the Suns finishing with a 27-23 record.

People talk about how Nash made players around him better, but Kidd helped the Suns sneak into the playoffs every one of his years in Phoenix despite his best teammates being Rex Chapman, Hot Rod Williams, a surgically repaired Penny Hardaway, and a rookie Shawn Marion.

Unless Dragic makes a leap to Kidd-level, the Suns probably won’t make the playoffs until he sees better teammates around him.

On the flip-side, opponents would play Kidd the way they play Rajon Rondo today, daring him to shoot (Kidd was a terrible shooter in his early years). Dragic has a lot more respect in that category.

Kevin Johnson (1987-2000)

Stats: 17.9 ppg, 9.1 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.5 spg, 49.3 FG%

Similarities: Remember that 23-point fourth quarter Dragic exploded for against San Antonio in the 2010 playoffs?

KJ played like that all the time…when he was healthy. That was Johnson’s Achilles’ heal, just like assertiveness is Dragic’s issue.

When they shrug(ged) their respective kryptonite aside, however, Johnson and Dragic are remarkably similar. They both have/had an amazing knack for getting to the rim and passing through traffic. They were/are willing passers, but able to take over the offense themselves when needed.

Differences: Johnson was much better, much sooner, for much longer. Here’s a look at his most healthy years in the league.

1988-89: 20.4 points, 12.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 46.3%FG

1989-90: 22.5 points, 11.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 50.5%FG

1990-91: 22.2 points, 10.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 49.9%FG

1991-92: 19.7 points, 10.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 47.9%FG

If Dragic approaches those numbers just one year, Suns fans’ kids would be fighting to wear his No. 1 the way Phoenix kids fought to wear No. 7 in the early 90s.

Again, though, Johnson’s health was a constant worry. People forget he missed nearly half of the 1992-93 season, the year Phoenix made the Finals.

People also forget this was because Johnson foolishly tried to lift rookie Oliver Miller (315 pounds) off the ground during a preseason game. The consequent hernias completely derailed his health for the rest of his career.

Between that and Johnson’s horrendous 3-point shooting (he shot better than 22 percent from deep just twice in his career), Dragic has a couple things going for him.

You can follow Matt Petersen’s Suns-related thoughts/updates on Twitter at @SunsPetersen.

Tags: Jason Kidd Point Guards Stephon Marbury

  • Ty-Sun

    @john

    I agree. Gortat’s contract runs out next season but re-signing Lopez would have meant adding even more years of an even larger contract (for Lopez) to the Suns payroll and decreased their financial flexibility in the future.

  • Forever is2long

    IMO the jury is still out on Dragic but because of his size and speed he probably will not be the immediate focus of what the Suns need to do in the immediate future. I will say this, if he has too many more of the 3 assist games or less, Bledsoe with the Clippers might get some attention. Like everyone here, I would like to see Dragic with better players before being too conclusive.

    Regarding dragic and Gortat I agree that for whatever reason they do not have a good chemistry. I saw the Hornets game last night against Boston with R. Lopez playing very well in getting 17 points and 6 boards while altering shots in the paint. It reminded me of how well Lopez and Dragic played together. It was their chemistry on and off the court that made me want the Suns to keep Lopez

  • DBreezy

    Foreveris,

    I hear you on Clark, we had those same discussions back over on the old AZC board. They never really gave him an honest shot. In a lot or respects they handled him the same way they did Goran and R.Lo, except those two were more fortunate that the Suns were thinner at those positions. I don’t have much faith in Marshall either. You know I wanted either Sullinger, Henson, or PJ3 out of who was available. I also could have lived with Terence Jones, Moultrie, and Teague or Wroten if they were that bent on drafting a pg. I felt if they wanted a pg, they should have made a trade to grab a second pick for one. For the 2nd year in a row, I felt that they were full of it on keeping R.Lo so why not cash him in for something on draft night?

    Now the more concerning thing to me is that the same team of geniuses will be allowed to make what could be a top-5 selection and that the same crew of people that haven’t developed any young player for ages is going to be left in charge of handling more young players.

  • Forever is2long

    Ty-Sun,

    John’s point on Lopez IMO is accurate. I have never heard anyone say keeping Lopez would have made the Suns better this year. Lopez is 4 years younger and he accepted $5m/year to play for New Orleans. Therefore the Suns could have had a similar player to Gortat who was younger, cheaper and in my opinion one with a greater upside.

    Absolutely Lopez was horrible in 2010/2011 season. However that was the season after he was diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back. The team confirmed in writing the summer of 2011, the herniated disc caused him to lose 8 inches of his vertical. Since he did not have surgery other than an injection, it took time to heal. Most Suns fans thought he was washed up and had written him off as a wasted draft pick. before Coro closed his message board I kept repeating the Suns will regret letting Lopez leave and keeping Gortat. Gortat will be seeking a much larger contract than the $5m/yr Lopez is getting. He currently earns $7m/yr. The Suns simply do not seem to get it whereas New Orleans fully understands the rebuild process as they focused getting a squad of players primarily 25 and younger. They let their veteran center Kaman walk as well as their veteran point guard and focused on youth. I think now their record is as good if not better than the Suns. New Orleans gets it.

  • Forever is2long

    DBreezy if we were in church I would be screaming Amen Brother at you.

  • Ty-Sun

    Forever is2long

    Lopez might have been cheaper and younger than Gortat but I think the Suns weren’t willing to make the bet that he would fully recover from his back problems. A herniated disc is a severe problem and could be a reoccurring problem especially with someone as young as Lopez. I think that is at least part of the reason they decided to keep Gortat over Lopez. It’s a bet, good or bad, but it was a bet.

  • Forever is2long

    Perhaps Ty-Sun but the Hornets were willing to take the gamble and right now they look like the smarter team. Instead we take a gamble on Gortat hoping he would be a fixture in Phoenix and he does not want to be in Phoenix. No decent front office can look this stupid can they? If Gortat was their future they should have inked him to an extension before deciding on Lopez. If he refused go with Lopez. Now it looks like they took a gamble that will likely net them zero at center. Lopez I do not think has missed a game in about 1 1/2 years. The Suns wanted to sign Lopez but Lopez wanted to be a starter so he encouraged the deal with New Orleans.

  • Brent McDonald

    Keeping Gortat was a better option than Lopez who was an often injured, inconsistent head-case.

    Dragic is mediocre. Gortat, Brown and Scola are all mediocre. My favorite player right now is PJ Tucker because of his hustle, but he too is mediocre.

    I went to the game against Memphis a week ago and the arena was half empty and there was zero energy in the building. Nobody wants to watch a bunch of lazy bums collect millions for such pathetic efforts. I would be pissed if I had paid for those tickets.

    Most teams have guys like these on their roster to compliment their All Stars. We have a former All-Star in Jermain Oneal, but I doubt any of these other guys will ever earn that honor.

    Think about all the great players that USED to be on SUNS that are still in the league and you can see we have done a poor job of managing personnel. We need Colangelo back. Heck, maybe he could take over the Cardinals why he is at it.

  • john

    @Forever is2long

    “Now it looks like they took a gamble that will likely net them zero at center.”

    A different perspective might ask the question, “What’s better: having one bad center, having two bad centers, or having zero bad centers?”

    Now, if you don’t like the word “bad,” fill that blank in with an adjective of your choosing, but the point is that centers like Gortat and Lopez aren’t likely to be the starting centers on contending teams in the NBA. You could make the case that having NEITHER Gortat nor Lopez would actually improve the team’s chances in the future.

    That’s part of the reason I preferred Gortat over Lopez. Less years. I don’t believe either of those players is good enough to be the starting center on a great team, so why would I keep either of them?

    They got something for Lopez (a pick, iirc), and the final word on Gortat is yet to be had. But either way, even if the Suns let Gortat play out his entire contract, they will still have received his value on the court. The only time a team truly gets nothing from a player is when they don’t play.

  • john

    “Think about all the great players that USED to be on SUNS that are still in the league and you can see we have done a poor job of managing personnel.”

    Thinking… thinking… thinking…

    All of those players are grossly overpaid, past their primes, and doing nothing significant whatsoever. Seems like the Suns might have made the right calls when they let those guys go, to me.

  • Brent McDonald

    All????

    If you are talking Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick, Marcus Banks or Josh Childress then I agree with you John.

    Conversely a lot of guys have had outstanding years after leaving Phoenix…. Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, Jason Kid, Jason Richardson.

    The final word is still out on Amare, Nash and HIll. Perhaps it was the right time to let them move on?

    There are a lot of other decent guys who might have been helpful to have around a little longer like Kurt Thomas, Vince Carter, Barbosa, Borris Diaw.

  • john

    That’s all fine and dandy if you want to pretend the Suns could have managed to pay $125M in salaries.

    Btw, just a look at a few of those guys you mentioned…

    Shawn Marion’s highest PER since Phoenix was 17. He’s carved out a nice niche for himself as a good defender who can give some garbage buckets to a good team. I loved the Matrix in PHX, and he was one of my favorite players to watch, but he’s been far from great in his time away from the Valley. His last great season was his last season in PHX. Right time to move on.

    Joe Johnson has a career PER of 16.4 and a career WS/48 under 0.100 (average). His career Rtg is negative (higher DRtg than ORtg), and his best seasons as a pro from an efficiency standpoint were good, albeit not as good as you might expect for someone in his salary range. His max PER was 19.5 and his max WS/48 was 0.145. Meanwhile, he has been paid an average of $10M annually to be an average NBA player for his career. Joe Johnson is one of the posterboys for overpaid NBA players, in my opinion. Right time to move on.

    Jason Kidd. He was absolutely fantastic in NJ. You’ll get no argument from me there. I never wanted to get rid of Kidd. But, as I’m sure you remember, that had nothing to do with the current ownership group. You want Colangelo back? He was the one that shipped Kidd off.

    Jason Richardson has had PER’s of 13.3 and 13.2 since leaving Phoenix. His WS/48 numbers for each season were .084 and .070. He has been well below average in both of those metrics. He made $14.4M last year. This year, he has been bumped down to about $5.4M, but that’s still overpaid, if you ask me. I might rather have a $5.4M Jason Richardson than a $3.5M Shannon Brown, but who really cares when you’re talking about two bad players?

    Amar’e, I guess he could possibly make a comeback, but he has definitely not even been a shadow of his PHX self since leaving the Valley. Final season in PHX, WS/48 of 0.181 and PER of 22.6. Even in his first season in NY, where the perception was that he was still a star, his PER was 22.7 and his WS/48 was 0.134. This year he’s at a PER of 12.5 and a WS/48 of 0.076. Yikes. Right time to move on, in my opinion.

    Nash, I think it’s a toss-up. “Why keep him?” is the real question that should be asked about Nash. What purpose would it have served? He’s maybe marginally better than Dragic (just depends on if you want defense or offense, really), but Nash wasn’t going to bring this team back to contention. Right time to move on, in my opinion.

    Hill wasn’t even good in his last two seasons in Phoenix. He provided a couple of defensive gems here or there, but his complete lack of production on the offensive side of the floor killed the team’s hopes of winning anything. Even WS/48, which rewards defensive efforts moreso than PER, had Hill at 0.087 and 0.055 in his last two seasons in PHX. Meanwhile his PER was 14.7 in 2010-11 and 12.3 in 2011-12. Why would you want that player on your team, especially when he won’t be a part of the team when the rebuild is finally complete (assuming the FO doesn’t screw it up)? Right time to move on.

    Kurt Thomas would have essentially cost the team something like $17M to keep (due to luxury taxes), which is why he was given away in the first place. Would you want to pay Kurt Thomas $17M? I liked him. I thought he was a good piece to a winning formula, but the Suns did just fine once he was gone too. Right time to move on.

    Vince Carter didn’t play when he was here. Blame it on whatever you want, but he was AWFUL in PHX. His PHX PER was 14.2 and his WS/48 was 0.060. Not only that, but he hasn’t gotten better since leaving. 2011-12 PER was 13.6 and his WS/48 was 0.090. 2012-13 PER is 15.5 and his WS/48 is 0.096. He’s an average player, so why is it so critical that the Suns should have hung on to him? He’s not good. Right time to move on.

    Barbosa’s best season after PHX (minus this season in BOS where he’s getting 10 minuts per game) – PER of 15.3 and WS/48 of 0.053 or PER of 13.4 and WS/48 of 0.076, depending on which metric you value more. Either way, he’s been average or slightly below average since leaving. In Phoenix, his PER was 19.4 and his WS/48 was 0.141. So, again, it seems like the Suns dumped him at the perfect time. Right time to move on.

    Boris Diaw’s PER over the past four seasons – 12.8, 13.9, 11.2, 12.6. He was never a good player to begin with. I’m really not sure why he would ever be mentioned in a list like this. PLUS he’s making $9M per year. You want to pay $9M for below-average production? You’re not going to get very far as an executive if you make moves like that. Right time to move on.

    I know a lot of you don’t like stats for whatever reason, but the truth is that they don’t lie. Good teams will have players with high PER and high WS/48. If a team’s players have earned a combined 50 win shares in a season, you can bet your lunch money that team will have 50 wins +/- 5-10%. Stats work, and every stat imaginable will tell you that the Suns sold high on virtually every player that got shipped out of Phoenix in the past decade (they’ve also bought low on quite a few too, so I’m not trying to say the FO has done a good job overall). Arguing that the Suns should have kept players past their useful lives is just… silly.

  • Ty-Sun

    Paying Joe Johnson and Amare what they wanted to stay in Phoenix just wasn’t worth it. Just ask Atlanta and NY. Amare looked great in his first year in NY but now they are trying desperately to trade his bloated contract away. And Atlanta was delirious to trade Joe Johnson to Brooklyn. Brooklyn took him and his bloated contract to please D-Will. I agree that the Suns should have not let Shawn Marion get away though.

  • john

    Fyi, the reason I posted that ridiculous diatribe above wasn’t to prove I’m right, it was simply to prove that there is at least some reason to contend that the FO didn’t blow every single one of those transactions.

    I think the front office of the Suns has been bad for the past 15 years, but it’s not for the reasons that most Suns fans would like to think.

    And I also would like to point out that there is often a difference between making good decisions and seeing good results. Just throwing it out there.

  • foreveris2long

    This might be the most pathetic roster in the NBA. If you put Gortat on Miami or OKC, both teams will be better and whichever team acquired him would likely win it all. Both teams could use a center who could score a few points a night.

  • DBreezy

    Foreveris,

    On R.Lo, I still think it’s pretty much what I said over on AZC back in the day. He had a rough year for whatever reason in 2010-2011. Unfortunately for him that occurred under a front office that didn’t draft him and who made their signature move to date of bringing in Gortat at his position. Alvin really gave him a lot of rope, starting him even when he was in a funk and Gortat was clearly playing better and for more minutes, but his inability to respond to that challenge sealed the deal for him with this front office. It absolutely could have been the back, but that wasn’t a concern to them. They were done with him after that season, you could see it, and that’s why I kept advocating moving him in a draft day trade. Obviously we don’t own/run the team, so if they’ve come to that conclusion it’s no longer about his play but what’s the best thing they can get for him. That’s why I never entered the debates on his play on AZC during his last season here. I knew he was a dead man walking to Lance and Lon.

  • From_MileHigh

    Poor beloved Suns! Sad to see how far theyve fallen.

  • From_MileHigh

    There is no comparison with Dragic to past Suns PGs. Thanks to the supposed general, the season has downtrodden low enough competing with the lichen kingdom by now…so lets see what they have in Marshall.

  • http://therealJO.com JO

    I remember when Rubio said, Boy I was glad when Beasley left, All beasley does is dance and sing about how they get millions to ball and winning aint for him! Well man Gragic and Gortat like wins, then Wes Jo and BEaz, cancer it over to Cannon Brown and other youngins, Ill be on bench rest of season with a towel on my head JO

  • http://therealJO.com JO

    and what I meant to say was Gragic http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1479925-goran-dragic-rips-phoenix-suns-teammates-says-they-dont-care is already fed up with em, cant make players look good when they dont even want to be on the court.

  • Ben Shockley

    Mr. Petersen,

    … nice post, but allow me a few points of critique.

    1) Saying that K.J.’s game suffered from “horrendous” three-point shooting is very misleading. Yes, K.J. only shot better than 22.2% on threes in two full seasons, but he only averaged more than 0.58974359 three-point field goal attempts in two seasons! And as a point guard, a disproportionate amount of those limited three-point attempts constituted desperation heaves to beat a shot clock or an end-of-quarter game clock, not situations where he was really shooting threes by choice or receiving legitimate looks.

    And the reason for K.J. hardly ever attempting threes was not because he couldn’t hit one. After all, K.J. shot 2-3 on threes in the 1989 Western Conference Finals (the one miss rimmed out on Phoenix’s final possession of the series), 3-5 on threes in the 1992 Western Conference Semifinals, and 5-10 on threes in the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals. In fact, in that series versus Houston, K.J. hit more threes (5) than he had in the entire ’94-’95 regular season (4). Also, in 14 playoff games versus the Rockets over the 1994 and 1995 postseason, K.J. shot .421 (8-19, 1.27 FGA) on threes, meaning that when he looked for the shot more often and shot more “legitimate” threes as opposed to desperation threes, he could hit.

    But usually, K.J. possessed no reason to look for the three. First, when he entered the NBA in 1987, the three-pointer amounted to the purview of a few specialists, and even they didn’t shoot that many threes for the most part. In his first few years in the NBA, even Larry Bird didn’t shoot many threes (and as a result, he usually did not shoot them at an efficient rate), for most players were not oriented or accustomed to being three-point shooters. So you have to keep the era in mind and not apply today’s norms to the league of twenty or twenty-five years ago.

    Second, K.J. didn’t need to shoot threes because aside from Michael Jordan, he was probably better than anyone in the NBA (perhaps better than anyone in NBA history) at getting to any spot on the floor that he wanted off the dribble, creating space for his jump-shot, and rising up to pop it with a quick release. As Seattle’s Nate McMillan said in 1994, K.J. didn’t shoot threes, but he could bury 18-20-foot jumpers all night. Really, K.J. constituted a major shooting threat anywhere within the arc and he was one of the best off-the-dribble shooters in NBA history (Steve Nash may be the best). Houston’s Mario Elie stated during the 1994 playoffs that in his opinion, even John Stockton couldn’t shoot as well as Kevin Johnson. And since K.J. could slip into his sweet spots so easily and consistently and shoot so fluidly off the dribble, there was little incentive to shoot threes. For if K.J. was shooting threes, he was eliminating his off-the-dribble game inside the arc, where options proliferate. If K.J. was penetrating off the dribble inside the arc, the following possibilities emerged.

    A) He could set up a teammate for an easy shooting opportunity, which was perhaps his primary goal and an area where he excelled as well as anyone in the league, with the possible exception of Magic Johnson.

    B) He could explode to the rim to score.

    C) He could draw a foul and reach the free throw line while putting individual defenders in foul trouble and team defenses in the foul penalty. Indeed, K.J. could generate many “old fashioned” three-pointers via the “and one,” while also saddling the defense with fouls, another reason not to shoot threes. And at the foul line, the shooting team can set up its defense by carefully matching up.

    D) If none of the first three options materialized, K.J. always possessed the pull-up jump shot in his back pocket. But if he failed to penetrate past the three-point line, then he was probably foreclosing the first three options. Therefore, for a player with so many offensive virtues, one who could slip into his sweet spots so easily and shoot off the dribble so dynamically, there was little incentive for him to shoot threes. The incentive is going to be greater for a guy like Dragic, who isn’t as quick and whose shooting form is more mechanical.

    Most of all, though, when K.J. actually attempted to shoot threes on even a semi-regular basis, he proved to be above-average and then elite. In ’95-’96, K.J. for the first time averaged as many as 1.0 three-point field goal attempts per contest and shot 36.8421053% on threes, slightly better than the rest of the NBA, which shot 36.6957903%. Then in ’96-’97, K.J. proved elite at shooting threes, connecting at a 44.1% clip (in 2.9 FGA per game), good for third in the entire NBA, trailing only Glen Rice and Steve Kerr and finishing directly ahead of Joe Dumars, Mitch Richmond, Reggie Miller, and Dell Curry. In fact, K.J. became the first player in NBA history to rank in the top three in both assists per game and three-point field goal percentage in the same season (John Stockton would become the second in 2001 and Steve Nash would become the third in 2007 and 2008), a testament to his skill level off the dribble.

    Overall, K.J. shot a combined 42.5% on threes over a span of 127 games covering the ’95-’96 and ’96-’97 regular season (in 2.1 attempts per contest). Aided by his three-point shooting, he thus ranked tenth in the NBA in True Shooting Percentage (the best measure of scoring efficiency) in ’95-’96 at .617 and fourth in ’96-’97 at a whopping .631. In fact, over his last 55 games of the ’96-’97 season (K.J. started slowly because double-hernia surgery wiped out his training camp and preseason and then caused him to miss the first 11 games of the regular season), the Phoenix point guard shot .449 on threes and posted a stunning .660 True Shooting Percentage.

    If you want to expand the sample even further, from the start of the 1995 playoffs on April 28, 1995, through November 4, 1997, encompassing all regular season and playoff games during that stretch, K.J. (over a span of about two and a half years) shot 40.468% on threes (121-299). If you want to expand the sample further still, from April 10, 1994, through November 4, 1997, encompassing all regular season and playoff games during that stretch, K.J. (over a span of about three and a half years) shot 38.529% on threes (131-340) over 212 games (regular season and postseason), an average of 1.6 three-point attempts per contest. In other words, when K.J. was looking to shoot threes and averaging more than 0.59 attempts per game, he proved to be a very good three-point shooter, sometimes one of the best in the entire NBA. The issue is simply that for most of his career, he did not look to shoot threes because he did not need to shoot them. Dragic, like most point guards nowadays, is much more of a three-point shooter, but his higher volume isn’t necessarily an asset because over the last two seasons, he has been a below-average three-point shooter (.337 last season, .321 at the time that I write this season), while averaging 3.4 attempts per game. Just because Dragic jacks up a lot more attempts, on average, than Kevin Johnson used to doesn’t mean that Dragic is helping the Suns. To the contrary, K.J.’s philosophy wherein he either did not shoot threes or shot them at an above-average or elite rate rendered him far more efficient. He would either help the Suns by making three-pointers or he would avoid attempting three-pointers, but K.J. was almost never going to hurt the Suns in that area. Dragic, in contrast, is liable to hurt as much as help, but again, since he isn’t as quick as K.J. and he isn’t nearly as fluid a shooter off the dribble, he doesn’t enjoy the luxury of being able to stop-and-pop inside the arc at will.

  • Ben Shockley

    Oh, and in 183 regular season games from April 10, 1994, through November 4, 1997, Kevin Johnson shot 40.476% on threes (119-294, 1.6 FGA). So once more, the issue was not that Kevin Johnson could not shoot threes (again, he ranked third in three-point field goal percentage in the entire NBA in ’96-’97, trailing only Glen Rice and Steve Kerr and placing directly ahead of Joe Dumars, Mitch Richmond, Reggie Miller, and Dell Curry), but rather that he did not need to shoot threes and thus almost never did so for the bulk of his career. Kevin Johnson constituted a much more fluid shooter than the more mechanical Goran Dragic and he reached the free throw line far more often, so operating inside the arc on a constant basis made sense for Johnson. Since he could create space for his jumper anywhere, he didn’t need to use the three-point arc as a spatial crutch.