Goran Dragic needs help; Suns' lack of deals an NBA trend

PHOENIX – Goran Dragic is by no means a finished product. Though it’s hard to judge him because defenses can easily key on him to stop the Phoenix Suns, there’s room for growth as a floor general and the talent to make the the point guard’s future bright.

Under Lindsey Hunter, Dragic’s numbers have improved dramatically. He’s recorded double-digit assists four games in a row, but on Sunday against the Spurs, he struggled to score, hitting 3-of-14 shots. Once San Antonio took away the pick-and-roll that gave him six first-quarter assists, the game changed in the Spurs’ favor.

Dragic finished with five turnovers, often trying to do a little too much.

“He’s getting better and better, he’s learning,” Hunter said. “He’s putting up unbelievable numbers, learning to mix his game. And I would never take his aggression away because that’s who he is, that makes him. I think he’ll continue to get better and better. The better he gets, the better we get.”

Lacking other scorers, the offensive burden is stuck on Dragic’s shoulders. Marcin Gortat and he have been working on the pick-and-roll game, and it showed against San Antonio. But even then, there wasn’t enough play off of that pick-and-roll. Both Dragic and Jared Dudley said after the game that the lack of second and third options hurt the Suns, just as the presence of those options helped San Antonio distribute the points across a roster mostly full of role players.

There’s also not the talent to expect better execution to change Phoenix’s offensive woes.

The Suns have averaged 92.6 points over the 16-game tenure of Hunter, which only betters season averages of Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington. According to the NBA.com Stats tool, the Suns were 24th in offensive ratings under Alvin Gentry by scoring 99.6 points per 100 possessions, but from Jan. 18 until now have fallen to dead last in the league over that span with a rating of 96.

Going back to the talent-deficient roster, Dragic leads the Suns in the total number of clutch shots made, which of course is a decently sound way to check out who can score when defenses tighten toward the end of games. The Suns point guard is only toward the end of the top-75 of NBA players in clutch ratings for the most shots made (12) in the last five minutes of games with differentials of five points or less.

Following him in clutch field goals made and in the top-100 in the league on the Suns are Shannon Brown’s 11 and P.J. Tucker’s nine. The latter is a testament to Tucker shooting high percentages, say, off offensive rebounds.

Suns’ smartly trend with others at trade deadline but roster a clutter

The trade deadline came and went without much hoopla. Hardly any, really. J.J. Redick stole the show in a trade to the Bucks where the major money piece going the other way was 30-year-old backup point guard Beno Udrih. Young prospects that had gone sour on the Milwaukee bench went to the rebuilding Orlando Magic – Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb – and no picks were involved at all.

That relatively major deal – and even the Rudy Gay trade earlier – pretty much said it all about the change in the NBA landscape following the new CBA, which CBS Sports’ Ken Berger wrote about in depth here.

The main points:

  • Teams fear the luxury tax threshold more than ever.
  • With so many teams fearing the luxury tax, it’s tougher to dump bad contracts because now every team is trying to dump bad contracts. Cleveland once was OK with getting Luke Walton’s contract dumped on them, but as the deadline approached they couldn’t even shed better utility players like Omri Casspi and Daniel Gibson.
  • Draft picks are more important than ever. Even a great role player like J.J. Redick or Jared Dudley won’t be traded in exchange for an equal contract and a pick.
  • Though max contracts will be dealt out to players that could be undeserving like Josh Smith, there is still enough salary cap space to make players such as Smith easily justified in asking for the max – call a guy like Brandon Jennings the cut-off point.

As David Aldridge points out in his column on Monday, the trade action dropped dramatically in the past few years.

“The proof of teams’ collective caution is in the pudding: according to STATS LLC, 45 players were traded in the week of the trading deadline in 2010, and 49 players were dealt in 2011. But in each of the last two years, that number has dropped to just 27 players being traded. And this year, six of those players were moved in one deal …”

So this explains why Smith and the Utah duo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap stayed put, and it also is telling of why a player like Marcin Gortat or Dudley didn’t get shipped off in a more minor deal like the Redick one.

Phoenix was stuck in the same rut as everyone else.

Needing nothing more than to seek out assets, the Suns did their job before the trade deadline. Phoenix grabbed former No. 14 overall pick Marcus Morris in exchange for a second round pick.

Furthermore, the Suns weren’t going to use Sebastian Telfair, and they ultimately turned his contract into Hamed Haddadi’s while getting back a late pick.

The only thing that is potentially bad, and I use “potentially” with emphasis, is that despite Morris’ value as a trade piece, the Suns actually hurt their cap space in essentially dropping Luke Zeller’s contract worth less than a half-million dollars in exchange for Morris’ nearly $2 million base salary (Telfair and Haddadi’s salaries are close to even). That $1.5 million difference shouldn’t matter too much since the Suns are still a big signing from being one of those teams close to the cap, but $1.5 million was a big deal for the Warriors, who traded young players with potential in Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Tyler for a second round pick each.

That shows the flow of picks going to better teams with less cap space and the flow of young prospects going to worse teams with more cap space.

Anyhow, it’s assumed that the Suns’ shuffling was smartly in the trend of the rest of the NBA and how teams must now deal with the CBA.

And it is a prelude to this summer, where we expect a lot of action.

  • bkkkkkkkk

    To smartly use the cap, the teams should only sign minimum 13 players. 15 players is kind of too much and hurt the flexibility of the cap. This waiving Morris-Zeller example shows that it will hurt the cap space slightly through trade.

  • hawki

    On the bright side….the Wizards victory over the Raptors tonight means the Suns now stand alone in 3rd place in the Draft Lotto.
    Maybe Nerlens Noel is possible.

  • the real shazam

    i dont count the first year the suns were in existence because that wasnt even a pro team..it had no culture from history etc…..THIS years team is the very worst in suns history…not even as good as the drug scandal teams of the 80s…at a certain point we HAVE to start blaming sarver for mismanagement on a level that im not seeing..trust fund bobby is nothing more than a stupid clown shoe

    • BoomShakaLuka

      @the real shazam Agreed. Last time we were this bad record wise was 03-04. But that team had tons of cap space, and young talent. This Suns team will have to buy a star or two and hope to get lucky in the draft. It’s bare minimum another 2-3 seasons away.

  • 4everis2long

    I get upset every time I think about how the Suns passed on John Henson in the 2012 draft in favor K Marshall. Stupid mistakes like that make 2013 a wasted season so far. We still would have been awful this year but Henson would have gotten quality playing time which would have improved his play. I hope Garrett gets most of the backup point guard minutes so at least we develop someone this year. 
    Hawk, we are moving on up in the lottery. Check out Payne on Michigan State for a possible late 1st round or 2nd round pick (I think we are out of early 2nd round picks). He has probably underachieved in college but he is starting to ball. 6’10″ with 7’4″ arm span, good rebounder, excellent hops with a decent stroke.

    • IowaPhXfan

      @4everis2long i also like payne, noticed he’s gotten better and better. could be a steal late 1st but I’m afraid his stock will skyrocket at the combine….

      • 4everis2long

        @IowaPhXfan Iowa, with this being a really weak draft for bigs, I think you are right that he can sneak into the mid 1st round. A week or two ago he wasn’t even picked to go in the 2nd round. A lot of so-called experts were down on him because he had so much hype coming out of high school and has not lived up to it.

        • IowaPhXfan

          @4everis2long  @IowaPhXfan agreed…with his athleticism, size, and shooting I really don’t understand how he isn’t being considered a lock for top 10 right now….
          Payne vs Zeller in 2 games this year:
          Payne – 34 pts, 16 rebs, 3 blks, 13-18 fg (6-7 3pt)
          Zeller – 26 pts, 12 rebs, 4 blks, 9-23 fg
          And yes, they guard each other over half the game. Zeller couldn’t do anything inside against Payne, had to take outside jumpers, hence his horrible shooting percentage for a big man. It’s no mistake 2 of the 4 worst shooting games for Zeller this year was against Payne. The other 2 were Purdue who has a long dominant big man freshman, and the other was Georgetown who is very long and athletic. Basically, an athletic big man shuts down Zeller.
          For the record, I’d take Payne with the 5th pick right now.

        • 4everis2long

          @IowaPhXfan Great breakdown Iowa. I might not take him with a top 5 pick but if we get the Lakers pick I would consider using it on Payne. Actually the only reason I would not use a top 5 on Payne is because the Suns badly need a scorer and that is the strength of this otherwise suspect draft. However we AGREE this guy can help the Suns a lot. If the Suns got Payne and a scorer in this draft I would be a real happy camper. I could live with Oladipo (excuse spelling) and Payne in the 1st round.

  • TySun

    Not only are bad contracts going to be more difficult to dump, I think we’re going to see fewer bad contracts given now too.  Even proven NBA role players are going to have to settle for 1-2 year contracts, probably for good money but without the long-term commitments that we used to see.  It will be interesting to see what kind of contract offers Josh Smith will get during the off season.  I’m sure someone will be willing to make him a max offer but I doubt it will come from a contender unless they are somehow getting rid of a lot of other salary.
    The new CBA might actually eventually help balance out the talent levels between the big and small market teams but it will take a while for everyone to figure out how to work with it.

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