5-on-1, Part 2: What was the brightest part of the Suns' season?

With the Suns’ season over and the offseason already in full swing as the team searches for a new general manager and a head coach, questions are aplenty. So instead of the traditional 5-on-5 to recap the season, we’re going to — like the Suns — start from scratch and work through five 5-on-1 sessions. Because if you can’t run an offense during a walk-through with a coach, no chance it’s working against five defenders.

We started off the discussion asking for one word to sum up the Suns’ season. In our second installment, we’re looking at the best of the year, as difficult as it may be.

Is it safe to say Goran Dragic was the brightest spot this ugly season? If so, where did he finish compared to your preseason expectation? If not, what was the brightest part of this dark year for the Suns?

Michael Schwartz: In terms of contrast to expectations, I would have to say Jermaine O’Neal because he wasn’t necessarily going to figure into the rotation when he originally signed with Channing Frye healthy, and he ended up delivering a healthy and overall solid season in which he looked younger than he has the past few seasons (kudos once again, training staff).

But yes, Dragic was the brightest spot of this dark season although he wasn’t quite as good as my preseason expectations for him. Last season in 28 games as a starter in Houston, Dragon averaged 18.0 points, 8.4 dimes and 3.5 boards while shooting 49 percent. This year he put up a 14.7-7.4-3.1 line on 44.3 percent shooting. I doubted he would duplicate the Houston numbers over the course of a full season, but as the focal point of the Suns’ attack I thought he would come a bit closer and shoot a little better to boot.

That being said, Dragic is the one piece the Suns can exit this season knowing is a building block. He is the prime of his career turning 27 in a few weeks and is the one player from this season who should remain amid the rubble of a disastrous campaign.

Ryan Weisert: Goran Dragic was the only bright light in the Suns’ dismal season. Dragic was the only player Phoenix could count on night in and night out for both effort and production. He led the team in scoring and assists per game. He increased his output in both those areas every month starting in December. Carrying the load as both a scorer and distributor is not an easy job in the NBA. Not many players pull it off, and most of the guys who do are All Stars. Dragic isn’t quite there yet, but he definitely proved this season that he has potential to be the guy in Phoenix. All that said, until the last month of the season, Dragic fell short of the stats many people thought he would put up. Last year, Goran averaged 18 points and 8 assists per game as the starter in Houston. Many people assumed he could duplicate that production in Phoenix. I don’t believe Goran really failed to meet those expectations. I think those expectations were misguided. The truth of the matter is that in his first season as a full-time starter, Dragic was excellent, and he is right now the only player whose future in Phoenix is assured (unless Chris Paul suddenly develops an unrelenting desire to live near saguaros this offseason.)

Kevin Zimmerman: P.J. Tucker was a nice story, so was the rejuvinated Jermaine O’Neal and the opportunity given to Hamed Haddadi. But there’s no way to sail past Dragic’s season. The poor on-court chemistry on the Suns this season made Dragic’s performance even more impressive beyond the numbers. As Phoenix searched for an identity, he was often caught in between his aggressive, attacking nature and attempting to get his teammates involved. His role with Marcin Gortat seemed to improve greatly just before the center sprained his foot, but Dragic’s rising production continued as he was forced to be the focal point as the regular season neared its end.

He only improved once it became even more clear that he needed to be the key scorer and playmaker on a sub-par roster. And to produce considering the talent around him only makes it fun to imagine Dragic playing off of another primary ball-handler or even the return of a healthy Gortat. Simply put, it’s hard to imagine many other point guard contributing as much despite the lack of talent surround them. Another summer of individual growth should only help.

Dave Dulberg: Unquestionably, Goran Dragic was the brightest spot in 2012-13. While the bar wasn’t exactly set very high, he proved that he could be a very capable starting point guard in the league. He finished right around where I thought he would be this season in terms of overall production. I thought he was a great long-term solution to replace Steve Nash at the point, but honestly, even in the short-term that might already be true.

I’m not ready to put him among the top-10 point guards in the league just yet, but if he played in an offense with bona fide perimeter shooters he could be a 16 and 8 guy. This season, he had to create for himself far too often. I think not only would his assists go up if he had more capable options, but his three-point percentage would as well.

Matt Petersen: Dragic had to be the brightest spot, though that has as much to do with Marcin Gortat’s failure to improve and Michael Beasley’s failure to not disappoint as much as Dragic’s performance. His post-All-Star break play in particular (16.1 ppg, 9.5 apg) was encouraging. It’s worth noting, however, that Dragic had a similar surge after All-Star weekend in 2012. The Suns need him to be that kind of player year-round, not just when the playoffs are out of reach and expectations are nil. When that happens, Dragic will go from good deal to free agent steal.

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