5-on-1, Part 5: What's one fix that would've made the Suns better?

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 discussed the best of the year, AKA, Goran Dragic. Part 3 touched on the most baffling of 2012-13, and in the fourth 5-on-1 we hit on who we think should be a surprise piece to the Suns’ future.

Finally, we’re looking at the one thing that could have swung the win total the most this past season.

Assuming the roster is relatively the same, if you had to pick the one problem with Phoenix that if fixed would have swung the win total the most, what would it be?

Michael Schwartz: No go-to scorer. Dragic was the only Sun to average at least 13 points a game and even he ranked 45th in the league in scoring, just ahead of Mike Conley and Jeff Teague. Such a go-to player would have taken pressure off everybody else and allowed them to fill more natural roles.

Dragic could have been more of a set-up guy and secondary scorer, Scola and Gortat would have not have needed to carry the load as much and Dudley could have settled into a more familiar complementary role.

Granted the Suns were much more than a go-to guy away from being good, but there’s a reason why a Phoenix team that annually led the league in offensive efficiency by a good margin during the Nash era plummeted all the way down to 29th this season. Dragic (and perhaps Scola on some nights) were the only guys who really scared you offensively, especially the way Gortat struggled much of the year, and that lack of firepower made for a very un-Phoenix Suns-like offensive season.

Ryan Weisert: I think the Suns would have won more games had they committed earlier to developing Wesley Johnson. One of the Suns’ biggest weaknesses this season was 3-point shooting. Phoenix was 28th in 3-pt % as a team and 26th in 3PM per game. Those ranks are in stark contrast to the Suns with Steve Nash when Phoenix was middle of the road at worst and often among the elite 3-point shooting teams in the NBA. The Suns’ plummeting production from beyond the arc made things cramped offensively for Marcin Gortat, Michael Beasley, Goran Dragic, and Luis Scola. Phoenix’s previously deadly pick-and-roll was nowhere to be found this year, and its absence cannot wholly be blamed on Nash’s departure. One of the most promising stories coming out of preseason was Wesley Johnson lighting it up from downtown. Then the season started and Johnson was glued to the bench for three months. The Suns were never going to make the playoffs. There was no harm in bringing Wes into the rotation sooner. After he got his legs under him in February, Johnson averaged 13 points a game in March and April. He shot better than 34% from deep in March and made more than 1.5 triples per game. Had that production started before Gortat went down with injury, the Suns would definitely have put a few more tallies in the win column.

Kevin Zimmerman: The Suns missed having a streaky shooter. Even without a playmaker outside of Goran Dragic, Phoenix could have done a bit better if they had even one more player who could force teams to spread their defense. Wes Johnson might be the only player on the current roster that fits the bill.

Sure, Shannon Brown had a he-can’t-miss sort of game once a month before he got benched, but it wasn’t enough. The lack of spacing and ability to shoot hampered the Suns, who still struggled to put the ball in the hoop even on nights they were moving the ball, driving and kicking and finding open jumpers. Certainly, Channing Frye sitting out the year is one of the most undervalued losses this season, because he was a pure scorer who would thrive hanging out at the three-point stripe while Dragic went to work on the strong side.

In short, Phoenix had nights when they had plenty of open looks. They just weren’t talented enough of a shooting team to win a few games here, nor a streaky enough shooting team that could win another few there.

Dave Dulberg: Perimeter scoring. Who would have thought the Phoenix Suns would ever be near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting? Well, I guess that’s what happens when you build a team on the foundation of a drive-first point guard and a collection of tweeners.

The Suns were so abysmal from the perimeter this season that their leading shooter from downtown, Jared Dudley, only averaged 1.3 makes per game. To put that in perspective, the Bobcats had three players average that in 2012-13. Wesley Johnson and Goran Dragic showed flashes from three-point range, but Phoenix didn’t have a single guy outside of Dudley who you’d trust to knock down a 20 to 24-foot jump shot on a consistent basis.

Offensively, the Suns struggled in almost every area. But when your team is reliant on Dragic and Luis Scola — two players who are more or less complimentary scorers — to handle the bulk of the load, you’re going to be in trouble.

What the Suns had this season were a bunch of chuckers, not a bunch of perimeter scorers.

Matt Petersen: Leadership. This team looked weighed down by bad expectations all season, which is not something the fans wanted to see. It’s one thing to lose to better teams. Mailing in effort because of hoplessless and/or tanking orders from the men upstairs? No wonder the arena was half-empty most of the season.

It’s a shame Dragic and Gentry — when he was there — couldn’t channel some of the 2009-10 team’s attitude of playing free, rather than depressed, with little expected of them based on the previous season. That, more than anything, is what would have kept Suns fans less critical of the team’s present and future.

  • john

    Any sort of offensive flow whatsoever is what they lacked. From game to game, the offensive game plan would change without warning (think back to the first couple of games under Hunter when about half of the sets were being run through Scola in the high post), and most of the time there simply appeared to be no plan at all. They consistently settled for contested mid-range jumpers (the worst shot in basketball), failed to establish any sort of presence in the paint (Gortat was so frustrating to watch as he would resort to shooting fadeaways when he had a wide-open lane to the hoop), and couldn’t knock down an outside shot to save their lives (as was mentioned in the article many times).

    Two of those things couldn’t necessarily be controlled. If you don’t have shooters or finishers, you can’t exactly teach that in one season. The thing that ticked me off the most is that shot selection CAN be taught, and it can be taught quickly. The Suns never improved, though. Not under Gentry, not under Hunter.

    I won’t even get into the defense. It’s not worth mentioning, except to say that it’s terrible, and no team could win with it, not even the SSoL Suns. It should go without saying the defense needs to improve drastically before this team has a shot at a return to glory.

  • Ty-Sun

    The Suns did need a go-to scorer but if they would have had to pay for a proven one via free agency or a trade it probably would have just made them a mediocre, fringe playoff team for another year while also soaking up cap space. Better to hope to find that go-to guy in the draft. That’s unlikely this year but adding at least one young, athletic defender with upside potential this year will help a lot.

    Consistency might have actually helped more than anything else. The lineup and rotation seemed to change almost nightly. That might work on a team that has been together for a while but many of the players on this years’ Suns team were new and it’s difficult to learn to play as a team when the lineup changes frequently and you really don’t know your teammates very well.

  • Azbballfan

    How about getting something back from the Steve Nash trade?

    You know, the guy who is one of the best players in Suns history?

    oh thats right, the 2nd lowest payroll in the NBA didnt want to take any salary back so they could have more free agent money to give to Beasley……..great.

    Had the Suns been able to get something decent out of that trade, instead of protected picks, it might have made a difference

    But this season was so abysmal there isnt any one thing you can say, if this or that wouldnt have happened we would be a playoff team

    The Suns had very few serious injuries this season and just didnt have the horses to compete offensively, and played horrendous defense every night

    Marcin Gortat and his 11 points and 8.5 boards a game and Channing Frys 12 and 6 were not going to do anything significant

    if anything all we would have ended up with is worse draft position, and thats not a good thing for a team that needs a total rebuild

  • Scott

    Well …

    First off, the problem was the roster. And that’s because of the GM.

    But, going with the hand that was dealt with the players and the coach … the first disappointment in the season to me, as a fan watching the games, was the overplaying of Beasley at SF and the underplaying of Johnson.

    That’s not one thing, it’s two, but I think that if Beasley’s play was mainly restricted to PF, and Johnson was played at SG/SF as needed, the Suns would have won more games.

    If you take the roster into account, the Suns did not need Brown or Beasley at all.

  • Ty-Sun

    While I’m not a strong supporter of either Gentry or Hunter, I really doubt that the thought of playing Beasley at the 4 never occurred to either of them. Both of them played Scola and Morris ahead of Beasley at PF which I can only assume is because they both thought Beasley was worse then either of them at the 4.

    I have no idea why Gentry sat Johnson at the end of the bench for the 1st half of the season. Perhaps it was just because he was more familiar with Brown and knew what to expect from him. Brown’s stats were 10.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg and 1.8 apg. Johnson’s stats were 8.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg and 0.7 apg. Brown played an average of 4.7 more minutes per game than Johnson and played in 59 games. Johnson played in 50. Brown’s PER was 13.14. Johnson’s was 10.34. Johnson is only better than Brown in that he plays better defense and doesn’t take 20 shots to score 10-12 points. I like Johnson’s performance under Hunter but I doubt that if Gentry gave him more playing time early in the season would have made any significant difference.

  • Azbballfan

    Yeah that makes sense, after all Gentry was under pressure to try and win

    of course the 1st problem with last season is that the FO decided the team could compete for the playoffs

    that put pressure on everyone, while in reality this team was a team at the beginning of a rebuild

    Hopefully, the idea that you could go out and get solid veterans and a couple of free agents and transform your team, died with the last GM

    You need alot of talent, and alot of luck to make the playoffs, and even more than that to win 16 games and win a title

    adding mediocre players via free agency isnt going to do it

    Hopefully the new GM can come in and develop a plan that makes the team competitive in the future

    There is some good free agents out there this summer, but none of them by themselves are going to turn the 4th worst team in the NBA into a contender

    CP3 and D-12 joining forces in Phoenix isnt realistic, and rally only a Heat like 2010 summer is going to turn a team like the Suns into something overnight

    we need a careful, patient rebuild and low expectations

    expectations that were artifically high should have been lowered alot this year, i think thats one of the things thats rarely mentioned that could have made a difference this year

  • Ty-Sun

    @Azbballfan – I would have said that CP3 and D-12 joining forces in Phoenix is a crazy idea too but I’m sure both of them are having serious doubts about staying with their current teams right now. If I had to bet on them both leaving for another team to join forces, I’d bet on Dallas. Sarver might pay one of them what they are worth but not both of them. But I think any team that was willing to pay them both what they are worth – even Phoenix – could sign them both next season. Those two would be great playing together and I think they both know that. It won’t happen in Phoenix but it could happen somewhere else.

  • Scott

    Re: CP3 and D-12 in Dallas … I’ve been thinking that would be Plan A for Dallas for quite some time. That gives you two all-stars to go along with Dirk, Marion, and Carter.

    I don’t know if they’ll get that done, though, so Plan B is probably Al Jefferson and Jose Calderon, or something like that.

  • that dude

    Playing Wesley to win a couple more games? WTF? How does that make sense? To get a worse draft pick to win 5-8 more games? As far as expectations go …. Do you really believe Sarver would come out and had his b*tc* Blabby announce “Suns aee rebuilding this year” as that would drain his cash flow as nobody wants to come see a team lose by 30+ pts. I bet my last dollar even without a major FA, the word out of the front office next year will be the same song “we fully expect to compete at the highest level and will make the playoffs” .. Of course we’ll be lucky if they win 20 games next year!

  • Scott

    @Ty-Sun -

    I assume you’re responding to me in relation to Beasley and Brown?

    Beasley may not have been better than O’Neal, Scola, or Markieff at PF, but that doesn’t mean he had to get so many minutes at SF.

    Dudley was generally better than Beasley at SF, and both Johnson and Tucker played better defense at SF than Beasley. I think it was after it was well and abundantly clear that Beasley did not fit at SF that Blanks traded for Marcus Morris.

    Brown played minutes at the start of the season because Gentry knew him, Brown knew the Suns’ system, and he often acted as a secondary facilitator for the team. However, IIRC, Tucker gained more of a role on the team because they needed more defense, especially at SG.

    So if you add it all up, what the Suns really needed was not so much of Brown or Beasley, but more Tucker, Johnson, and Dudley, and then later Marcus Morris.

    And if the argument is posed, “If the Suns didn’t have Beasley or Brown, and they had not yet acquired Marcus, who would they have played?” IMO, they should have played Garrett, who would have provided defense (wingspan of 6′ 8″) and acted as a secondary facilitator.

  • Ty-Sun

    @Scott – Beasley got too many minutes early in the season no matter what position he played. Considering everything, signing Beasley and giving him a shot at being “the man” instead of the second or third option was a fairly good gamble. Beasley has super potential and giving him the “star” role made some sense to try and push him to his potential but it didn’t work. But Gentry had to give it a try because the FO gave him no other choice at the beginning of the season. Blame Blanks, blame Babby, blame Sarver or all of the above. Gentry was dealt a bad hand and told how to play it. But in hindsight, it’s probably best that was the case. If Gentry wasn’t saddled with trying to turn Beasley into a “star”, then he might have done better and the Suns might once again have the 13th pick in the draft.

    As to Tucker, back in a post I made on October 29, 2012 I said, “Most surprising impact – That a tough one but if you really mean “surprising” my guess would be Tucker. He’s not going to suddenly shoot to stardom but I think that whenever the Suns need him, he’ll come from the far end of the bench and add energy, enthusiasm and just play his heart out whenever given the opportunity.”

    I’m happy to say that even I underestimated his impact on this team this season.

  • john

    Gentry wanted Beasley. He can’t get a free pass for that.

  • bill.thomas

    Gentry s a players’ coach. He has welcomed and developed bonds with virtually every decent player who has come here. The fact that one player he thought had potential, Beasley, did not work out as planned, is not really on him IMHO. That being said, Alvin is not the best “in-game” coach (nor was D’Antoni nor even Phil Jackson for that matter), so he prolly left Beasley in for too long on occasion, although I don’t think the Box Scores would necessarily reflect that. Beasley’s penchant as a ball-stopper and his quick-release ability to get up a shot even when everyone knows the shot is at best a mediocre chance, are legendary, and Alvin’s failure to micromanage Beasley thru that is not a large black mark.

  • Azbballfan

    I am excited to see who the next GM is going to be, this season of losing was worth it in the respect that we got rid of lance blanks, and the new GM has cap space and draft picks to mold the team, as well as the new stretch provision

    i expect the new guy to clean this roster out and maybe keep 3 or 4 players

    with the 2014 draft going to be excellent, and us having some picks in 2013, we should try focusing on the next 3 years and not the last 3 or this last year

    A new GM and coach means alot, save your money for 2014 off season and draft some good young players or make a trade with your 3 picks!

    and by the way, if the newest GM, whoever it turns out to be doesnt work out, i would expect the axe to fall on babby next, now that the guy he hired previously in blanks was shown the door

    so either way this GM will work out or we will get rid of babby thats a win win

  • foreveris2long

    There is no one potential fix when in my opinion there were a comedy of errors by the blind mice over the last 3 years.

  • bill.thomas

    Hey Everyone, Derrick Rose has proven to be a Master of backing himself into a corner, hasn’t he !!!!!

  • bill.thomas

    Axe, Axe, did someone say Axe?? I deliver tools for a living, I would be glad to bring one to near wherever Blabby is.

  • bill.thomas

    I will bait my rat traps with pastrami and rye.

  • bill.thomas

    @azbballfan: Dammit, where do I bring the typewriter????

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Really not into this 5 on 1 at all.

    I mean really, the one thing the Suns should have done from the beginning? It’s actually very simple.

    They should have been honest prior to the season, (because we all knew what was coming whether we liked or wanted to admit it or not), and moved accordingly.

    Gentry should have been removed then and / or consulted and given an order that would move along the maturation process of the younger talent which would have also given the franchise a deeper pool from which to evaluate that younger talent moving forward.

    If Gentry wanted no part of it, then another coach should have been found and instructed to do the same thing while the Nash-pool was fully drained.

    The end result of this season would have been the same, and the needs of the team moving forward would have been that much clearer.

    There was no need to get involved in the Scola sweepstakes. There was no need to re-sign Bad News Brown.

    The rebuild was upon us, but trying to keep that straight face while saying, “we are against the rebuild” when they were clearly in favor of it set the team back a good half-season.

    To be totally honest and not so neutral towards the views of my fellow VOTS contributors, bloggers, and the fan base in general, a lot of you are making me absolutely sick in regards to this Shannon Brown thing.
    Those of you who seem to be in favor of the Suns playing him, and at the same time being upset because the Suns, (BOTH coaching staffs), opted to bench him are kind of pathetic.

    In the short-term, he offered nothing to the team. He wasn’t going to make or break the team in terms of improved W/L record. He has never made his teammates better and he wasn’t going to be a Sun after this season anyway.

    So why waste any time on a player who isn’t very good and who won’t factor into the long-term success of the team anyway?

    You really wanted him AND Beasley out there at the same time all season? I thought some of you guys said you were against tanking? You’re not making any sense.

  • bill.thomas

    Hey Rich, the only way to make it work with Shannon would be to have Iverson here too, to “help” him. To say: “What, I’m supposed to make my teammates (Shannon) better by PRACTICING ?????????????”
    Here is the link:

  • bill.thomas

    I got it, we could hire Iverson to go to a junk yard in South LA and pick up some training wheels to bring back to Phoenix. Then we could put the training wheels on Shannon and have Allen train him.

  • bill.thomas

    Shannon never making his teammates better? No, certainly not. For instance, he never objected to Duds taking a 3rd course at the Italian restaurant.

  • bill.thomas

    A measure of how low this franchise has sunk is that if LA offered us a trade of MWP for Beasley, we’d have no choice but to seriously consider it.

    The great thing about MWP is, if ya get him, ya never buy a used tire again. I mean, he’s tuff enough to put on any rim.

    Mike, still waiting your response on Schmidt’s GF.

  • bill.thomas

    Yep, I’d just strap him on with snow chains and go !!!

  • john

    I’m surprised we haven’t seen Tony yet to say, “Sarver selling.”

    I’m a little disappointed. The hate train is hardly even rolling along right now, but this is the perfect article for it to be steamrolling everything in sight.