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.