We can forget holding out hope that the Suns might drastically improve and make the playoffs this season. It's pretty simple: if you manage to lose to the Nets, Cavs and Raptors all at home, you're just not a good team at all. There's no two ways about it.
There's all kinds of reasons for this, namely an inability to execute on offense, especially when Nash sits, along with poor defensive efforts (save for a few games when it was impressive). There's also the fatigue factor, with the shortened and packed schedule seeming to be a bad thing for a team where two starters are almost 40. But let's not go over all that. What I want to look at is the shooting, specifically, the three point shooting.
Since the 2004/05 season when Nash returned to Phoenix, the Suns have been known as a great three point shooting team. Their ability to space the floor with good shooters who could knock down their shots was as vital to their success as anything else. Here's a look at the percentages for each season since Nash returned, along with the key performers from three point range. We'll ignore those who didn't shoot much, for example Maciej Lampe shot .667 from 3 in 2004/05, but only had three attempts.
(all stats taken from Basketball Reference)
2004/05 - 62-20, lost in WCF, first Nash MVP season
Suns shot .393, best in the league.
2005/06 - 54-28, lost in WCF, second Nash MVP season
Suns shot .399, best in the league.
2006/07 - 61-21, lost in WC semis.
Suns shot .399, best in league. Exactly identical to previous season.
Best performers: Steve Nash (.455), Leandro Barbosa (.434), Raja Bell (.413)
Again, not including Marion (although he dipped to .317), and Jalen Rose (.447 but only 21/47).
2007/08 - 55-27, lost in first round. Marion/Shaq trade.
Suns shot .393, a slight dip but best in league once more. Identical to 2004/05.
Best performers: Steve Nash (.470), Raja Bell (.401), Leandro Barbosa (.389)
Once more this doesn't include Marion's .347 clip through 47 games before his trade. Grant Hill's first season as a Sun saw him shoot .317 and that's about it. Nash's amazing .470 seems to have carried the team's %.
2008/09 - 46-36, no playoffs. Cheers Porter.
Suns shot .383, dropped to 5th best in league after four straight seasons of being 1st.
After those 4, there's only really Barbosa (.375) and Matt Barnes (.343) worth listing. Dragic and Hill combined only made 44.
2009/10 - 54-28, lost in WCF, the revival year.
Suns shot .412, their best since Nash's return, and of course back to best in the league.
Grant Hill shot .438, almost good enough for second best on the team, but that was only 35/80. This is clearly rhe best season of three point shooting, with FIVE players amazingly hitting basically 40% or better, six when you include Grant nailing those corner threes he used to hit, even if in small doses.
2010/11 - 40-42, no playoffs. The beginning of the end, no more Amare.
Suns shot .377, good enough for 4th best in the league, but their lowest of the Nash era.
Best performers: Jared Dudley (.415), Jason Richardson (.419), Steve Nash and Grant Hill (both .395), Channing Frye (.390)
After those 4, there's Vince C*rter (.366) and Mickael Pietrus (.342). Apologies for reminding you of them.
And then we arrive at this current season:
Suns currently shooting .334, 17th best in the league. Seventeenth.
Telfair and Price combine for only 1.1 attempts per game, so perhaps it's unfair to list them, but Channing Frye is shooting a mere .323 and Jared Dudley a .320, both a far cry from their previous seasons for the Suns. Shannon Brown is more or less the same at .326. And then we have Michael Redd, brought in to try and give the team a scoring boost. He's shooting .250 whenever he does actually make it onto the court. I suspected Grant Hill would have the worst shooting percentage, and he does. Those corner threes he used to knock down at a clip of .438 two seasons ago? Gone.
Grant Hill is shooting .158. Thankfully he's only averaging 0.2 attempts per game which is half of what he averaged in 2009/10.
The team as a whole is averaging exactly 19 attempts per game so far this season. By comparison, it was 22.6 last season, and they averaged 21.6 the season before (2009/10) when they shot their best from downtown.
So those are the stats. The Suns are more or less shooting the same amount of threes as last year, but with far worse results. Why?
Short training camp/packed schedule
The excuse/reasoning in the first few weeks was that the players were not in prime condition and that the shots would start to fall once the players' conditioning improved. With the exception of Steve Nash who showed a noticeable improvement in his shooting once his ribs recovered, that hasn't really been the case. Is there still time for it to happen? Possibly. I'm not hopeful. It seems strange that every single player's success rate has dropped.
Lack of inside presence/less floor spacing
Gortat has done really well offensively in the majority of games, the Boston one being the best example. He's no Amar'e though. He doesn't have as big an arsenal of weapons in his armoury, he's not as explosive, he doesn't force teams to double team him, and so on. The result is that the Suns don't get to space the floor and have open men as much as they used to, so a lot more of the shots are contested and/or rushed. That's my theory anyway, although I don't have the stats to back it up and frankly I'm statted out by this point. Just thinking back at the games played so far this season, it's hard to recall some clearly open three point attempts. Frye always seems to have an arm in his face, ditto Dudley. But then, the Suns didn't have Amar'e last season either and weren't nearly as bad.
It could well be the slower offense, leading to slower ball movement and failing to swing the ball to the open man as effectively as they used to. There's a noticeable lack of pace in the offense this season, and it's definitely related to the team's poor three point shooting.
The most obvious reason is of course that the players currently on the roster simply aren't as good outside shooters as what the previous rosters had. Where there was once Q-Rich, Barbosa, Raja, J-Rich and the likes, the Suns now have Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price, Sebastian Telfair and a finished Michael Redd. That's the most obvious thing. The Suns used to be deep with competent three point shooters. Now, they have only three (Nash, Frye, Dudley), with two of them just not producing.
The Suns are no longer a good three point shooting team, that's the reality. Even if Frye and Dudley start hitting their shots, they are still going to be a distinctly average three point shooting team. With this roster, there's sadly no way out of that.