PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns finally got that offer sheet signed by New Orleans restricted free agent Eric Gordon, the team announced today. The Hornets will have three days to match the...

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Can Dragic be the next great point guard in Phoenix?

Regardless of whether you believe Nash’s actions to be perfidious or justifiable, when he departed for the Lakers he left some large shoes to fill. For the last 8 seasons, Suns’ fans have enjoyed one of the greatest stretches of outstanding point guard play in the history of the league. The Suns actually have a strong tradition of prodigious point guards with headliners Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and even Stephon Marbury (to a lesser degree – he did put up two+ seasons over 20 and 8) manning the post in recent eras. Great point guards are synonymous with Phoenix Suns basketball. It has arguably been the defining position on the team for the last quarter century (Barkley, Amare, and TC weren’t too shabby at the 4, either).

Enter the Dragon.

Goran Dragic has accepted the daunting proposal of following in Nash's footsteps as an implicit stipulation of his new contract. Having studied under his tutelage, Dragic should be explicitly aware of what Nash meant to this team, the fans, the league, and even other countries. Can Dragic fill the vacuous void left by Nash’s evacuation? Probably not. It would be nothing short of miraculous if Dragic can contribute something even comparable to the total body of work that Nash provided.

But he doesn’t need to be the next Steve Nash, just the next Goran Dragic. He doesn’t need to match 8 years of amazing achievements, he just needs to play his best next season.

The following analysis will divagate from the surfeit of discussion involving the ethical issues surrounding recent events and assess the possible implications with respect to basketball. What will the fallout be? Is Dragic up to the task or will he quail under the pressure? Is it even possible that the Suns could lose Nash and improve at the point guard position next season?

Hit the jump to scrutinize one angle of this multifaceted subject.

While Nash’s overall greatness is undeniable, many of us had noticed a slight deterioration in his play the last few seasons. I detailed some of the exact areas where he had tapered off in his player evaluation back on May 14th (criticism made more valid based on pre-dating his apostasy). A modest overall decrease in production has been exacerbated by the late season swoons that have punctuated the end of his last couple campaigns.

Nash’s PER36 and advanced statistics below illustrate this decline.

Nash PER36:

Season Age Tm G GS MP FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL TOV PTS
2009-10 35 PHO 81 81 2660 .507 .426 .938 3.6 12.1 0.6 4.0 18.0
2010-11 36 PHO 75 75 2497 .492 .395 .912 3.7 12.3 0.7 3.8 15.9
2011-12 37 PHO 62 62 1961 .532 .390 .894 3.4 12.2 0.7 4.2 14.2

Nash Advanced:

Season Age Tm G MP PER TS% eFG% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48
2009-10 35 PHO 81 2660 21.6 .615 .570 121 114 9.1 0.8 9.9 .178
2010-11 36 PHO 75 2497 20.8 .601 .542 118 114 7.3 0.7 8.0 .153
2011-12 37 PHO 62 1961 20.3 .625 .581 115 110 5.2 0.6 5.9 .144

A steady decline in points and WS/48 are the two areas which show pronounced difference. What these don't depict is the late season struggles that have beset Nash. More on those to follow.

Next are statistics for the Phoenix Suns new starting point guard. His statistics reflect the time since he left Phoenix during the 2010-11 season.

Dragic PER36:

Season Age Tm G GS MP FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST STL TOV PTS
2010-11 24 HOU 22 3 378 .472 .519 .667 5.3 5.2 1.3 2.0 16.2
2011-12 25 HOU 66 28 1752 .462 .337 .805 3.5 7.2 1.7 3.2 15.9

Dragic Advanced:

Season Age Tm G MP PER TS% eFG% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48
2010-11 24 HOU 22 378 17.7 .604 .584 120 109 0.9 0.3 1.2 .157
2011-12 25 HOU 66 1752 18.0 .567 .518 111 106 3.6 1.5 5.1 .139

While Nash's overall numbers are better, the disparity isn't overwhelming. The main area where Nash is vastly superior is assists (no big surprise). While Nash is a more efficient scorer, he doesn't score more frequently. Dragic appears to be a more tenacious defender based on steals, DRtg, and DWS. Their WS/48 the last two seasons are nearly identical.

What these numbers don't show is the way the season ended for these two players.

Dragic started the last 26 games of the season for the Rockets. During this stretch he averaged 18.2 points and 8.3 assists in 36.4 minutes per game. He had 11 games with 20+ points and reached double digits in scoring 25 out of 26 times. He also recorded 7 games with 10+ assists and 6 double-doubles.

Nash played in 25 of the Suns’ final 26 games. He averaged 10.7 points and 10.2 assists in 30.2 minutes per contest. Nash reached the 20 point mark just once over this stretch and recorded 10 games with single digit scoring. He did eclipse double digits in assists 17 times and amass 8 double-doubles in all.

Telfair Advanced:

Season Age Tm G MP PER TS% eFG% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48
2011-12 26 PHO 60 895 13.2 .495 .461 99 107 0.4 0.7 1.1 .058

While Telfair's statistics look fairly pedestrian, his late season performance adumbrates favorably for next season. Although his play is unlikely to parallel the stellar conclusion to last season, there is hope that the overall body of work can exceed this production.

Price Advanced:

Season Age Tm G MP PER TS% eFG% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48
2011-12 28 PHO 36 517 8.4 .465 .427 89 105 -0.4 0.5 0.1 .008
All Statistics Provided by Basketball-Reference.com. Generated 7/10/2012.

Ronnie Price was a warm body.


Total PG

Player

Actual Min.

Adjusted

Adjusted

WS/48

Total

Minutes

Played

%

Min.

Wins

3168

Nash

1961

100.0%

1961

0.144

5.88

Telfair

895

63.4%

765.1

0.058

0.92

Price

517

36.6%

441.9

0.008

0.07

3373

3168

6.88


What do these numbers mean?

The first row is total minutes at the point guard position last season (66 games x 48 minutes).

The actual minutes played by the trio means that they also played time at other positions (mostly Price at the two) and that there is a small discrepancy for overtime games, etc. To account for this I adjusted the reserve minutes based on their percentage of the actual minutes played.

Multiplying the adjusted wins number by the WS/48 score and dividing by 48 yields the wins produced. Reference Nash's 5.88 wins against the 5.9 from his advanced stats above, and it appears this math is correct.

The Suns' point guard position produced approximately 6.88 wins last season.

*****

Total PG

Player

Actual Min.

Adjusted

Adjusted

WS/48

Total

Adjusted

Minutes

Played

%

Min.

Wins

Wins

3936

Dragic

2952

100.0%

2952

0.146

8.98

7.23

Telfair

1112

63.4%

623.8

0.061

0.79

0.64

Marshall

642

36.6%

360.2

0.008

0.06

0.05

4706

3936

9.83

7.91

This next set of data is a projection.

The total minutes are based off of a full season (82 games x 48 minutes).

I have given Dragic 36 minutes per game and split the remaining minutes between Telfair and Marshall according to the same ratio between Telfair and Price from last season.

I have increased Dragic and Telfair's WS/48 by 5% each. These adjusted scores seem well within reason. Dragic and Telfair both produced at a higher clip at the end of last season. I have already detailed Dragic's exploits, and Telfair produced a .212 WS/48 over the final 14 games last season. I don't see why a meager improvement is out of the question. I left Marshall's static from Price's production (or lack thereof) last year, but let's face it, if Marshall doesn't overshadow Price's performance from last year I will be sorely disappointed.

The wins are calculated in the same fashion, but then adjusted back to account for the difference in games between the seasons to allow for a proper comparison.

Following this criteria, next year's version would produce 1.03 MORE wins (7.91 - 6.88) over a 66 game period. That's a 15% increase in win shares! Obviously win shares doesn't provide a comprehensive analysis, but I think this does illustrate that it is conceivable that a Dragic/Telfair/Marshall grouping might not be ineffectual compared to last season's Nash/Telfair/Price contingent.

*****

Overall, I think there is hope that the Suns new point guards will acquit themselves admirably next season. The unique skill set that Nash possesses is irreplaceable. He is truly inimitable. The intangibles alone are supernumerary. But the Suns' new point guards bring other talents to the table.

Dragic is young and I expect him to play more minutes than Nash has the last couple seasons. Having the best player at a position take up more of the minutes was a major factor in increasing the win shares in my previous example. The Suns have parted ways with a player on the decline and now have three point guards on the roster with a potentially ascending trajectory.

Dragic's youth, stamina, defense, and scoring will help offset the decline in distributing, leadership, and efficiency at the starting position.

A minor overall improvement over last season from Telfair will help shore up the unit and provide healthy competition for the rookie.

Kendall Marshall showing us practically anything will be an improvement over last year's third string point guard.

So it may not be better, Suns' fans, but it could be worse.


Suns fans, you might not want to click this link to Lakers.comĀ if you just ate. While the Suns and Eric Gordon waited to make his max offer sheet official, the Lakers wasted no time announcing their...

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Let's give them something to root for!

Open thread for free agency...

Ready, set, go!


The venerable, the vulnerable Grant Hill

grrr...


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