The Suns won 48 games last season and that is an enormous success. They were a couple of blown leads very late in the season from making the playoffs even. For a team projected at the start of the season to get a top 3 pick that is not bad at all. There are areas where the Suns certainly need to grow next season though, and there are two statistically that jump out. If the Suns keep the course from last season and show slight improvements in these two areas, I expect them to make the playoffs.
Assists are what jump out at you when you look at the Suns ranks amongst NBA teams. They were 29th in the NBA, with only 19.1 a game. The statistic you want to look at more so for this is how many field goals made come from assists on average. The Suns percentage on this last season was below 50%, at 49.3%. To compare that to the West playoff teams, here’s how they looked: Spurs 62%, Thunder 56%, Clippers 63%, Rockets 56%, Trail Blazers 59%, Warriors 59%, Grizzlies 57%, and finally the Mavs at 60%. As you can see, this is a serious problem. The 1 or 2 assist separations on the rankings might not look like much, but those percentages tell the tale.
So, where is this problem coming from? The quick answer is everyone else besides the point guards. Nobody on the Suns last year besides Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Ish Smith averaged more than 1.8 assists a game. For comparison, every West playoff team had at least THREE players that are not point guards average more than 1.8 assists a game except for the Rockets (Harden/Parsons) and the Thunder (KD).
Out of those West playoff teams, there were seven players who averaged double figures in PPG off the bench. The assist numbers for those players were Manu Ginobli with 4.3, Marco Belinelli with 2.2, Patty Mills with 1.8 (on only 19 MPG), Reggie Jackson with 4.1, Jamal Crawford with 3.2, Jeremy Lin with 4.1, and Vince Carter with 2.6. Gerald Green only had 1.5 and Markieff Morris only had 1.8. If we were to round up, Marcus Morris’ 9.7 PPG could qualify him on this list, and his assist total was only 1.1. To go further on Green, only Jackson (by .1), Crawford, and Lin (by .5) played more minutes per game than him.
One more on assists. Out of players to play at least 20 minutes a game in the entire league, only Miles Plumlee, Amare Stoudemire, Andre Drummond, and Samuel Dalembert averaged less than 0.6 assists. Once again, not a list you want your starting center to make. I know these may be little tidbits to some, but this matters. I'm not calling for Plumlee to start averaging 3 assists a game, but it's an anomaly worth noting. Almost everyone on this team is going to have to start improving in this category, particularly Green, the Morrii, and Plumlee.
There are some real outcries from people in this department, and while there’s not as much statistical evidence to see right away, there are little areas of improvement. The Suns allowed the 5th most free throws per game last season. The Suns need to stop letting their opponents get to the line, and more importantly, getting into the key.
Out of all the players in the NBA averaging at least 1 block a game, Miles Plumlee was 20th out of 28 players in opponents FG% at the rim at 50.3%. This means that he’s certainly not great or even average in that regard. To go further on that, out of the leaders of all Western Conference playoff teams (and we are throwing the Suns into this group), Plumlee ranked 2nd to last in RPG and dead last in BPG. Plumlee is a great bargain and was a steal, but the Suns need him to be more dominant in the paint next season and another rim protector/banger for him to play with wouldn't be the worst idea either.