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One New Year’s resolution for every Phoenix Sun in pursuit of a better 2018

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Who couldn’t use a little bettering?

Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2018 Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

The calendar has officially flipped to 2018, and with the ringing in of a new year comes the traditional New Year’s resolutions. Some people resolve to lose weight. Others focus on paying down debts. And still others commit to finally cleaning out the refrigerator, swearing they heard something hiss at them the last time they reached for the cottage cheese.

Whatever the resolution, many people make them and even put in a good-faith effort to keep them until the lure of binging Netflix shows while sucking potato chip crumbs off the front of their T-shirt scuttles the best laid plans of mice and men right around late January.

But just because resolutions aren’t always easy to keep doesn’t mean they’re not worth making. After all, the intention is to better oneself, and who couldn’t use a little more bettering? With that in mind, here is one resolution for each Phoenix Suns player that even a millionaire millennial can find the time to keep.

(Note: For two-way players Danuel House and Alec Peters, their resolution is to earn a real NBA contract. Until then, they have not yet earned the honor of having a specific resolution assigned to them without their knowledge or consent.)

Dragan Bender: Increase comfort level when attacking the basket

The second-year project remains a work in progress, but he has already shown development from last year. Bender shot 27.7 percent from 3 last season, making him one of the least effective spot-up shooters ever. This season, he has increased that 3-point percentage to 37.1 percent.

The next step in his offensive development will be to give an up-fake and attack the rim. According to basketball-reference.com, only 20.5 percent of his shots came within 0-3 feet of the basket last season compared to 62.7 percent from 3. The disparity is even greater this season, with 68.1 percent of his shots coming from 3 as opposed to 14.6 percent around the basket as of Dec. 30. Defenders will begin to take away his comfortable looks from 3 now that he’s proving he can make them with some consistency, so Bender will need to vary his game to keep defenders on their toes.

Devin Booker: Lead the Suns to a winning record

This is the most grueling resolution on this list, but it is the expectation that star players lead their teams to wins. Booker has the numbers, has the respect of his peers, and will soon have the zeroes in the bank account. All that’s left is for him to experience team success and raise the moribund Suns from the ashes.

Some may argue this is an unfair burden to place on him. Do you think he would agree?

Isaiah Canaan: Prove his play so far with Phoenix is for real

Canaan has pinballed around the NBA since being drafted in the second round in 2013, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he’s performed in a Suns uniform. He’s averaging 11.1 points, 5.0 assists, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.3 steals through his first eight games with Phoenix while shooting career bests from the field (43.9 percent) and from 3 (40 percent). He’s been so steady that he is threatening to supplant Tyler Ulis in the starting lineup.

The problem is that Canaan’s career numbers suggest the bubble will eventually burst. Through 186 games before joining the Suns, Canaan averaged 8.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 0.6 steals in 20.2 minutes per game with shooting percentages that would make Ronnie Price blush (36.7 percent from the field, 35.2 percent from 3).

Canaan has every opportunity with the Suns, though, to show he has turned a corner in his career and that he won’t regress to what he was in the past. The results have been encouraging so far, but he must maintain it once teams develop schemes to make his life more difficult.

Tyson Chandler: Average a career high for assists in 2017-18

When you’re 35 years old, working on your 17th NBA season, and already have an NBA championship and Olympic gold medal in your trophy case, there’s not much left to accomplish. However, Chandler — a player best known for defense, rebounding, and flushing lob passes — can set a new career high in something he rarely does: assists.

Chandler is averaging 1.11 assists per game, which is just one hundredth behind his current career high of 1.12 assists set back in 2014-15. No one is going to mistake him for Vlade Divac or Arvydas Sabonis all of a sudden, but establishing a new statistical career high in the twilight of his career is a good indicator of his continued growth as a player, which sets a good example for the young guys to follow by reminding them that you can always get better. Plus, it’s a nice accomplishment.

Marquese Chriss: Don’t let emotions take him out of his game

Former head coach Earl Watson loved fiery Chriss. That alone should’ve been reason enough for dismissal. Some players play better when mad, but when Chriss allows his emotions to get the better of him, it disjoints the rest of his game. He can no longer focus on what he needs to be doing on either end of the floor and instead seeks any opportunity to argue with the referees or get retribution when he believes he’s been wronged. This Chriss gets sent to the bench.

When he controls his emotions, though, he finds ways to play through those little injustices and make a meaningful contribution to his team. That’s the Chriss the Suns need more of. The maturation process can take longer for some than others, but it would do Chriss a wealth of good to goose the process along a bit.

Troy Daniels: Diversify his skill set

He can shoot. By now he has proven that to everyone. In fact, his marksmanship is what’s kept him bouncing around five teams in five seasons rather than out of the league completely. Daniels can put the ball through the hoop, but he offers a team little else if his shot isn’t dropping. He has career averages of 1.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.2 steals, and 0.1 blocks — numbers exactly in line with his averages this season with Phoenix. Even when Devin Booker went out with an injury, his numbers barely jumped to 1.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.2 steals, and 0.1 blocks.

Daniels has provided every team he’s been on with a reliable 3-point shooter, but he doesn’t stick anywhere because teams find players who give them other things as well. He has shown an ability to collect a handful of rebounds and involve teammates during occasional games this season, and rounding out those areas of his game will make it difficult for teams to pigeonhole him as nothing more than an interchangeable gunner.

Jared Dudley: Work on his post-career broadcasting plans

Look, the writing’s on the wall. Dudley has played in only three games since Dec. 9 and didn’t exceed 10 minutes in any of those appearances. The Suns are in a full-fledged youth movement, and there’s plenty of youth at Dudley’s position. As players continue to get healthy for Phoenix, Dudley could find himself inactive and suit clad in no time, considering veteran mentors can play that role out of uniform as well. This is no slight against Dudley, who is still a sound player when his number is called, but the situation he finds himself in couldn’t be more clear.

But if Dudley does end up spending time in those spiffy suits as the season winds down, he should consider asking to drop by the broadcast table with Kevin Ray and Eddie Johnson for a quarter here and there to hone his post-playing-days career in broadcasting. He’s expressed an interest in that avenue before, and the former JSPN/JMZ anchor surely would liven up any broadcast he decided to crash.

Josh Jackson: Earn court time through defense

Let’s set aside the whole shooting conversation for a moment and focus on Jackson’s defense. It was supposed to be one of his strengths coming out of college, but it has been only moderately better than his offense to date. He allows his matchup to shoot 2.5 percentage points higher than their average overall and 8.8 percentage points higher from 10 feet in, according to NBA.com’s stats pages. He does a better job of defending farther out, holding his man to 5.9 percentage points less than their average from 3 and 4.1 percentage points less from 15 feet out. He also averages 1.6 steals per 36 minutes (second most on the team) but commits 4.6 fouls per 36 minutes as well (third most on the team).

A coach can live with a player who is struggling to find their offense if their defense warrants keeping them on the court (see: Roberson, Andre). While Jackson works to fine tune his offensive game, he should take to heart the challenge of earning consistent minutes through his defensive effort. Even if it means watching film of past defenders like Dan Majerle or Raja Bell, that’s the type of defensive intensity he should aspire to bring to the court on a nightly basis.

Brandon Knight: Prove he can be the team’s starting point guard

This isn’t a resolution Knight can make good on immediately for obvious injury-related reasons, but there’s a lot of time left in 2018. If Knight doesn’t find himself dealt before he can suit up again for Phoenix, he couldn’t ask for a better situation. The team is woefully weak at the point guard spot, and now that Eric Bledsoe is out of the picture, there isn’t anyone on the roster who should rightfully challenge him as the starting point guard. He will still have two years left after this season on a deal that most around the league consider radioactive and could seriously rehabilitate his career if he steps into the void and leads the team like the player many assumed he would be. He doesn’t need to be a star; he just needs to run the team at a reasonably high level while Devin Booker does the heavy lifting.

In the meantime, being a more visible presence on this young team while rehabbing would go a long way towards establishing himself as a team leader and earning the trust of his teammates.

Alex Len: Learn how to use width on offense from Greg Monroe

One of Len’s biggest bugaboos has always been his offense, and while he has improved here by cutting out those blasted midrange shots, he still has significant room for improvement. Coincidentally, his best teacher could be sitting right next to him on the bench.

Monroe is about as athletic as a tree stump, but he uses his width to get good looks around the basket every time. Len doesn’t do this. Instead, he has a nasty penchant for always squaring up to the basket and trying to create space before shooting — even when only a couple feet away. That move only works if one is moving piles like Shaquille O’Neal. Len is no Shaq. All it leads to is a number of his shots getting blocked that shouldn’t be because the defender only needs to match Len’s reach rather than match his reach and compensate for his shoulder width. Len possesses good width like Monroe and is two inches taller. If he can learn how to keep his shoulders perpendicular to his man on shots around the basket, he instantly becomes more dangerous in the post.

Greg Monroe: Find his way to a team in need of his services

Monroe is a talented big man, but he hasn’t found his way to a team that really needs what he brings to the table. He’s a walking double-double on efficient shooting if he gets 30 minutes a night, and he’s shown great vision for a center. But he hasn’t gotten a fair shake since his final year with the Detroit Pistons when he was paired with Andre Drummond. He’s been searching for a place where he fits ever since but has been a good soldier every step of the way.

His future likely isn’t in Phoenix, and he might not even be here by the Feb. 8 trade deadline. However, he will be a free agent this summer, giving him the chance to finally go to a team that can put his skills to good use. Monroe can then remind the league why he earned that big contract from the Milwaukee Bucks back in 2015.

Davon Reed: Make up for lost time

The NBA waits for no man, and that’s especially true for second-round picks. Reed was looked at as a potential 3-and-D rotation player before his meniscus injury sidelined him, but now that he is near a return, Troy Daniels has stepped into the reserve shooting guard role that was to be Reed’s.

The Suns could certainly use some ‘D’ with their ‘3’, but Reed will be returning several months behind the other players who have developed a rapport with their teammates and earned Coach Triano’s trust. If he wants anything beyond garbage minutes and regular assignments to Prescott Valley for the remainder of the year, he needs to show that, as a four-year rookie, he can adapt quickly to the speed and intensity of an NBA contest and provide meaningful production when given the opportunity.

Tyler Ulis: Recapture the magic from last March/April

When the Suns went full Panzer last season, Tyler Ulis was a major beneficiary, earning 15 starts. Oh, and what a glorious run it was for the diminutive point guard. He averaged 16.1 points and 8.5 assists and was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for April. This season, he has started 25 games, putting up averages of 7.8 points and 4.3 assists while shooting a hair under 40 percent from the field in those starts. An inauspicious sophomore season indeed.

Much has been made of Ulis missing his pick-and-roll mate Alan Williams, with whom he developed terrific chemistry, but a point guard can’t only be good if he has a particular teammate alongside him. He needs to find a way to develop that same chemistry with Tyson Chandler or Alex Len or Marquese Chriss while also accounting for the fact that scouting reports have finally caught up with him.

Fair or not, smaller point guards have an uphill battle to fight in the NBA. He must take it upon himself to prove to everyone that his stellar play to close last season was no fluke.

T.J. Warren: Go one full year without a head injury

Seriously, the man gets hit in the head more often than Rocky Balboa. This year, he should resolve to keep his noggin injury free.

If the injuries are a result of a wish on a cursed monkey’s paw, find a way to undo that wish, maybe by wishing on a non-cursed monkey’s paw still attached to the monkey. If it’s not something that simple, however, then just be more careful. A healthy T.J. Warren is a happy and productive T.J. Warren.

Alan Williams: Don’t lose last season’s momentum

Williams averaged 11.4 points and 9.1 rebounds after the All-Star break last season and became a fan favorite with his effort and hustle on the court. Unfortunately for him, he needed surgery on his right meniscus just before training camp and hasn’t been able to carry over last season’s momentum to this season. When he finally does make his return sometime in March, he will have gone nearly a full year between appearances in NBA games. That’s a lot of rust to shake off. It’s made even more difficult considering his position could be even more crowded than it was last season when Tyson Chandler was having his body saved for another strenuous summer vacation.

Upon his return, Williams will have about a month to incorporate himself back into the fold and will have to do so on the fly. Nothing will be guaranteed for him (it’s the Triano way), but if he sticks to what earned him opportunity in the first place — hustle and effort — he can likely carve out a role again and remind the Suns why they should guarantee his contract for another year.