After watching this Phoenix Suns team play for a few weeks without Eric Bledsoe, something is readily apparent: Goran Dragic can’t do this by himself. Dragic’s production has picked up in light of Bledsoe’s extended absence, as expected. The only problem is it hasn’t been enough to prevent Phoenix from sinking to the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings after Friday night’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Can the Suns give Dragic any consistent support?
Dragic isn’t a franchise player or a future superstar, so he can only be expected to carry this team so far. Since Bledsoe’s injury, Dragic is averaging 22.8 points, 6.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range (despite a major increase in shot attempts). Coach Jeff Hornacek seems to understand how badly the Suns need Dragic on the floor, since the Dragon is playing a tiring 37 minutes per game during that span.
Dragic has been starting games off hot, scoring the majority of his points in the first half. If Dragic were able to produce at the same rate he does in the first quarter, he’d be averaging about 35 points per game. Unfortunately, fatigue is still a real thing and although Ish Smith has been semi-competent as the Suns’ backup point guard, eventually the needs for a bucket becomes dire without Dragic on the floor.
— Espo (@Espo) January 18, 2014
Fatigue isn’t the only problem Dragic has had to try and overcome. With Bledsoe out, defenses have been able to key in on guarding Dragic, which makes Phoenix’s series of pick and roll sets less effective. The constant threat of worrying about Bledsoe AND Dragic out of the pick and roll, coupled with tons of pick and roll or pick and pop options as well as capable shooters on the perimeter, made the Suns’ offense tick. Now Dragic is the main threat that defenses can focus on limiting to prevent the Suns from getting the quality shots they’ve grown accustomed to.
That’s not to say that Dragic has been perfect or that the rest of the Suns’ roster is full of incapable players. Dragic’s defense has been a recurring problem in extended minutes and Phoenix certainly misses Bledsoe’s perimeter defense. It’s hard to fault the role players for not being able to fill the void Bledsoe left, since Bledsoe and Dragic’s production was nearly identical prior to the injury. No offense to Smith, but 18 points and six assists per game just isn’t in his range.
That means it’s on every role player come together to fill that void on both ends of the floor. Instead, the Suns’ role players have mostly stayed the same, or in some cases, gotten worse. So far, it’s been a disturbing, recurring trend of Dragic scoring 20+ points and being joined by only one other player at that tier. Whether it’s Markieff Morris, Channing Frye or Gerald Green, it’s almost as if the Suns’ role players have decided to trade off 20+ point games to match Dragic’s production while the others post their usual numbers.
The Suns are 3-6 since Bledsoe’s knee injury. Gerald Green’s production has been a roller coaster ride, rising to his 28-point performance in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers and dipping to his 2-for-16 shooting night in a brutal overtime loss against the New York Knicks. Channing Frye had 21 points against the Detroit Pistons and 20 against the Lakers, but shot a combined 5-for-18 against the Knicks and Mavs. Markieff Morris has dropped 23 and 24 in his last two games, but scored a combined 19 in the three games prior.
To reiterate: Where the hell is the consistency? That’s just not good enough with Bledsoe out. Against the Memphis Grizzlies, Markieff Morris added 17 points to Dragic’s 21. In that overtime loss to the Knicks, Leandro Barbosa had 21 points off the bench to follow up Dragic’s 28. In last night’s game, Morris and Dragic combined for 51 points, with Dragic supplying 28 of them. The only loss Phoenix has had in the past few games where they had balanced scoring was that heartbreaker against the Detroit Pistons after the Suns had dug themselves into too deep a whole to complete the comeback.
Dragic has been the mark of consistency all season long, but people are really starting to notice now that the Suns fully rely upon him to stay competitive. Just for reference, there are only two players in the NBA averaging at least 19 points and six assists per game while shooting at least 48 percent from the floor: LeBron James and Goran Dragic. The Dragon is going to put up his numbers, but having only one guy follow up with 20 or so points isn’t good enough to stay afloat in the loaded Western Conference. That not only hurts Dragic’s chances of making an All-Star appearance in a conference full of talented guards, but it also kills Phoenix’s chances of making the 2013-14 season matter.