Phoenix Suns Stock Watch: Rising and Falling Players After First Month

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIDecember 5, 2012

Phoenix Suns Stock Watch: Rising and Falling Players After First Month

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    The NBA is similar to the stock exchange in many ways. Although maintaining team chemistry is always important, each player goes through his own individual trends over the course of a season.

    Now that the NBA regular season has been in full swing for over a month, there are some very clear trends as to which players are excelling or struggling so far.

    With a 7-12 record and the 13th seed in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns have failed to meet expectations so far this season. However, not everything has gone wrong. While some players aren't performing as well as expected, there are plenty of bright spots in the roster to give Suns fans hope. 

    Keep in mind, not every player on the roster will be included in this list because some players have been doing just as expected. Only players who are either definitely rising or falling appear here. 

    With that said, here's a look at which Suns are rising or falling after the first month of the season. 

    Stats included in the article are accurate as of Dec. 5th, 2012. 

Stock Rising: Jermaine O'Neal

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    Jermaine O'Neal's fall from prominence has not been graceful. Only several years ago, O'Neal was the star center of the Indiana Pacers, putting up 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game, season after season.

    However, the past few years in Boston were rather ugly for O'Neal, who missed most of the games due to nagging injuries and then did not perform well when healthy. 

    When the Suns first announced his signing this offseason, many were not impressed. But now, one month into the season, O'Neal is turning some heads.

    Though he missed the start of the season with a quad injury, he's been absolutely fantastic since coming back. In twelve games off the bench, O'Neal has put up averages of 8.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. His field goal percentage is at 53 percent, up from just 43 percent last season, and he has a PER of 19.

    O'Neal has helped the Suns more than anyone would have imagined. He is not only one of their top scorers off the bench but also an amazing defender and a veteran presence in the locker room. He is still injury prone, but if O'Neal keeps this up he could become the latest in a long line of Phoenix Suns' medical staff success stories. 

Stock Falling: Jared Dudley

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    Last season, Jared Dudley had a career year. Dudley started almost every game and put up career highs in almost every statistical category.

    This year, Dudley hasn't been as successful. At the start of the season, Dudley played 11 games as the team's starting shooting guard and put up just 8.5 points per outing while shooting 43 percent from the field. He has been more efficient since his return to the bench, but it's clear that Dudley has lost a step.

    Dudley is still a valuable player to have on your bench, but he hasn't been quite as efficient as expected this year. However, there's a simple explanation for that. It has everything to do with Steve Nash's name not being on the roster.

    It's only natural that Dudley won't get the same open looks every game, but he will just have to adjust. He can still have a role as one of the team's most dangerous shooters, and he might even eventually win back a spot in the starting rotation if Michael Beasley continues to struggle. 

Stock Rising: P.J. Tucker

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    If I had made a slideshow before the season started with this guy's name on it, a lot of you probably would not even have given a reaction other than "Who?"

    That's because the Tucker signing in August was deemed insignificant, as Tucker had only spent 17 games in the NBA before this season, and those games were with the Raptors in 2007. But Tucker is quickly making a name for himself.

    Now 27 years old, the 6'5" wingman is experiencing a successful NBA comeback. Tucker has already earned a lot of minutes in Gentry's system and is playing 19 minutes a game off the bench. 

    His actual stats are not very flashy, as he averages 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds a game while shooting 50 percent from the field. But what Tucker really bring to the team is defense. The Suns as a unit allow 115.1 points per 100 possessions with Tucker sitting on the bench, but that number decreases to just 101.8 when Tucker is playing. The Suns also allow a lower effective field goal percentage to opponents with Tucker on the floor. While he can't do all the defensive work himself, he definitely makes a difference.

    So far, Tucker is without a doubt one of the team's best players. He may not show it in the points column, but he works hard on defense and that has earned him minutes. When playing small forward, Tucker allows his opponents to score just 10.5 points per 36 minutes and holds them to a PER of 9.5.

    He has been a very nice addition to an otherwise struggling Suns team. 

Stock Falling: Luis Scola

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    Before I write anything else, I should explain that Scola's falling stock is not all his fault. He was benched several games ago even though he has strung together a decent season, and he isn't in control of how many minutes he plays. But even with a bench role, Scola's production has not been quite what fans expected. 

    Despite playing off the bench, Scola still averages 27.5 minutes a game, only a little less than what he got last season on the Rockets. Scola averages 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds a game right now, and his number of points per 36 minutes is at its lowest since the 2008-09 season. 

    Scola has also not been as efficient as usual. For four consecutive seasons, he shot at least 50 percent from the field. That streak ended last season, when he shot a 49 percent clip. This season, Scola is on track to set another new career low, as he averages just 46 percent from the field. This would be the fourth straight season for him to set a career low in field goal percentage.

    Though Scola has not been very disappointing so far, the drop in production is a little worrisome. Are we starting to see Scola's decline as an NBA player? Or worse, will he grow impatient with a bench role and demand a trade? 

    It's still too early to answer either of those questions, but there is definitely a possibility that the Suns could face even more drama in the near future.  

Stock Rising: Markieff Morris

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    You could argue over whether he deserves the opportunity or not, but second-year power forward Markieff Morris has found a spot in the starting rotation for the Suns. 

    Morris is averaging 8.8 points and 4.4 rebounds a game this season, and he has increased both his field goal and three-point percentages.

    There is no doubt that Morris has improved since his rookie season, but there are still a couple of problems that he desperately needs to address.

    First of all, he is extremely inconsistent. Morris likes the three ball, but he shoots just 42 percent from the field and often goes through stretches where he's lucky to even hit 3-of-10. Until that long-range shot becomes consistent, it shouldn't be Morris' preferred method of scoring.

    Also, his defense can at times be horrendous. Unlike certain other bad defenders, Morris at least shows some interest and energy on the defensive end. But he is still taken advantage of by bigger, stronger forwards, and the Suns as a unit allow 118.3 points per 100 possessions with Morris on the floor. He added some muscle over the offseason and now has to make defense a priority.

    Morris is better than people expected him to be, and that is why his stock is rising. But from a purely statistical standpoint, you could still make a very strong argument as to why Scola deserves the starting power forward spot more. 

Stock Falling: Marcin Gortat

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    By now, I think we all know about that early season drama when Gortat vented to a Polish publication about his role in Phoenix. Well, he may or may not have a point. 

    On one hand, Gortat is averaging just 11.7 points and 8.3 rebounds a game this season, both significantly down from last year's totals. He is also shooting more than two fewer shots a game, and his usage percentage has decreased from 20.8 to 16.9 percent. So, in that respect, Gortat may have a point.

    However, there's another reasonable explanation for Gortat's drop in performance, and it's the same reason I used for Jared Dudley. Goran Dragic is simply not Steve Nash. He was not brought to Phoenix to be the next Steve Nash, and Suns players who had experience playing with Nash must simply learn to adjust. Perhaps the Suns don't use Gortat as effectively in the pick-and-roll game as they should, but Gortat cannot expect Dragic to play like one of the greatest passers of all time.

    Gortat's future in Phoenix is in question right now. Alvin Gentry might have put Morris in the starting lineup as a way to appease Gortat and create space for him in the low post, but if Gortat doesn't feel like he's getting the touches he wants then he may force his way out.

    Hopefully it won't come to that though, as that would be a worst-case scenario. 

Stock Rising: Goran Dragic

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    Many fans were excited at the news that the Suns had signed Goran Dragic to take over the starting job. But I'm not sure they really knew what to expect from Dragic in his first full season as a starter.

    So far, there has been absolutely no reason to worry. Dragic is performing at a high level and is one of the best players on the roster. Statistically, he averages 15.5 points, 6.6 assists and 1.9 steals a game, and is also posting a career-high 48 percent from the field. 

    Right now, there is absolutely no reason to be upset with Dragic's level of play. There is too much point guard competition for him to be seriously considered for the All-Star game, but Dragic will get some votes and should continue to put together a good season for Phoenix. 

Stock Falling: Michael Beasley

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    Wow, where to begin.

    I suppose horrendous is really the only way to describe Beasley's season. In fact, the only reason he's getting any minutes at all is one season a few years ago on the Timberwolves where he scored 19.2 points per game.

    But right now, Beasley is just hard to watch. 

    As of now, Beasley is posting averages of 11.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Pretty bad, but it gets so much worse than that.

    Beasley is shooting 38 percent from the field, a career low. His rebounding numbers are also a career low. His turnovers are close to a new career high, and he has more turnovers than assists. In fact, Beasley is so inefficient that he takes more shots than he scores points.

    Maybe this wouldn't matter so much if Beasley could play good defense. But on the other side of the ball, he lacks energy and just isn't that committed.

    I wish I could point to something promising about his current level of play, but there just isn't anything to point to. I hate to say it, but Beasley has been nothing but a liability to the Suns thus far, and the fact that he is still starting continues to amaze me. 

    I'm hoping for a strong turnaround, because this might be his last chance to really play substantial minutes in the NBA. His future depends on how he plays right now, and I'm hoping he can figure something out for his own sake, as well as the team's.

    I still think he will show some improvement in the near future, but that has to be soon, before the whole fanbase turns on him.