Why the Phoenix Suns need its Fast Break and 3PT Shooting no matter what, a Linear Regression Analysis

Phoenix Suns, home of the 7 seconds or less offense. Over the years, basketball fans all over the world have been treated to the up tempo offense, pioneered by Mike D’Antoni. This offense would not have been possible without some of the talents on the roster. Steve Nash, a pass first point guard, pushed the tempo of the game with his play making abilities. Versatile and athletic forwards, with the likes of Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire, ran the lanes make or miss, often on the receiving end of perfect passes and alley oops. Dead eye shooters in the mold of Raja Bell, Joe Johnson and Jason Richardson, spaced the floor and made life miserable for perimeter defenders. Add in the bench which consists of Goran Dragic and Leandra Barbosa at its core and we had a team with the right tools over the years which outscored many of its opponents on a nightly basis.

Fast forward to 2015-2016, the Suns with a 14-41 record, is a shell of its former self. Various blunders over the years by the front office, forced the franchise into its current quagmire. And with it, the fast break offense style came to a decline. It is of the opinion of the author of this blog post and website that the decline of the fast break had also meant the decline of the Suns franchise.

Considering the availability of data, I thought it was appropriate to try to make sense of some of the numbers of the Suns franchise. With synergy data available from NBA, I set out to investigate the link between the percentage of games win with fast break points and 3PT field goal percentage. The result is that there are statistical evidence, supporting the argument that the increase in fast break points and 3PT field goal increase the percentage of games won.

To start off, I gathered monthly data of variables such as the games played and won for each month in the NBA season from 2003 to 2016, omitting some months if the games played is only 1. Monthly 3Pt percentage, 2nd chance points, Turnover points, fast break points and in the paint points. Because some of the variables were not stationary and seem to indicate a certain trend, I computed its percentage change specifically the variables of percentage of games won (games won/games played), and the 3PT field goal percentage. ( Time Series data need to be stationary as it includes a time component, for more details please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stationary_process )

As I believe that all analysis should be simple, I employed a simple linear regression with multiple variables, with the dependent variable of Percentage of Games Won and determinants of fast break points and 3PT percentage change. Here are the results from R

Regression for Suns


It seems like the model yielded significant results in the 5% level, giving support to the assertion that there is a positive relationship between winning games and fast break points, three point shooting. Although the R-squared level is low at 0.1617, I expected this to be the case as there are many other factors that contribute to winning basketball games. I could interpret the result the following ways

  1. For every one unit increase in Fast Break Points, there is a 0.04% increase in change of Percentage of games won.
  2. For every one unit increase in the change of 3PT shooting percentage, there is a 1.2% increase in change of percentage of games won.

What is surprising indeed is the magnitude of the 3PT shooting on the Suns Offense. If the Suns office had taken a look at the analysis ( well, its not a complicated one ), they would have known that 3PT shooting forms a vital part of the Suns playing identity. Then, why was Channing Frye, a very good 3PT shooter, low balled in his contract and eventually forced to take up an offer with Orlando? Or rather why was Goran Dragic eventually traded off to the Heat when he had been the main engine behind the Suns ability to get up and down the court?

Looking back at the data of the Suns from the year 2013-2014 seasons to currently, it is obvious that the personnel vital to the Suns offense of fast break and 3pt, either left or got traded.



It is telling that the season of 2014-2015 was the main focal point. When Frye left, many expected the Suns to dip in its 3pt but instead it held up because of a breakout season by Dragic in the previous year and the addition of Isiah Thomas. But come January of the 2014-2015 season, Dragic and Isiah were both traded. From there, the fast break points and 3pt field goal percentage declined, pulling the winning percentage from 68% in January to 15% in April. Although the 2015-2016 season began on an okay note, it was already clear that without its fast break points and 3Pt shooting, the Suns struggled as the season progressed, accelerated by the injury of Eric Bledsoe who was the point guard pushing the ball. One wonders, if Frye and Dragic were still on the roster, could the Suns be faring this badly? And let’s not forget too, Gerald Green.




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