When the Phoenix Suns acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers last offseason, many believed Goran Dragic was on the trading block. Dragic was never traded, and the Suns used a dual point guard lineup for a large part of last season.
This offseason, the Suns took their point guard obsession to a new level. In the first round of the NBA draft, the Suns selected point guard Tyler Ennis from Syracuse with the 14th pick. That pick wasn’t that eye opening. Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, and you could argue the Suns needed another backup guard anyway. Then, the point guard situation changed again a few days into NBA free agency.
The Suns agreed to a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings for point guard Isaiah Thomas. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s four point guards on the Suns’ roster. What’s the deal?
Many people believe the Suns were just covering their bases while they shop Dragic or Bledsoe on the market. It’s no secret that Phoenix desperately needs help along their frontline — especially after center Channing Frye agreed to a four-year, $32 million contract with the Orlando Magic.
Trading one of their point guards makes complete sense, but something about how the Suns do business and how they played last season makes me think there’s a bigger game afoot. Phoenix has master plan, and you know they do. I may not be Sherlock Holmes, but I have a theory about what’s going on in Phoenix.
The Suns’ plan all revolves around re-signing Bledsoe, though. It’s been widely reported that, apparently, Bledsoe and the Suns are $32 million off in contract negotiations. Phoenix has offered Bledsoe and his team a four-year, $48 million contract. You can do the math, but that’s $12 million per season. Bledsoe believes he should get a max contract, which would be a five-year, $80 million deal. That’s a substantial difference and could be a deal breaker. I don’t think it will be, though.
Take a look at last year’s averages for the new Suns trio:
The Suns know the type of player Bledsoe is now and what he can be. As far as point guards go, he has the potential to be one of the best two-way point guards in the league; however, he’s at least a few years away from being at that level. Bledsoe is ultra-competitive and just watched his backcourt partner from college, John Wall, get a max contract with the Wizards last summer. Bledsoe wants his money.
Here’s what I think happens: Phoenix gives Bledsoe what he wants, a max contract. They’ve got to if they want this to be a good relationship. It’s an overpay at this point, but my gut feeling tells me Bledsoe will be worth more than what he’s making toward the end of his five-year contract.
Once the Suns have secured Bledsoe, that’s where the fun starts. With the league becoming considerably more perimeter-oriented, there’s less of a reason to spend money on big men. The Suns also have all the tools to play a heavy point guard lineup with Dragic, Thomas, and Bledsoe all on the court at the same time. Boom! That’s the master plan: Play Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas all at the same time. It has the possibility to be revolutionary and change the game of basketball, although more like a big science experiment.
Offensively, the Suns would be incredibly difficult to stop with Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas playing together. Although it creates a matchup problem for the Suns on defense, I don’t see a team in the league that has the tools to realistically stop Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas. They’re all of the “zero” guard breed, too gifted at scoring to be point guards and too small/too good at passing to be shooting guards.
Imagine the pick-and-roll combinations with Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas on the court at the same time. There will be a weak defender guarding one of them at all times. The Suns could exploit that matchup over and over again. It’s basically a pick-your-poison decision every possession for the opponent. That’s awesome for head coach Jeff Hornacek. He’s too smart and too savvy to mess that up.
In the three point guard lineup, the Suns could use so many different lineup combinations with the other two spots. The Suns could go big with Miles Plumlee and Alex Len at power forward and center. They could play the Morris twins together. They could use new addition Anthony Tolliver somewhere in there. There are so many different possibilities. I don’t think any combination of players is necessarily un-doable for Phoenix. I mean, except Bledsoe, Thomas, Dragic, Tucker, and Green; that’s definitely not happening. The NBA isn’t exactly the same as 2K.
If this actually comes to fruition, though, the Suns would almost become the NBA’s version of Tiki-Taka, which has been wildly successful for Barcelona and revolutionized the game of soccer (futbol). Basically, Tiki-Taka eliminates traditional positional concepts and allows players to move freely using quick cuts and shorter passes.
In basketball, the idea of the five positions of point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center is dated and the game has moved to a more free-flowing, spread game. If it’s not there yet, that is the direction the game is moving, away from stagnant post-up offense and into a drive/pass-and-cut league. The Suns have the ability to be at the forefront of this movement with Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas destroying the NBA together.
The Suns would also have a distinct advantage in transition, if they could get any stops on defense, of course. Bledsoe and Thomas are machines in the open floor. With blazing speed and giant hops, it’s nearly impossible to imagine someone getting back on defense and stopping either of them through the lane. Dragic is an underrated finisher, as well. If the Suns got on the break, they’d have three incredibly skilled players heading right for the basket or trailing the play for a kick-out three. It’s the perfect plan and perfect way to attack defense in the current NBA.
Having three point guards and players who are comfortable floor leaders, the Suns also have the ability to leave one of them on the floor while the other two rest or bring one of them off the bench. It’s so important to have players come in off the bench who can do a little of everything, each of the Suns’ point guards would do great in the role, but I think the best option would be Thomas. He has that Nate Robinson-esque killer instinct that the Suns would want in their sixth man. Having a player like him coming off the bench would do wonders for the Suns, who relied on Ish Smith to carry most of the backup point guard duties last season.
The only real downsides to playing so many point guards are the defensive ramifications. The Suns finished 15th in the league in defensive rating last season. Likely, the Suns would only get worse on defense, if Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas played the 30+ minutes per game they should. Even if the Suns didn’t want to play all three of them together, there would be some crossover. As they’re all fairly short players, I don’t think three of them could play against, say, the Oklahoma City Thunder and matchup with Kevin Durant. Defense remains a problem, but the offensive gain could be enough of an advantage that it could help the Suns in waves.
It’s highly likely I’m one hundred percent wrong about what the Suns are trying to do. They could easily be shopping any of there three point guards behind the scenes and render this piece entirely irrelevant. There’s also a possibility Dragic, Bledsoe, and Thomas never share the court together next season.
Still, the possibility of it happening and what the repercussions could be for basketball should have all the fans exciting to see if it will work. Something very interesting is going on in Phoenix. It’s about time we start paying a little closer attention.