As the NBA picks up its analytics pace, perceived trends are accessorized by slick interpretations of those handy, telltale numbers.
It can be quite dizzying.
For example, it’s been posited that we’re experiencing a golden age of point guards (at least in terms of how their contributions are flooding the margins of an expanded box score), even if the O’Brien Trophy doesn’t seem all that impressed.
A piggyback notion is that small-ball is taking root, even though 2.5 of the 2013 conference-finalist quartet relied heavily upon grind-caliber inside maneuvers.
What does any of this have to do with the Phoenix Suns? Well, as most of the franchise’s dedicated followers are quite aware, general manager Ryan McDonough now presides over a roster that offers a best overall player and top prospect listed at the same position.
But based on the presumed evolution of the broadly defined total basketball player, even that doesn’t make sense anymore.
In Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, the Suns have two relatively premier assets/best players who stand 6-foot-2 (perhaps a bit taller for The Dragon) or less. They arrived in this league defined as point guards.
The refreshing attempts of certain NBA coaches to now blur the lines of positional categorization suggest this might not be as big an issue as it appears on the surface.
Can Dragic and Bledsoe play at the same time? Should they? Will they?
As Phoenix slouches toward its place in the eagerly anticipated 2014 NBA Draft, those questions should keep Suns fans warm during what should be a chilly – if not intermittently exciting — winter.
Although the number of teams in need of a smallish primary ballhandler has dwindled, there still might be a few franchises interested in acquiring Dragic or Bledsoe.
Bledsoe could become a restricted free agent next summer if the Suns are unable to reach an extension deal in October.
It has been reported they will attempt to do this, even though Bledsoe has yet to earn his chops as a full-time starter. With his market value (based on eye-popping, highlight plays with the Los Angeles Clippers) fairly steep, the Suns might have to pay less if they wait. But if he doesn’t play well enough to generate really big offer sheets from other teams, would the Suns even want to ante up?
And if they wait, Bledsoe could blow up and be even pricier next July.
Dragic, who has a reasonable contract with three more seasons under Suns control, could fetch a nice return. But teams aren’t exactly eager to burp up draft picks that could land in the ’14 lottery.
Anyway, with several teams using the two-point-guards-at-once system, Dragic and Bledsoe could be expected to play together quite a bit. As Suns followers noticed the last three seasons, ball-screen blitzing by the opposition has wrecked an offense that has lacked a secondary ballhandler to create a shot opportunity while the shot clock bleeds out.
A lot of dual-point-guard teams use a misdirection, dummy ball screen on the strong side, swing the ball to the other PG and attack when help defense has (in theory) been slightly compromised.
According to Mysynergysports.com, Bledsoe’s pick-and-roll involvement (as the ballhandler) in his last season as a Clipper yielded 0.75 points per possession.
Dragic, working with less talented finishers, had a mark of 0.78. The Dragon’s higher PNR production percentage would seem to indicate he’s more efficient in one-on-one (isolation) situations and more successful converting in transition than his new teammate.
So, it would seem that putting Dragic as the lead ballhandling dog when both are on the floor is the way to go. Bledsoe did shoot a higher percentage beyond the arc last season, but how much is his seemingly meteoric jump over the previous season (to almost 40 percent) due to being more selective than technically improved? We’ll have to see that for ourselves.
Dragic, it should be noted, was a 32 percent from 3. With Jared Dudley forwarded on to the Clippers and rookie Archie Goodwin as the (we’ll call him “combo”) guard to be developed, there currently isn’t much in the way of floor spacing from the back line.
On defense, where doomsday prophets warn the Suns will get posted up into oblivion with a double-point guard alignment, Bledsoe would seem better suited (strength, first-lateral-step quickness) to prevent dribble penetration by the opposition PG.
He surrendered 0.71 points per possession while defending pick and roll this past campaign, compared with Dragic’s 0.89. But Dragic was slightly better defending in isolations, so … what gives?
Well, the numbers can give us a cockeyed view of reality. Sure, they do provide some important, ballpark notions of how things can be structured, but – for example – Dragic and Bledsoe weren’t guarding the same players in the same situations with the same teammates or opponents.
The same goes for those tricky offensive numbers. Turning the corner for a lob to Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan isn’t the same as throwing an alley-oop to Markieff Morris or Hamed Haddadi.
Thinking positively (on the Suns’ behalf), having Dragic or Bledsoe attacked on the post means the opposition isn’t posting up one of the Morris brothers or Luis Scola (if he returns). And just how many shooting guards are really equipped to work someone over on the post?
Kobe Bryant is an obvious outlier, but you can use a large teammate to double when necessary and not have as many long, stop-that-3-pointer close-outs. You have to worry about the neglected big diving to the rim, but the rotation is shorter.
By the way, Dragic was slightly stingier when being posted up last season, but Bledsoe – who often was on the floor with Chris Paul –probably worked against far more two-guards than did The Dragon.
And using two PGs at the same time doesn’t mean the Suns always will be at a size disadvantage during these deployments; Dragic and Bledose might wreak enough havoc that teams will go small to combat them.
On offense, using two point guards means more dribbling; despite what works in today’s NBA, that never seems to be good news.
When all of the analytics smoke clears, the best we can do is remind you that having an effective primary ballhandler (however his position is defined) or two and being efficient at both ends of the floor is the only real truth.
Yes, while a Dragic-Bledsoe ticket – either starting or simply closing games – can be entertaining for several reasons, the Suns’ roster doesn’t look analytically sound from other perspectives … including the important corner 3.
But you really don’t want the Suns to be too good too fast, right?