How the Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic Backcourt Can Work for Phoenix Suns

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How the Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic Backcourt Can Work for Phoenix Suns
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Just about every trade made during this NBA offseason has benefited one side far more than the other.

While some teams prepare for championship runs, others are gearing up for a run at Andrew Wiggins. When these two teams trade, equal value is not expected.

Whether it's three championship players landing in Brooklyn, an all-star point guard heading to Louisiana or Luis Scola moving to Indianapolis, the return packages have been extremely light for teams cleaning house.

The Phoenix Suns are one of those unloading teams, of course, as they sent Scola away for the nearly useless Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a draft pick likely to be no higher than the mid-20s.

The Suns also provide us with the one exception to this rule.

On July 2, Phoenix sent SF Jared Dudley to the Los Angeles Clippers and a second-round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks. In turn, it received point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward Caron Butler from Los Angeles.

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Eric Bledsoe

The Bucks sent J.J. Redick to the Clippers and received only the late draft pick, so they are in fact the losers of the deal. What's intriguing, though, is that Phoenix, a team with seemingly no chance of being competitive next season, came out of this deal as improved as the Clippers did—not just for the future, but for the 2013-14 season.

The most common response to this trade has been to question what the Suns plan to do with last season's starting PG, Goran Dragić, who is widely regarded as the team's best player. There is a general feeling that he may be the odd man out with Bledsoe—a young explosive athlete with sky-high potential—in the fold.

As reported by Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk, general manager Ryan McDonough has answered that question by essentially saying that it's the wrong one to be asking.

McDonough is 100 percent correct. The Suns were the worst team in the Western Conference last season and gave fans a depressing lack of positives to focus on. The team had below average scoring, shooting, rebounding, passing, perimeter defense, interior defense and everything else.

It's not as if having two good point guards is going to hurt them.

A better question to ask would be: What's not to like about a Dragić-Bledsoe combination?

 


Developing a Team Identity

When a team enters a season expecting to lose, the first focus tends to be the development of individual young players. After all, the future is all that matters for a team like the Suns, so why worry about being good now?

However, the fact is that the best teams in the NBA are the ones with players, coaches and executives who buy into a system.

With Bledsoe and Dragić, Phoenix has the ability to create a strong identity this season, even if it doesn't translate to wins right away.

There are two areas in which both Phoenix point guards excel: Forcing turnovers and transition offense.

Bledsoe averaged 2.5 steals per 36 minutes last season, while Dragić averaged 1.7, per basketball-reference.com. With these two on the court together, the Suns should find themselves among the league leaders in turnovers forced.

Both players are also exceptionally adept at reacting to turnovers and starting the break. Bledsoe became known in L.A. last year for his explosive finishes in transition, while Dragić is better at finding others on the break.

Again, it's hard to see what doesn't make this a great fit.

With Jeff Hornacek at the helm, the combination makes even more sense. Hornacek and Kevin Johnson formed a dynamite backcourt duo in the early 1990s where both players were equally dangerous as distributors or as scorers.

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Jeff Hornacek

Combining this possibly lethal backcourt with Hornacek will help the Suns maximize the duo's potential. More importantly, it will aid the development of Hornacek's confidence as a coach, which should in turn help out the rest of Phoenix's young players and provide a stable foundation for the future.


Beyond Transition

No matter how deadly the Suns will be as a team with an ability to break quickly next season, major questions still exist surrounding the half-court game. Bledsoe and Dragić are both true point guards, so many people wonder how useful they will be playing off the ball.

By the same token, both men have PG bodies (Bledsoe is only 6'1" while Dragic is 6'4" but weighs 180 pounds) and neither seem to be capable of stopping NBA shooting guards. This is true, although the strong Bledsoe is still a better bet to defend a two-guard than anyone else on Phoenix's roster.

As for the half-court offense, Bledsoe and Dragic will be just fine. It's the rest of the team to worry about.

Dragic proved last season that he is an above-average floor general. His 7.4 APG was the eighth-best average in the Association, and that's with Scola as his primary target.

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Goran Dragic

Bledsoe is better suited to play off the ball in the half-court as he can knock down the triple (39.7 percent from deep last season). His slashing ability will perfectly compliment Dragic's dimes and should open up the floor for shooters.

The problem is, Phoenix doesn't have shooters.

The only Suns' players to hit more than 33.6 percent of their three-point attempts last season are no longer on the roster (Dudley and Sebastian Telfair). Caron Butler shot 38.8 percent last season, but his career average is still only 33.9 percent.


Worst-Case Scenario

If the Bledsoe and Dragić backcourt flops—unspectacular is okay—then the pairing still makes sense. Bledsoe has the athleticism, strength and two-way ability to become a star in a couple years, so bringing him in is a no-brainer, with or without Dragić.

Meanwhile, Dragić is relatively young (27) and has a reasonable price tag ($7.5 million a season through 2014-15). If the two simply don't work well together, Phoenix could move Dragić at the trading deadline for a better complimentary piece.

This scenario is unlikely. The fact is that, outside of their lack of size, Dragić and Bledsoe compliment each other extremely well. They won't be Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack, but two primary ball handlers on the court at once should provide fans with more excitement than they've had since Steve Nash left. 

Dragić and Bledsoe are also Phoenix's two best players. Seeing as the Suns are arguably the least talented team in the NBA, worrying about their play styles clashing seems to be incredibly counterproductive.

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