Next year's Phoenix Suns could end up having enough starting point guards to play for a fifth of the Western Conference.
After employing a lineup last season that included Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, the Suns selected Tyler Ennis with the 18th overall pick in the draft and signed Isaiah Thomas away from the Sacramento Kings. Phoenix is loading up on point guards for the cold winter, and in the Western Conference, that season is all too harsh.
Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, but the Suns remain optimistic he will return, according to Pete Coro of the Arizona Republic. Considering how few teams have the room to throw a big-money proposition his way, it'd be somewhat shocking to see Bledsoe leave the state of Arizona before next season.
Thomas, meanwhile, comes over from Sacramento on a shockingly reasonable four-year, $27 million contract. Phoenix now gets a 25-year-old, hyper-efficient point guard on a cheap deal that will carry him into his late 20s. When Jodie Meeks is getting $6 million a year and you can get Thomas for less than a million a season more, you're doing something right.
Look at the Kings, so cleverly misevaluating their own players one by one.
Assuming Bledsoe returns to Phoenix, the Suns will be stuck with four point guards in 2014-15—five if you consider Archie Goodwin to be a 1. That could mean Ennis ends up seeing a decent amount of D-League competition.
Still, this is a team that loves to use two-guard units. After all, coach Jeff Hornacek threw a healthy Bledsoe and Dragic into the starting lineup whenever he could. And why not? It worked.
It wasn't just about offense, either. Bledsoe's defensive tenacity is actually what allows Hornacek to go to a two-point-guard lineup so comfortably.
Dragic-Bledsoe lineups allowed 97.4 points per 100 possessions, in line with how the Chicago Bulls' defense played for the full season. Granted, those Dragic-Bledsoe combinations were usually part of the starting lineup, so it's only natural they would put up better numbers.
Still, Hornacek loves him some two-point-guard lineups and rightfully so.
The knock on Bledsoe? He's a gambler, but how legitimate is that critique considering his position?
Look at the best defensive point guards in the league and you'll struggle to find one who doesn't gamble. Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Ricky Rubio, Kyle Lowry and John Wall all jump passing lanes and take chances.
Of the top guys, you're not going to extend much further than Chris Paul if you want a non-gambling point guard who can still dominate a game defensively, and Paul usually needs to go up against a particular style, a less athletic opposing 1, to show off fully.
So, there's Bledsoe, built like a tight end with the ability to go chest-to-chest with any guard, and he saves the two-point-guard concept when he's on the floor. Bledsoe's not just effective; he's dominant. From Seth Partnow, who is in the midst of publishing a defensive-statistics series on NylonCalculus.com:
But now, Thomas enters the mix.
The former King, who averaged 21.1 points per 36 minutes last year, is made to be a sixth man. In fact, the only thing that stopped him from earning Sixth Man of the Year in a landslide last season was becoming a starter.
Isaiah Thomas, sixth man, was actually too good for to be a sixth man. We should just start referring to him as Kadeem Hardison and call it a day.
He's the definition of an instant-offense guy, the type of undersized gunner that teams like the Houston Rockets have constantly tried to bank on over and over again with Aaron Brooks, Isaiah Canaan and the rest of the mini NBA.
Considering the size, though (or lack there of), the 5'9" Thomas isn't exactly a defender. He gets bullied on the ball and lets guys get by him. He doesn't move swiftly off it. And that means he should probably get on the court with Bledsoe whenever he can.
Gerald Green could see burn playing at the 2 with Thomas just to add some size. And during all this time, the first-round pick, Ennis, will probably be either sitting on the bench or playing with the Bakersfield Jam in the NBA D-League.
The Suns may have won 48 games last year, but they still failed to make the playoffs—through no fault of their own, of course. Phoenix may have been a top-10 team in the league last year, but in Will Smith's Wild West, they couldn't earn a top-eight ranking. Because of that, the Suns know that even with their youth, they're probably more than just one move away from contending.
That's where the logic comes in making moves for all these points. It's not necessarily about winning immediately. It's just about asset compiling.
A five-point-guard lineup could actually happen. Maybe it'll only be in practices (or in my dreams), but it could happen—Thomas, Dragic, Bledsoe, Ennis and Goodwin.
Can we please see Archie Goodwin play the 5? Can we get the Suns to bring the recently waived Ish Smith back just so he can be the sixth man to the five-point-guard starters? Most importantly, is this too strange a fantasy?
That's an impractical roster composition by most other standards, but general manager Ryan McDonough should have earned the trust of the public by now.
He's not trying to win today. He's attempting to set his organization up to win in the future. Adding on practical contracts—such as the Thomas one and the one likely coming to Bledsoe, which could be in the Ty Lawson realm of four years and $40-something million—the Suns are prioritizing the future.
That's a necessary move, especially with Dragic vying to hit free agency in the summer of 2015, when he could command a max deal on the open market. After putting up the best year of his career, Dragic is clearly the dominant player on this team at the moment. The Suns are already readying to answer the question: Would you rather have Dragic for $17 million or Isaiah Thomas for $10 million less?
So, the Suns move forward with infinite point guard firepower and finite spots on the roster. For now, that's not as large of a predicament as it may seem. Today's NBA is, after all, about compiling assets. But for the Suns to make the leap to championship contender down the line, they'll need to choose which guards they actually hope will stick in Phoenix.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.
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