Starting Five: PG Goran Dragic, SG Eric Bledsoe, SF Gerald Green, PF A Morris brother, C Alex Len
Key Bench Players: F The other Morris brother, F/C Channing Frye, C Emeka Okafor, G/F Gerald Green
Offseason Additions: Gerald Green, Eric Bledsoe
Offseason Subtractions: C Marcin Gortat, SF Jared Dudley, SG Shannon Brown, PG Kendall Marshall, PF Luis Scola, C Jermaine O’Neal, PF Michael Beasley, PG Sebastian Telfair
FACT OR FICTION: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will work as two starting point guards.
FICTION. And I think everyone knows that. Including the Phoenix Suns.
It seems like writing “the Phoenix Suns have invested their future in Dragic and Bledsoe” is the easiest and most natural discourse to write for this preview. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bledsoe’s addition this summer came after dalliances with trading him for the past 12 months in deals for players like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Josh Smith and Rajon Rondo. After the dust settled, Bledsoe was dealt for a relative pittance on both side. The Clips finally parted with the point guard after inking Chris Paul to a long term deal, but did so for the prize of two swingmen, including Boston College’s finest student-athlete alumni Jared Dudley and a sign-and-traded JJ Redick (on a new four year, $27 million dollar deal). In return, the Suns sent out a great but unnecessary-while-out-of-contention role player in Dudley and two second round picks. That’s it. For all the names that were attached with the young, talented Bledsoe for the past year, ending up with solid but unsexy names like Dudley and Redick, along with two second rounders is somewhat disappointing.
Dragic begins the second year of a four year, $30 million dollar contract after coming over last season as a free agent. He played admirably despite starting for one of the league’s worst teams, establishing careers highs in points, assists, minutes, free throw attempts, rebounds and steals. Unfortunately, this came at the cost of efficiency. Dragic also hit his high water mark in turnovers, saw his true shooting percentage drop 17 points and his three point percentage drop for a third consecutive year (.319). Most of these numbers can be attributed simply to him taking on a more on-court responsibilities, as well as defenses honing in on the only Sun who could create his own shot. Still, Dragic is eminently dealable. He is just 27 and on a relatively cheap deal that could especially appetizing to a team looking for a change-of-pacce guard coming off the bench.
That all being said, the Suns shouldn’t be married to this tandem that so many people are asking about going into the season. Yes, they are invested in Bledsoe simply because he is 22 years-old and has been one of the league’s most coveted young players for the past year. However, the cost wasn’t so much that they couldn’t think about dealing him yet again for the price of the two second round picks he cost. The team is reportedly in negotiations with him on a new deal, but if it’s in the four years, $40 million range as reported, he’s still very tradeable. Dragic, again, should be easy to deal if given the proper motivation. This is all pertinent because, on paper, it looks like they won’t be able to work.
Let’s not even move onto scoring. Defensively, this already looks like a disaster in the making. Bledsoe is a potential All-NBA Defense team member because of his strength and athleticism, but if matched up with the off-guard, could simply be overmatched because of his height (6’1″). Dragic has never been a strong defender, a trend that I suspect won’t change for any reason. He too, will be undersized when playing the 2, getting bullied around with any SG that can overpower the somewhat flimsy Slovenian. Both players will be much better off defensively when playing with another big guard like Gerald Green, but a player like that has his own issues…in almost every other facet of the game. Together, I suspect most teams will try to get Bledsoe into a mismatch situation that he didn’t often get into last season when playing with guys like Chris Paul and Matt Barnes.
Offensively, it’s not so much how they can play with each other, but how well they can play together on the floor and make the rest of the young Suns better. This entire season revolves around the new front office regime seeing who can play and who can’t, with only 2013 first round pick C Alex Len really the only one besides Bledsoe that should be on the team for the 2014-2015 season. Marshall, the Morris twins, Miles Plumlee and Archie Goodwin are all former first round picks, but none of them could be on the team in one year’s time.
Make no mistake: these Suns are one of the very worst teams in the NBA. Aside from Bledsoe, Dragic, maybe one Morris brother (and to be honest, I’m not sure which one) and Emeka Okafor (whenever he returns from injury, which shouldn’t be soon), Phoenix is riddled with unproven pieces in the NBA game. They very well could have just four proven professional basketball players on the roster, with their fates guided by rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek and rookie General Manager Ryan McDonough. The Suns have done everything in their power to be intentionally terrible next season (including the still printer-fresh deal sending Gortat to Washington), and without guys like the Polish Hammer and Brown who know how to play at NBA speed, this team should be a young, sloppy mess that’s not even fun to watch. Even teams like Sacramento, Boston and Orlando, who will no doubt finish in the league’s bottom 7, have some sort of draw to keep your League Pass cursors on their emblems. Aside from the car crash that should be the Dragic-Bledsoe pairing, this looks like they have the potential to be the worst team, record-wise and aesthetic-wise, in the NBA.
Best Case Scenario: The Suns are going to be absolutely putrid. There’s no stopping that now. But if Bledsoe and Dragic can play together, Len shows some promise as a future destroyer in the middle and the team nabs the number one pick, that will be the best season Phoenix could hope for.
Absolute Apocalypse: The great fans of Phoenix endure an absolutely unwatchable year, only to see their team somehow win 28 disjointed games. They finish with the number 5 pick, a far cry from what they really wanted at the top of the draft. That’s how bad 2013-2014 should be for the Suns: “Best Case Scenario” and “Absolute Apocalypse” aren’t that different.
Expected outcome: 5th in the Pacific, 14th in the Western Conference
Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series: