Editor's note: After a year on the campaign trail and some much-needed time in the decompression chamber, O my brothers and only friends, I have returned. The time has come for me to (somewhat) honorably relieve Lionel Mandrake from his duties. He didn't do an exorbitant amount of damage, save for drinking all my booze and denigrating the mayor of Sacramento. It could have been a lot worse -- trust me. If anyone would like to submit a formal complaint re: the actions of Lionel Mandrake, please email me directly and I'll add it to the list.
- RJM, 5.28.2014, Yuma AZ
Greetings Bright Siders,
Well, it's not even officially summer yet, and I think that every current NBA player has found their way into a Suns uniform in our collective imaginations at some point since the season ended. There are indeed some quite provocative possibilities floating about, but personally I'd like to move ahead with the Brothers Of Slash as our core and do whatever is reasonably possible to keep that identity intact.
See, I'm a Missouri kind of guy; I don't believe till I see it. In other words, "show me".
The Suns showed me what they're capable of last season, and I'm not interested in any changes to the core of this team unless it's a Barkley-esque trade, and I'm not convinced that a Barkley trade even exists currently. Furthermore, I'm sorry Kevin Love but I must say -- I know Charles Barkley. Charles Barkley was a friend of mine. Mr. Love, you're no Charles Barkley.
But there's umpteen places to discuss Kevin Love and trades and draft picks at the moment. What I'd like to do here is flesh out the sheer badassery of the Slash Brothers.
The Anatomy Of Slash
Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek cooked up a crazy idea last summer of pairing the incumbent point guard Goran Dragic with the talented but erratic Eric Bledsoe. While many of us thought that perhaps they had eaten some magical cacti, it turns out they knew quite well what the hell they were doing. The dual point guard lineup ignited an offensive onslaught not seen in Phoenix since the days of Nash bouncing pocket passes to Amare.
While Bledsoe missed half the season with a meniscus tear, the numbers that the Slash Bros put up were intimidating. Dragic stayed healthy for most of the year and went berserk while Bled was sidelined, earning him the Most Improved Player award and a probable All-NBA appearance. Before you go clamoring for Bled to be shipped away for Kevin Love, realize that he is just as irreplaceable as his Slovenian counterpart. It's the combination of the two that made this a playoff team (had they been playing in any other year).
Enter the House Of Slash.
According to NBA Stats -- which defines a drive as any touch that begins outside of 20 feet and ends within 10 feet, excluding transition -- there are five players in the NBA that drive more than 7 times a game with a 51% or higher field goal percentage: LeBron James (.636, which is seriously obscene), Eric Bledsoe (.529), Tony Parker (.527), Isaiah Thomas (.516) and Goran Dragic (.516).
Here are the combined numbers that the Slash Bros provide when they drive:
- Drives Per Game: 17.2
- Player PPG On Drives: 11.2
- Team PPG On Drives: 19.7
At a glance, the Suns' offense seems straightforward: Spread the floor with shooters while Dragic and Bledsoe relentlessly blitz the paint. But there's an advantage that the Suns have with their dual point lineup that isn't quite so obvious, which is their ability to flow into the next attack when their initial play is snuffed out. Instead of the possession dying on the vine if it is initially defended well, they can quickly reset with the other guard and launch another assault at the rim, and I imagine that it only helps their cause that Dragic is a southpaw while Bledsoe is right-handed.
Check out this Coach Nick vid if you haven't already (or just watch it again, because it is awesome). Notice how most of the time when one is handling the ball, the other can be found above the break, ready to quickly reformulate the attack if the initial play is denied by the defense. Skip to 2:05 for a perfect example of this. The initial play for Dragic is denied, so they swing it back around and reset with Bledsoe, who launches into an impromtu give-and-go with Plumlee against a staggering Warriors defense that wasn't ready to deal with another attack at the rim.
The Slash Bros wouldn't work if either of them were poor three-point shooters. This was a concern with Bledsoe, but he shot a respectable .357 while his three-point attempts per 36 ballooned up to 3.6, by far a career high for him. The Dragon shot a scorching .408 which is even more impressive when you consider that 47% of his three-point attempts were unassisted.
The duo was very efficient from straightaway three, which is where they often position themselves when playing off the ball. Not only does it afford them the best driving angle on the floor, but Bledsoe shot a stellar 48% from this spot on the floor (20-41) while Dragic hit at a 45% clip (23-51).
Both Dragic and Bledsoe are deadly playing off the ball, either with their spot-up shooting or their ability to provide a secondary driving option.
Ah, the old glowing standard of Phoenix Suns basketball. Is there a more enjoyable way to break the will of an opponent than simply running them out of the building? Dragic and Bledsoe are both terrors in the open court, capable of one-man fast breaks not seen in the desert since Jason Kidd wore the purple and orange. Having two players on the court that can sprint past the defense and finish the play all by their lonesome is nothing short of basketball pornography.
Hornacek said all that needed to be said in this interview with Suns.com:
"We just say, get it out to the first guy," Hornacek explained. " I’ve always been of the belief you can’t always just look at the point guard…you just throw it up to the first guy and now instead of a three-on-two, a lot of times you can get a two-on one."
An Ode To Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe will probably never be as adored in Phoenix as is Goran Dragic. People speculate about whether or not he is a Phoenix Sun at heart because he doesn't offer the cookie-cutter platitudes that we're used to hearing. Basically, his personality is the opposite of his game -- boring. As for his backcourt mate, Dragic is easily the most popular Sun since Steve Nash. His humble attitude sprinkled with broken English and wrapped up in his balls-out competitiveness makes him quite impossible to dislike.
The thing is, while Bledsoe will never top Goran in likability, he is just as important to this Suns team on the court. Dragic rightfully earned national acclaim with his heroic performances during Bledsoe' absence. In those 32 games Dragic poured in 22.4 PPG on .528 from the field and .470 from three, but don't doubt Bledsoe's capability of similar feats.
Consider his performances when Dragic succumbed to a late-season ankle injury with the playoffs on the line:
- April 11 @ San Antonio: 30 points on 16 shots, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals
- April 12 @ Dallas (Dragic played, but was hobbled): 29 points on 15 shots, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals
This was but a glimpse into his ability to carry a team. I can't help but wonder what accolades he would have garnered if the shoe had been on the other foot and Dragic was the one that sat out the middle of the season. The 2013/14 Suns were a .500 team without Bledsoe, and a sure-fire playoff team with him. I think that should speak for itself.
The Summer Of Slash
Does the pairing of Dragic and Bledsoe make a title contender? On their own, probably not -- but it's a hell of a starting point. I don't know what will come of the three first-rounders. I don't know what McDonough is hinting at when he speaks of the next "big move". I don't know if he'll end up going yard or hitting behind the runner. There are plenty of rosterbaters out there than can speculate on this stuff; I'd rather take this time to wonder on what we already have.
I'd like to see what Hornacek and Longabardi can cook up with another couple years of the Slash Bros. I'd like to look for signs that Alex Len is the next Marc Gasol. Who will be the Archie Goodwin of the 2014 Summer League?
Most of all, I want to see more of this awesomely weird backcourt pairing. Half a season barely whetted my appetite. Kevin Love can take a one-way to Neptune for all I care, just bring back that sweet Slash action.
THIS is Phoenix Suns basketball.
Anyone else game?