The NBA offseason of summer 2014 has and will continue to be dominated by Kevin Love talk. Not a single one of the 29 teams not named the Minnesota Timberwolves would pass up the opportunity to land the talented power forward. Love will demand an endless line of suitors, with the Phoenix Suns chief among them. This is, after all, the exact situation GM Ryan McDonough has prepared for since the beginning of his tenure. The goal has always been to acquire the assets necessary to land a star player in Phoenix. But will middling first rounders and the Morris twins be enough to bring Love to the desert?
Zach Lowe recently said on his podcast that he doesn’t foresee the Suns interesting the T’Wolves without throwing in something sweet: Eric Bledsoe. He may not be wrong. While most teams don’t really have more appealing packages than the Suns, with the exception of Cleveland, the addition of Bledsoe in a package might swing a deal. Would such a deal be worth it?
Of course, Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, which makes it complicated to pull off a trade involving him. He would need to be a sign and trade, which means that he would have to want to go to Minnesota, where he would once again be one of two point guards. This is all assuming Minnesota would want Bledsoe next to Ricky Rubio, who becomes an RFA himself next summer. The deal would be contingent upon Bledsoe and Love respectively agreeing to contract extensions with their new teams.
Granted, these are all longshot hypotheticals that probably won’t see the light of day. However, if the opportunity presented itself, should the Suns break up the Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe point guard combination? It begs the question: How expendable is Bledsoe?
Bledsoe might very well demand a max contract. If his people don’t, all it takes is one lucrative offer from a team like Orlando or even the Lakers (wouldn’t that be just like them?) for the Suns to be looking at an approximate $14.2 million dollars a year for Bledsoe. The contract would probably have a ripple effect as well; Dragic would likely demand a similar contract if he opted out of his contract the following year. If the Suns gave both of their point guards similar deals, they could have almost half of the salary dedicated to the duo. How far can an expensive point guard duo take the Suns? Truthfully, its unprecedented, so it’s difficult to say.
Let’s look at the facts. We all like to point out that the Suns went 23-11 with both PGs starting. It’s a great stat, but perhaps more importantly, the duo, when starting together, went 12-10 against teams that made the playoffs. More than half of the wins were against playoff teams. Their only loss against a non-playoff team was the infamous stinker against the Lakers at the end of the season. This means that the team took care of business against bottom feeders, and had a .545 win percentage over playoff teams.
On the more advanced side of the stats, the five man lineup of Bledsoe, Dragic, Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee, and P.J. Tucker, the second most used lineup by the Suns (logged 436 minutes), had an insane Net Rating of 12.2, per nba.com. This would have led the NBA by over 4 points. Interestingly, the offense was less efficient with this lineup (105.4 OffRtg vs. their average 107.1 OffRtg), but their defense was bullish, with a 93.1 Defensive Rating that would have been better than the league leading Indiana Pacers (96.7 DefRtg).
Clearly, Bledsoe has a major impact on the team. But can his production be replaced? Dragic proved he could run the team when Bledsoe went down with his knee injury. Might the Suns be better off letting him walk and dedicating money to other players? If it means Kevin Love, maybe. But the Suns would be hard-pressed to find a player to replace Bledsoe’s defensive production. His defense cannot be understated, and his Real Plus-Minus of 4.05, per espn.com, (ranks 7th among point guards) is a testament to it.
Bledsoe is a rare talent: a defensive stud who has the athleticism to be an impressive two-way player. While he still has a shaky jump shot, he proved to be an effective scorer, making 64.1% of his shots in the restricted area, compared to Dragic’s 67.6%, per nba.com. Surprisingly, his 41.4% midrange shooting is not too far off from Dragic’s 43.4% shooting. Some dedication to improvement by Bledsoe could really justify a max contract. Remember, he is only 24 years old.
Jim Coughenour recently pointed out that great point guards are nearly never a factor in NBA championships. A two point guard system, then, should seem completely superfluous. It’s an unprecedented experiment, but perhaps the Suns should continue to roll the dice with it. The NBA is constantly evolving; consider the small ball lineups the Miami Heat have made so important the last few years, or the influence on corner three pointers the San Antonio Spurs have had this decade. Who knows? Maybe the Suns will prove their dual point guard system will be the next big thing. They have already proved it works in the regular season, and likely would have made the playoffs were it not for Bledsoe’s injury. Their strong record against playoff teams suggests they could have given some team a series.
Unless there’s an opportunity to get a top 10 talent (unlikely), the Suns should stay to course. They have created a winning environment that is suddenly attractive to free agents again. They will have to bite the bullet with Bledsoe’s contract, but the potential is just too much to give up. Dual point guards is unorthodox, and history says the system won’t work, but unorthodox is what wins these days. The numbers show that the Dragon-Blade combo is effective, so the Suns should relish the chance to be trend setters.
Kevin Love in a Phoenix Suns jersey is every fan’s dream, but it’s probably a pipe dream. Even more unlikely is Dragic, Bledsoe, and Love on a team together. However, the Suns can still have a special team with Bledsoe and Dragic. They are a few moves away from real success, but the first move is locking up Bledsoe for whatever the cost.