Basketball is at its best when great individual talents come together and begin working as a cohesive team. A tag-team if you will. Isolation, one-on-one basketball is a thing and it exists, but creating tag-teams or even trios have proven to be in most scenarios a more successful formula for today's NBA.
This season the Phoenix Suns (14-9) put together a roster that on paper had so many question marks, but nobody bothered to ask maybe the most important question of them all:
Did they happen to know what they were doing?
Most importantly did the Suns know more than the rest of the league when they put together the duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. On paper they were just two point guards that did a lot of the same things on the court and were never viewed as individuals that can be "the guy" for a team. That theory maybe the case for them individually, but when they combine to work together they form a unique, dynamic, and one of a kind duo on the perimeter that is starting to really hit their stride as a unit.
The concept of tag-teams originated here in the United States in San Francisco in professional wrestling.
Some tag-teams play two very different physical beings together to make an unstoppable dynamic like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, Jeri-Show, John Stockton and Karl Malone, as well as Kane and X-Pac. All of these groups were not built similar which allowed one teammates strengths to mask the others weaknesses and vice versa.
Other teams will take two similar physical models and put them out there to play off of each other. That can be equally successful as we have seen with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade or Edge and Christian.
Those two different styles laid out the ground work to what a successful team can be when you are able to get two dynamic players on the court at the same time. The big-little combination has had its success over the years, but as of late there are more perimeter oriented duos with the new position-less basketball that is starting to take over the league as the new general philosophy.
From a physical standpoint Dragic is 6-3 190 lbs. and Bledsoe is 6-1 195 lbs. which from an NBA perspective is right about the same size. They are more of the latter type duo rather than the former. Two similar sized talents that play off of each other.
Point guard duos are slowly becoming a vision of the position-less basketball having a two-headed monster that can attack off the bounce and put pressure on the defense.
"When you put pressure on offense and defense," Dragic told me after the win over Sacramento. "They are probably like, 'Oh no, not them two again.'"
Right now the Suns duo of Dragic and Bledsoe are making a case to be the best, or at the very least on of the best, back-court duos in the league. Over their last five games they are averaging 44.0 points, 10.8 assists, 4.4 steals, shooting 50% from the field (51.1% from three) per game winning all five games. The duo is clicking on all cylinders after starting the season less than perfect struggling to play well together, but effective when the other is off the floor.
That has happened in the past, as mentioned above with James and Wade, it takes time to gain the chemistry required to be an effective enough duo to win games and eventually championships.
With the recent play of the Dragic and Bledsoe duo they are starting to gain notoriety around the NBA as one of, if not the best, duos on the perimeter early this season. That is a platitude that is not just being thrown around without merit.
This season they are averaging 38.6 points per game (3rd among current back-courts), 12.5 assists per game (3rd), 3.0 steals per game (9th), and are shooting 49.3% (1st) from the field. Statistically they are one of the best back-courts in the league overall and they are starting to play like one of the best overall duos this season in general. There are not very many tandems that can score, shoot, distribute, and defend the way that Dragic and Bledsoe can.
So are they they best back-court tandem in the league?
That is subjective depending what you prefer in a back-court. If you are partial to the classic pass-first point guard with a scorer next to them, then the Clippers duo of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick have actually been the best in the league so far. At this point Redick is out with an injury, but when he was involved with Paul they were a Top 10 back-court in points, assists, steals, shooting, assist-to-turnover ration, and defensive rating.
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson may be the "Splash Bro's," but their limitations on the defensive end can neutralize their shooting.
There is a method to the madness for this ranking system for back-courts. Looking at the most frequently used back-court duo as starters a ranking of points per game, assists per game, steals per game, overall shooting, three-point shooting, assist-to-turnover ratio, and defensive rating give us a composite of how all 30 back-courts rank against each other.
For example the Kings are currently starting Isaiah Thomas and Ben McLemore, but the most frequent starting back-court was with McLemore and Greivis Vasquez. Other duos were formed out of injury like Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler for the Bulls.
The formula is simple. Just looking at the basic numbers that relevant for the perimeter positions for every duo in the league.
Based on numbers alone the Suns are technically the fourth the best back-court in the league, but the team is winning. They are winning at a higher rate than any back-court that is producing at the level they are with the exception of the Clippers so far and that is only because they have played three fewer games than them.
Of all the back-courts the Suns are one of the few that feature by all accounts two point guards in the starting line-up. They buck tradition with this style.
Every tandem in the Top 10 are of the traditional style with a play-maker to set the offense and a scorer to setup. Some have niche scorers that spread the floor as shooters while others have dynamic athletes that get into the paint and can score in a variety of ways.
That is what sets the Suns apart from the rest of the league and a big part of why they are one of the biggest surprises of the season 23 games in. Head-to-head the Suns have gone 3-1 against the other Top 10 teams.They are winning.
Again, this is a subjective debate, but Dragic and Bledsoe are a tornado tag team that is playing off each others strengths to limit their weaknesses. They play together better now than they did earlier in the season and will likely continue to get better as they have already proven with this current stretch of the season.
Tag, Dragic and Bledsoe are in.