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Are The Phoenix Suns Relying Too Heavily On Their Guards?

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Will the Suns' reliance on their guards to provide the bulk of the scoring be an issue this season?

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

If the Phoenix Suns showed anything during the preseason, it's that they have the deepest, and likely the most dangerous guard rotation in the NBA.

In fact, their best three players, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas, all play the same position.  But the great thing about the Suns' system is that they run an offense in which both guards share the duties of bringing the ball up the court and facilitating the offense.

Phoenix also experimented with the three-guard line-up which also proved successful.  In fact, having Dragic-Bledsoe-Thomas on the court together against the Utah Jazz spurred a 9-4 run to help them overcome an 89-88 deficit, and close out a victory late in the fourth quarter.

In addition to the three point guards, the Suns have also mixed in a heavy helping of Gerald Green off the bench. And once again, Green is proving to be an offensive spark plug...bolstering both his teammates and the fans with high-flying dunks and three-point shooting.

The Four-Headed Monster?

All in all, the Suns finished the preseason with a record of 5-2.  Who were their top scorers?  Yep, you guessed it.  Bledsoe was 1st (15 ppg); Thomas was 2nd (14.1 ppg); Dragic was 3rd (12.4 ppg); and Green was 4th (12.3 ppg).

However, as great as that is for the Suns guards, it does raise some questions as to the balance of the offense.  It certainly isn't normal that the four highest scorers on the team are all guards.  In fact, I looked at the stats around the league just to make sure, and found that no other team had all guards in their top four.

In fact, only the Pacers had four guards among their top five scorers as the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th highest during the preseason. Even then, this would almost certainly be different if Paul George were playing.

So what does this all mean?  Well, no one really knows...yet.

One thing that stands out though, when looking at the numbers, is that the Suns are obviously getting excellent production from their back-court.  But their front-court?  Not so much.

Let's Look At The Numbers

In order to try to make this as realistic as possible, I looked at the top 10 players according to the minutes they played, which happens to be the same 10-man rotation most likely to play in the regular season as well.

Of those ten players, the total points scored per game, on average, was 92.6.  Of that total, the guards accounted for 53.9 points per game, and the forwards and centers accounted for 38.7.

This means that the guards scored 58.2% of the points per game, and everyone else scored only 41.8%.

But is this really a cause for concern?  After all, if your best players are all guards, you would naturally want them to do most of the scoring.

But Wait, There's More...

Looking closer at the numbers, the top 10 players took an average of 69.3 shots per game.  Of those shot attempts, the guards took 53% of the shots, and the forwards and centers took 47%.  This is a much more balanced distribution than the scoring numbers would suggest.  So what is going on?

Well, if you haven't already figured it out, the difference is in the efficiency.

It's not that the Suns aren't trying to spread the ball around on offense, it's that their guards are substantially outperforming the other positions when it comes to making their shots.

The guards averaged 49.8% shooting from the field throughout the preseason.  The forwards and centers averaged only 39.8% (when you take out Alex Len's only two shots that he attempted and made in one game).

This is especially concerning when you consider that the forwards and centers are normally shooting the ball much closer to the basket on average, and they should actually have a higher field goal percentage because of it.

A Look At The Competition

Take the Golden State Warriors, for instance, who also have one of the best back-court duo's in the league, and are probably the most similar team to the Suns overall.

The guards on the Warriors accounted for 52% of the scoring, compared to 48% for the forwards and centers.  That alone is a substantial difference from the Suns.

In addition to that, the guards averaged 50.6% from the field, and their forwards and centers averaged 58.7%.

This shows that the Warriors were very balanced offensively this preseason, and although their guards scored more points, their forwards and centers were more efficient inside and made the most of their opportunities when they got their touches.

Uncharted Territory

The Suns are embarking on a brand new experiment this season that could rival the Seven-Seconds-or-Less, Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash system, that brought the fast-paced, high-scoring style of offense to the league.

But will it be as successful?  Could it be even more so?

That remains to be seen.  I certainly don't think the Suns mind the guards taking the majority of the shots or scoring the bulk of the points offensively.

After all, the main priority of the Suns' big men will be to defend the rim and rebound. But at the same time, the Suns have to be able to convert high-percentage shots at and around the basket without relying so heavily on the guards to carry the load.

The data shows that they are trying to get the other players involved in the offense, but that they just haven't been nearly efficient enough when given the opportunity.

Of course, that could certainly change.  Markieff Morris had a slow start to the preseason, but played much better in the finale against the Jazz.  Last year, Keef was the fourth-leading scorer, and averaged 13.7 points per game, while shooting 48.6 % from the field.

If the Suns can get that type of production from him, plus solid defense and rebounding from the center position, I see no reason why they can't make this work.

Not only that, but things could even out now that the exhibition games have ended--with the rotations becoming more static, and the focus more on execution than experimentation.

Still, this will definitely be something to keep an eye on as the regular season gets underway.