The Phoenix Suns have been touting their dual playmaking system for years, and the evidence is beginning to show that not only does it work but it produces All-Star worthy statistics for both playmakers.
The system caters to the playmakers, and has produced Top-10 NBA offenses the entire time. The only periods the Suns have struggled on offense the last 2+ years has been when injuries and trades derailed the plan and forced the team to play a traditional one-playmaker lineup.
Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are two of only 12 players in the NBA this season with nightly line of 20 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds. The only other pair of teammates posting that line so far this year are Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan in Toronto. The Suns have parlayed their stellar play into a Top-10 offense once again this season, just like the first half of 2014-15 and the entirety of 2013-14.
If you include an Effective Field Goal % of 50% or higher (which gives extra credit for three-point shots and proves a high rate of efficiency per shot), the list shrinks to eight. And Bledsoe and Knight are the only teammates on the list. The others on the short list are annual All-Stars LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Paul George and Damian Lillard.
You could say that I'm cherry-picking stats to fit my narrative, and you'd be right. But I've got good reason to do so. The Suns have banked their playing model on a two-point guard system since GM Ryan McDonough arrived and
Trevor Buckstein he landed Eric Bledsoe on day two of free agency.
The Suns had to play their best players, so they hatched a plan to pair Dragic and Bledsoe in the backcourt. Coach Jeff Hornacek had been a playmaking shooting guard his whole career next to Kevin Johnson and John Stockton, so of course he saw the wisdom in the approach.
For a two playmaker system to work, the Suns needed well-rounded players who were effective and efficient at their craft and would be the dual stars of the program.
Year one produced a pairing of at least 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 52% eFG% between Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. When in the starting lineup together, they won 23 of 34 games. Injuries hurt what could have been a playoff season. That season validated the Suns' claims the dual playmaking system could work.
Only seven other players in the 2013-14 season posted a line of at least 17.5, 5, 3.2, 50+% and all were All-Stars: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, and rookie Damian Lillard.
Year two was muddy. We don't need to go into it any further than to say that too much of a good thing can spoil it. Still, the Suns point guards put up impressive all-around numbers.
The Suns system has proven a couple of things: that point guards who share the court can each succeed and produce All-Star worthy statistics. In fact, they can each put up career highs without canceling each other out. They can also win games together. We've yet to see a playoff appearance by the Suns, but they've been close each year and - if you discount the awful final month of last season (11 games) - the system has resulted a winning record.
Back to this season and Bledsoe and Knight's potentially historic matching stat lines of 20/4/4/50%.
Only LeBron and Dwyane
Going back ten years, the only other pair of teammates to reach those heights (20/4/4/50%) in the same season are Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who did it for three consecutive seasons in Miami from 2010-2013. That's it. That's the list of teammates who posted a better all-around stat line than Bledsoe and Knight over a full season in the past decade.
Keep up the pace?
Of course, your first conclusion should be that Bledsoe and Knight can't keep up this pace. There's 71 games to go in the season and a lot of opportunities for slumps. Keeping up a 20/4/4/50% pace is tough for good reason, and historical evidence shows you can't just show up and do it.
That ten year list of players who've posted 20/4/4/50% over a full season? It's only 26 players long. This year, Bledsoe and Knight are the only new candidates for the club.
But the way this Suns offense is designed, and the way Bledsoe and Knight get their points, assists and rebounds should give you confidence they can keep up the pace.
Knight seems to be getting better, as does Bledsoe. The assists appear to be a given, as do the points. No one else in the Suns offense seems poised to take away the scoring opportunities afforded these two. It's possible Markieff Morris takes enough shots away and balance the scoring a bit more. It's also possible that T.J. Warren or another player improve enough to take points as well. But with Knight and Bledsoe both getting most scoring opportunities, the shot distribution likely won't change much.
Which is why I include the 50+% effective field goal percentage as a barometer. Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan and Reggie Jackson also put up 20/4/4 so far this season, but none top the 50+% eFG mark. Once you get below 50%, you have to consider giving more shots to the big men who are closer to the basket. Big men regularly top 50% on eFG even without the threes.
So as long as Knight and Bledsoe are efficient, they should still take most of the shots.
Maybe the rebounds fall off? Not likely. Consider that Bledsoe and Knight have both averaged 3.2+ rebounds per game as starters their entire careers and both have improved that mark each season. Last year, Knight grabbed 3.9 rebounds while Bledsoe grabbed 5.2.
This will be fun to watch all season long, Suns fans.
If Knight and Bledsoe keep up the pace while the Suns are winning games into late January, and still in the playoff race, they will really force the coaches' hands on whether to include them on the All-Star team.
All-Star berths are not based on stats alone, but Knight and Bledsoe's lofty, exclusive company in the 20/4/4/50% club should make the decision harder than ever.