The new look Phoenix Suns are challenging the traditional narrative as it pertains to the point guard position, especially in the Valley of the Sun. James Jones is in the process of building a roster that doesn’t have a prototypical distributor. Who really does these day?
Chris Paul, one of the last true point guards in the game, is now with Golden State and Cameron Payne (who is a point guard by in name only) is in San Antonio. Their departure signifies that Phoenix is looking to change up their offensive strategy. Say goodbye to watching Deandre Ayton set five high-screens-per-possession as CP3 tries to set up the pick-and-roll, only to opt out and not pass the ball to the rolling DA.
I know, this is hard to fathom. Suns’ basketball, which is rich with point guard play throughout its history, is causing some to have a hard time coming to grips with how and why Jones would do such a thing. After all, this is the land of KJ and Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Starbury. We need a point guard in Phoenix. It’s all we know.
For the past three seasons, Phoenix was led on the court by Chris Paul. In that span we’ve seen some of the most productive offenses in the history of the franchise. The season before that? ‘Twas Ricky Rubio running point for the Suns. That team was a Caris LeVert jumper away from making the postseason, and it is the best the team had looked in a decade. A decade filled with subpar point guard play.
So when The Athletic’s Shams Charania tweets that the plan for Phoenix next season is to have Bradley Beal, who would be defined as a shooting guard, as the primary point guard next season, people start to panic.
The Suns expect Bradley Beal to be their starting point guard, per The Athletic. pic.twitter.com/KbsqkkkdSY— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) July 16, 2023
What is this Tomfoolery?! How could this franchise ever veer from the norm?! We certainly must need a dedicated distributor to set up the offense!
I’m here to tell you that it’s all going to be okay.
James Jones is embracing the way that modern NBA basketball is played, and it’s time to stop being the old guy telling people to get off of your grass. Embrace the change. Know that, as the Mandalorian says, “this is the way”.
Don’t believe me? Still banging that “we need a traditional point guard” drum? Let’s look at the last four NBA Champions, shall we?
2023 Denver Nuggets
Starting Point Guard: Jamal Murray
Murray isn’t what you would describe as a traditional point guard. Similar to Bradley Beal, he is a smaller shooting guard who has the ability to play make. He averaged 26.1 points in the postseason with 7.1 assists en route to Denver’s first-ever championship.
Yes, Denver has Nikola Jokić, a premier passing big man, and somebody who helps with the distribution. Like the teams we will list below, that has become the strategy: to have two players who possess the ability to play make on the floor.
2022 Golden State Warriors
Starting Point Guard: Stephen Curry
Would you define Steph Curry and his 35-foot three-pointers as a pass-first distributor? He is entertaining to watch and exhilarating to play alongside, but his defining characteristic is not his ability to set up his teammates. As he and the Warriors marched to their fourth title in six years, Steph averaged 27.4 points and 5.9 assists.
He too was on a team that n relied on the ability of multiple players, coupled with back screens and movement, to generate open shots.
2021 Milwaukee Bucks
Starting Point Guard: Jrue Holiday
We know what Holiday is capable of first hand after the Bucks, who were down 0-2 to the Suns in the 2021 NBA Finals, rattled off four straight and won the title. Holiday, who played point in all 23 postseason games for the Bucks, averaged 17.3 points and 8.7 assists. The highest assist total from a starting point guard who won a ring over the past four years, Holiday impressed with his 105.6 defensive rating in the post-season.
Between Holiday, Giannis, and Khris Middleton, the team had players who possessed offensive gravity. When offensive gravity occurs, defenses collapse in an effort to try to stop highly productive players. What happens? Open shooters. Easy assists.
2020 Los Angeles Lakers
Starting Point Guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
KCP started all 21 games for the Lakers in the Orlando Bubble, and much akin to teams above, was not relied on as a primary play maker. LeBron James was the primary ball handler, as he led the team with a 29.6 usage percentage. KCP was at 15.2%.
Anthony Davis and LeBron create enough gravity to negate the need for a primary traditional play maker, so KCP filled his role as a three-point shooter, taking 29% of all postseason three-pointer for the Lakers.
Let's look at the starting PG's for the past four NBA Champs:— John Voita (@DarthVoita) July 16, 2023
'23: Jamal Murray
'22: Steph Curry
'21: Jrue Holiday
'20: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Case. And. Point. People. https://t.co/X23SsqAqfq
Given the gravity of the players on the Suns roster, coupled with their ability to play make, the team doesn’t need a traditional point guard. Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal all possess the ability to make plays. Add Eric Gordon to the fray, and the team is primed to have players who can whip the ball around, all while drawing defenders to them due to their offensive capabilities.
Jordan Goodwin appears to have the inside track for the backup point guard position, with two-way Saben Lee bringing up the rear. Both are not traditional either, with Goodwin possessing Jrue Holiday-like intensity on defense and Saben Lee being an aggressive cyclinder-seeker.
It’s time to let go of the old school mentality of position-based basketball. The Suns, organizationally, are catching up to the times rather than dictating them like they did during 7SOL. James Jones has built something that will be deadly on offense. And on defense? That’s where Frank Vogel comes in...