51Q: What’s the Suns’ plan for their top three guards?
We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off).
The Suns thought they had problems sorting out an Eric Bledsoe-Brandon Knight backcourt.
Then, Devin Booker emerged.
Booker, still a teenager, looks like the best-case scenario of what Phoenix could’ve reasonably sought when drafting him No. 13 overall last year. He’s an ace 3-point shooter, and his off-the-dribble game is far ahead of projections – which only complicates matters for the Suns.
Neither Bledsoe nor Knight seemed quite happy enough with his amount of time running the offense. With Booker demanding a major role already, now what?
The first issue is minutes. When healthy, that’s 32 minutes for the three players in the backcourt (though Leandro Barbosa might also want to play). A December knee injury sidelined Bledsoe the rest of last season, clearing the way for Booker’s ascension. But Bledsoe should be back, and if his athleticism hasn’t waned, he’s still the team’s best player. Booker can play some small forward, but that leads to another problem…
The fit is tough. Phoenix has not recreated the magic of the 2013-14 duo of Goran Dragic and Bledsoe. Not all two-point guard backcourts are created equally, and Bledsoe and Knight have not meshed as much as they’ve taken turns. Add Booker’s adept passing for a young wing, and there’s even more room for confusion.
Any permeation of the backcourt – Bledsoe-Knight, Bledsoe-Booker, or Knight-Booker – works well enough. Using all three simultaneously has a fighting chance of success. There’s at least not a combination to actively avoid at face value.
But it’ll take a major leap to turn this from three players taking turns with the ball to a trio dangerously passing and attacking from all angles.
And then there are the chemistry issues. Knight has longed viewed himself as a point guard, even if his court vision has been dicey. Bledsoe has worked himself into being a legitimate lead guard, and he’s the team’s highest-paid player. Booker – by virtue of his age, health and production – is the Suns’ most valuable player. That Bledsoe and Booker are leading Phoenix’s offseason workouts could be telling.
Booker is the best of the bunch off the ball, and that could alleviate some short-term issues. His spot-up outside shooting could be big. But teams don’t make a habit of asking their emerging star teenagers to take a lesser role. The Suns will want Booker to initiate the offense at times.
Bledsoe, Knight and Booker are under contract three more seasons, and Knight has a fourth year. The Suns can be patient – if their young guards go along with it. Otherwise, Phoenix is ripe for a trade.