We are now five games into the 2014-2015 NBA regular season, so naturally it's time to start taking a look at the Hydra experiment the Phoenix Suns are playing with in their guard rotation. Five games constitutes a good enough sample size, right?
While their opening game against the Los Angeles Lakers was glimpse into the future, the four games since then have been anything but rosy.
Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas combined for 57 points, 14 assists, 12 rebounds, and shot a scorching 67% from the field in a combined 72 minutes in that opening win. Coach Hornacek did not have to worry too much about minutes, with Bledsoe getting ejected and Dragic being able to rest in the fourth because the Suns had a 29-point lead late in the third quarter.
But since then, each of them have had bad games (10 points for Thomas in the Jazz game, 6 points for Bledsoe in the Laker rematch, 2 points for Dragic against Memphis). Perhaps the most negatively affected has been Dragic, who was third-team All NBA last year with 20 points and 6 assists on 35 minutes per game.
I'm still looking for my spot. -Goran Dragic
"I try to do what is best for the team," Dragic said after the Memphis loss that dropped the Suns to 3-2 on the season. "If they need me to stand in the corner and try to space, I'm gonna do that. Hopefully, I will find that rhythm. It's the beginning of the season, so it's kind of hard. We still need some time to figure out those things in the next few games."
Whether Ryan McDonough signed Isaiah Thomas as an insurance policy in case things didn't work out with Eric Bledsoe or he fully expected to have a three point guard rotation this season, Jeff Hornacek has been tasked with a difficult coaching situation in finding minutes for Thomas, Bledsoe, and Goran Dragic. There are 96 minutes to go around for the three guards, but that's not even including Gerald Green. The idea going into the season was simple: a beast of a gyrating point guard rotation that featured three attacking heads. A Hydra.
Since that first game, however, we have not seen such a performance from the holy triumvirate. Bledsoe, after looking like a man possessed in game one, has looked disengaged at times and was noticeably frustrated in the second matchup with the Lakers. He's been absolutely polarizing, and last night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies was the perfect example, as he simultaneously had a great game and a horrible game by putting up 23 points on 75% shooting with NINE turnovers (Nine times?). Bledsoe has all the tools and the potential to be an elite defender, and his offensive game is coming together (46% from 3, 60% in the restricted area). He just needs to stay engaged.
Dragic has not looked himself. He threw up a stinker against Memphis, and just can't seem to find his shot.
"I'm still looking for my spot," Dragic said after putting up two points against Memphis. "It's tough but at the same time I try to do what is good for the team. It's different for me this year but hopefully we are going to find that quick."
There seemed to be a lack of focus on defense too, as he lost Courtney Lee (!!) several times. His driving game is still strong (65% in restricted area), but he's throwing up a big fat 0% from three, missing all 11 of his attempts so far.
"I'm shooting the ball bad," he said. "My confidence is not so high, for sure. It's just different looks for me this year than last year, so maybe because of that. I'm working on that, hopefully it's gonna come back." Goran also admitted to seeing more bodies in the lane as the spacing without Channing Frye isn't the same.
A silver lining: The Dragon started off slow last season, too. He shot 21% from 3 over the first 10 games of the 2013-2014 season, but ended with a juicy 41%. Dragic will come on eventually.
Isaiah Thomas, though, is really freaking good at basketball and has been the most consistent of the point guards. He's incredibly crafty in the lane, and strong as an ox; the little guy is shooting a bullish 77% from less than 5 feet. Thomas's 8.8 points in the paint per game are 8th amongst guards, and his 4.4 fast break points per game are 9th. He's throwing up a gnarly 62.3 True Shooting percentage. I think it's safe to say Isaiah Thomas has officially been adopted into the Slash Brothers.
When asked who worries him the most on the Suns, Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said flatly, "Isaiah Thomas". Last week, Gregg Popovich said "Goran Dragic", so maybe it's just a roulette wheel every night.
From a more collective standpoint, it looks like the trio is having some difficulty getting used to each other. Bledsoe seems to have taken over the main ball-handler duties, but when Dragic took the role against the Lakers, Bledsoe disappeared.
Dragic is more likely just frustrated with his shooting than anything. He has scored in double figures in 4 of 5 games, despite being awful from outside three feet. If he just made his jumpers, his scoring would be similar to last year as well. His usage rate is down slightly from last year. Bledsoe's usage rate is also slightly down (but not much), while Thomas' usage rate is the highest of his career. Thomas has the most to prove, being that he's not a starter, but he will have to pull back a bit to make this work seamlessly.
I.T. mostly plays alongside Green. Hornacek has played with the Hydra together on the court once or twice most games to varying degrees of success. It worked against the San Antonio Spurs, ending the game on an 8-2 run, but the lineup has struggled to defend and hasn't been used for more than a few minutes at a time. We've only seen a smattering of this lineup, and Hornacek could still tinker with the other two players, so the jury is still out on this one. Minutes wise, all three players are playing fewer minutes than they respectively did last season. With Bledsoe topping out at 30.5 and Thomas getting the fewest at 25.4, hopefully this does not become an issue. Thomas has been vocal about getting his playing time and wanting to finish games, and Bledsoe didn't seem to keen to be sitting on the bench for large chunks of the second game with the Lakers.
"Someone's always going to be left out," Thomas said last week.
It seems like Hornacek is still figuring out how to balance everything. Even so, the Hydra looked great against the Lakers, and gutted it out against the Spurs. There are moments when the potential shines through.
With the 2014-2015 season still in its premature stages, the Hydra has still looked like a work in progress. At best, it's usually two of the three guards playing well. We want to see King Ghidorah, not the Two-Headed Monster from Sesame Street, dammit. There have been some growing pains, but there's no reason to panic. We've seen how good this trio can be, and as soon as Dragic rounds into form and Bledsoe gets locked in, opponents will have their hands full with the monstrous Hydra lurking in Phoenix. Hail Hydra!