The gang is back to talk about the remarkable play as of late of the Suns backcourt and where they rank in the scope of the NBA...

Right now the Phoenix Suns (14-9) are just scratching the surface with the duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, but they are catching the eye of the NBA already.

There are several duos in the NBA on the perimeter that are skilled, effective, and work well together, but there is not one with the aggressiveness or athleticism as the aptly named Dragon Blade. They are cutting through defenses with ease and reeking havoc on the village known as the NBA as of late.

Enough of me, let's get to what matters. The staff takes on Dragon Blade, here we go.

Twenty-Fourth Topic: How good is Dragon Blade?

1. Breaking the Ice: A five game winning streak, winning 9 of 12, and getting respect around the league... How good is basketball in Phoenix right now?

Jim Coughenour: Perhaps the best kept secret in the NBA. While the Suns may be garnering respect from those in the know I don't think that casual fans, even those living in Phoenix, have caught on to the fact that this is not only a good, but also electrifying team. I've had quite a few people asking me about them lately, though, compared to practically nobody at the beginning of the season, so maybe they'll break through the threshold of irrelevance if they keep up their sterling play. They lack true star power, which fans tend to gravitate towards, but even that could be evolving. The team is starting to look like they're definitely a playoff contender, and I really don't think that a top seed would be happy to draw them right now. But for me, the overall Suns experience needs a bought in fanbase. That tangible energy and excitement can mean more to my enjoyment of the team than just wins and losses.

Dave King: I will be the latest to admit that this team is better than I ever imagined, and they're going to get better still. I saw the signs - happy players, a coach who gets it, quality scheming, and a style that everyone to a man understands and agrees with - but I didn't believe it could turn into so many wins so quickly. The way they are playing now, the Suns could just be scratching the surface.

Kris Habbas: The Wildcats are No. 1, the Sun Devils are playing quality ball, and the Suns are moving up the standings, steadily. I cannot remember the last all three of those things were true statements. At the beginning of the season there were a handful of people that thought this would be around the total win total for the Suns on the season as a whole, but it is looking more and more like they are going to be a 5-8 seed in the Western Conference and a tough out no matter the opponent.

Sean Sullivan: The best we've seen since the 2010 season where we went to the Western Conference Finals. Of course we still have a long way to go to get to that level, but the level of excitement is at the highest it's been since that time. The potential of this Suns' team continues to climb, as we readjust our estimations of their collective ceiling. Who knows how far they can go? For now, I'm just enjoying the ride.

2. How much of the pie do Goran Dragic & Eric Bledsoe (Dragon Blade) deserve for the team's recent success?

DK: Let's see. How about 90% of it. Well, maybe a little less. 75%? At least a strong percentage needs to go to Channing Frye's ability to space the floor, and force the other team to either play a big out of position on the wing, or bench the second big. And then there's Coach Hornacek and his assistants. He needs a strong percentage. So, I guess then Dragic and Bledsoe might only claim 50% of the success. But they still get 50% because none of this happens if they aren't unguardable as a duo.

KH: Well, in the five games they are combining for 44.0 points, 10.8 assists, 4.4 steals, and 51% from the field (51.1% from three) as a duo collectively. They could be better, but their play has allowed Miles Plumlee to make plays inside and Channing Frye to make shots from the perimeter. Take away their attacking style and the shots get significantly tougher for the rest of the team. For me, the pie is split 70% (Dragic/Bledsoe), 20% (team buy-in to their roles), and 10% (coaching staff) for the recent play.

SS: A huge chunk...at least 60% Not only are they scoring a large portions of the points, nearly half, but they are also setting up many of the other shots, getting steals, and pushing the tempo and helping us score all of those fast break transition points as well. Tucker's defense and Plumlee's defense in the post gets the lion's share of the remaining portion, based on how they've impacted and changed the game plan for the other teams. The Morri and Gerald Green round out the rest of it.

JC: They are definitely indispensable as a catalyst for the team's success, but this really is a team effort. Against the Warriors Channing Frye was deadly from deep and Miles Plumlee was a true defensive presence in the lane. P.J. Tucker shut down James Harden and followed it up with a manly showing against the Raptors. The wonder twins were huge against the Raptors and Lakers. Dragic and Bledsoe have provided consistently excellent production, while different players have stepped up off the bench to complement them. So maybe as far as pies go Dragic and Bledsoe are the pumpkin pie itself while their teammates are the cool whip.

3. Dragic has moved to being more off the ball. Is this the role he is destined to be the most successful career? Like, say, Manu Ginobili...

DK: I have always seen Dragic as a Ginobili type, except that he's not quite as savvy but he's a better passer/facilitator than Ginobili has shown. I think ultimately, Dragic is more like Hornacek than anything. A great, play-making combo guard who can play point and off guard in the same game, switching play by play.

KH: Goran's assist numbers have gone down, but his scoring, shooting, and efficiency has gone through the roof. He has the size to play the two on both ends (except for select match-ups) and plays a style that is tough to handle for 35, 40 minutes a night. When Goran was coming off the bench he was a tough match-up, like Ginobili, and now has found a partner in Bledsoe that allows him to go back to that same style. This is the best role he has had in about 3-4 years.

SS: I just don't know yet. I'm surprised he's taken on more of the shooting guard role based on how well he plays the point. However, he's done an outstanding job off the ball as well, and he may be more suited to that role than Bledsoe would be, so we may continue to see more of it. Dragic is one of the rare players who can excel at more than one position. In fact, he's in the top 10 for both of them.

JC: I was somewhat dubious he would succeed in this role after a relatively poor showing as a shooter last season, but through 23 games he has been lights out. I don't know that Dragic has been deferring as much as I thought was a problem in the early going, though. Bledsoe's usage is 25.8%, but Goran is second on the team as 23.6%. Dragic's career average is only 21.7% and this would be over one percent higher than his career high. Both players have managed to dominate the ball, get their shots and act as facilitators. I would argue that both of them averaging nearly identical points and assists (19 and 6) also supports this analysis.

4. Bledsoe is averaging 7.8 assists per game during the winning streak (6.4 per game overall) and still closing games (5.5 points per fourth quarter) proving he can run the point. Thoughts?

KH: If you asked anyone before the season who has these numbers without assigning a name to them I think most would reverse the names. Dragic as the distributor and Bledsoe as the attacking scorer, but so far this season we have got more of the full package from Baby LeBron. With Dragic more comfortable playing "Hawk" right now he is better off the ball. One thing that Bledsoe has not shown this year is his ability to play off the ball as effectively as he can with it, but if he does this back-court might not have a ceiling.

SS: He's done an outstanding job. I still don't think he and Dragic have figured it all out yet, and Hornacek may also want to experiment further with their roles when playing together. But what they've done so far is one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season. Most of us expected them to play well together, but I don't think anyone saw this coming.

JC: Bledsoe isn't a prototypical point guard in the traditional sense, but that position has become more pliable. Some of the better talents, such as Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook, are combo guards. And while Bledsoe isn't a prolific distributor he can create his own offense, which is a common theme among the best point guards in the league.

DK: Bledsoe is a unique talent that makes it really hard on the defense, so whether he's a pure point or not it doesn't matter. He's an unguardable point guard who can set up teammates or himself on demand. And he will continue to get better as he tries new things and raises his own ceiling higher and higher.

5. Have you seen a backcourt every that reminds you of these two? Example, or how unique are they?

KH: No. When has the league had an aggressive point guard like Bledsoe that is an elite athlete, good shooter, and ball-hawk on defense teamed with another ball-handler that can shoot, distribute, and finishes at the rim as effectively as anyone in the league? Never. This is a unique style that might catch on with other teams in the future. An offense can be more dangerous with two attacking guards versus the traditional balance of passer and scorer. Dragic and Bledsoe are attacking scorer and attacking scorer.

SS: I really haven't. I suppose the KJ/Hornacek back-court compares, and the Curry/Thompson back-court is similar, but I don't think we've seen anything quite like the way these two are playing together, Not only are they scoring at a high, and efficient level, but they are also getting tons of steals and switching off to lead the team separately when the other rests. They are effective not only together, but separately as well,

JC: Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili? Either one can be a primary ball handler that the offense can run through. They are even somewhat similar physically and in terms of playing style. Not granting them status in that type of echelon, but that was the first thing that came to mind.

DK: Yep. KJ and Hornacek. Uncanny. Makes me smile.

BONUS: Subjective, is this the best backcourt in the NBA today?

SS: I think it is...at least right now. They are doing it all, both together and separately. They are multi-dimensional players who positively impact the game in a variety of ways. They may not become the highest scoring back court, but I think they are the most effective when you add up all of their contributions. This could always change though, as the season is still young and players are still figuring things out. However, I have no problem stating that the Slash Bros. are currently the premier backcourt in the league.

JC: Dave's two are good. I'd add John Wall (20 and 9) and Bradley Beal (19 and 3) (who are only 23 and 20 years old) from the Wizards and Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford from the Clippers (Chris Paul and insert name here are probably good enough to be in consideration). Some others are close, but I'd definitely put Dragic and Bledsoe in the top five for backcourt tandems through the first (nearly) third of the season.

KH: I made a back-court formula that measures a back-court by points, assists, steals, FG%, 3PT%, assist-to-turnover ratio, and defensive rating. Through Monday the Suns duo was behind the Clippers, Warriors, and Wizards, but not by wide margins. Based on the last five games they would be No. 1 far and away. So no, they are fourth, Science Bright Siders! More on this from me later (the formula and etc)...

DK: Probably not. Curry and Thompson are still one of the best, as are Parker and Ginobili. I know I'm forgetting someone else. But Dragic and Bledsoe are playing as well as any of them on any given night.

Bright Siders, what do you think?

Coach Nick of BBall Breakdown looks at how the Suns attacked the Warriors pick and roll defense with a combination of slashing and shooting.

Just two months into the season, what was once a roster full of tradeable assets to obtain future "keepers" may just be a roster already full of those "keepers" without making another move.

Winning 9 of 12, including the last 5 in a row, makes the Phoenix Suns really happy with each other.

Suddenly, all those trabeable veterans who could help a playoff team are needed right here in the valley - to help their current team not only make the playoffs but become a threat once there.

"We are family," guard Goran Dragic said after the win over Golden State on Sunday night. "I know if somebody beats me, I know my teammates have my back."

Dragic was asked specifically about the pundits who predicted the Suns would be lucky to win 15 games this season.

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"We already win 14!" Dragic said in response. "I'm really happy. We don't want to stop here. We want to go up, and try to be a playoff team. We got 60 more games, a long way to go."

"It feels great," he continued. "Now I get back home, I'm smiling. The next day, I can't wait to get to practice and play ball with those guys. When you're having fun, your basketball performance goes way up."

How strong do you feel about the team's playoff chances, Goran?

"Very strong," he said.

Channing Frye, who's been touted by many including myself as a great asset for a playoff team because he's a stretch four who can also defend the middle, is making himself quite at home on this team as well.

"You gotta have fun," Frye said. "We're playing the right way. We play unselfish and guys just want to win and play the right way."

Is this team as good as its going to get? "Heck no, not even close," Frye said. "We’re winning, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with this."

Why am I even talking about trades right now?

Because this tiny stretch between Dec 15 and 19 (Thursday) is likely to spawn at least one big trade if not a few, and the Suns have all the assets that anyone needs. Picks, veterans, playable youth. It's all here.

Other teams are already cranking up the trade rumor mill. Some are looking for that missing piece (Houston needs a stretch four) while others are seriously thinking of tanking the season and acquiring picks for the 2014 draft in exchange for their veterans (Utah, Milwaukee, Chicago, etc.).

Will the Suns get involved in any trades? The bait is out there for Ryan McDonough to pull another Eric Bledsoe type deal with a desperate team. Or for McD to acquire that All-Star type player a team wants to dump before they get too expensive or leave in free agency.

Houston, for one, wants to trade Omer Asik by Thursday, which happens to be the last day any free agents signed this past summer can be acquired and then re-traded before the February deadline. The Suns don't have any of those (unless you count Dionte Christmas), but they do have vets.

Channing Frye would fit in Houston, but he's such a strong part of the Suns' resurgence. There's no need to trade Channing, unless there's a star to be had in return.

Or, do you trade P.J. Tucker? He's another one contributing to this team winning games in a major way.

No, these Suns are playoff contenders as they sit here, and they need veterans like Dragic, Frye and Tucker right here in the valley to compete for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.

What about acquiring a star?

Sure, but there's not many out there ready to be traded at this time. Frye and Markieff Morris are producing very well at the PF spot (22 points and 12 rebounds between them). Tucker and Marcus Morris are playing well at SF. Only an All-Star level player is worth trading away these guys, or benching them for a slightly better player.

And certainly, there's no need to upgrade either of the guard positions, either now or in the future. And the center position has players of the present (Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye) and the future (Alex Len).

Based on how much the Suns are winning right now, to break up this team at this time is getting more and more unlikely.

The players believe in themselves and their future, and they think they're only scratching the surface.

What a week, right?

The season is a little over a quarter old for the Phoenix Suns (14-9), not quite the 25 game sample most look for, but enough time has passed to strip some of the general assumptions about the team from the pre-season.

Over the past five games the team has went from 9-9 and going through some of the growing pains of being better than expected too early.

Since then they have been on a roll. It has been two full seasons since the Suns have been on a roll like they are right now winning five games in a row and 9 of the last 12 since a season worst four game losing streak. The team is coming together to play behind the great team oriented basketball behind the dynamic duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, more on them below.

Game Recaps

@ Los Angeles Lakers - W (114-108) Full Recap

vs. Sacramento Kings - W (116-107) Full Recap

vs. Golden State Warriors - W (106-102) Full Recap

This week has been momentous for the Suns as they are sweeping through the Pacific Division after a bumpy start against them. One way to get into the playoffs is to take care of the division. As meaningless as divisions are these days the Suns are marching up to the current leaders, the Los Angeles Clippers (16-9), despite not facing off against them yet.

With a fully healthy roster this team is proving to be very tough to match-up with because of the effort on the offensive and defensive end. They are clearly a more athletic group than last year, which can not be talked about enough.

The athleticism is most relative with the two-headed monster that attacks the rim in Bledsoe and Dragic. They create the opportunities for the shooters, Gerald Green, Channing Frye, and the Morrii, completing what is becoming one of the more versatile offenses in the league.

Key Stat

51.0% and 51.1%

What are these percentages you ask?

In the past five games those are the shooting numbers for Dragic and Bledsoe, or as some have dubbed them, Dragon Blade. The duo has been scoring the ball and attacking the other team relentlessly, which makes the efficiency just that much more impressive.

Dragic: 22.8 PPG 3.0 APG 537% FG 54.1% 3PT

Bledsoe: 21.1 PPG 7.8 APG 48.6% FG 47.6% 3PT

Pretty efficient from the two as they are just scratching the surface at just how good they can be playing off of one another in the offense.

Quote of the Week

Biggest surprise this year for me: how well Dragic & Bledsoe have meshed together. A 2-pronged attack night after night, so effective. -- Bill Simmons on the Suns via Twitter

2014 NBA Draft Update

Surrogate Watch continues and the Suns have two first round picks with the current projections, none of which are in the lottery. A slight change of pace from pre-season projections. Here is the update on how the three picks look right now:

Washington Wizards (9-13) -- No. 9 Overall (Pick stays in Washington based on Protections) Someone has to get a lottery pick, right? The Wizards continue to stockpile lottery picks here adding Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh to an already full roster of young prospects.

Minnesota Timberwolves (12-12) -- No. 12 Overall (Pick stays in Minnesota based on Protections) One position the T-Wolves have struggled to fill has always been at the two guard spot, where freshman Wayne Selden of Kansas lands here.

Phoenix Suns (13-9) -- No. 23 Overall (Pick stays in Phoenix based on Protections) The further and further the Suns slip here the higher they move up in the playoff standings. Good, right? Best player available reads as Wisconsin sophomore Sam Dekker.

Indiana Pacers (20-3) -- No. 30 Overall (Pick goes to Phoenix based on Protections) Best player available mode here as the Suns add Serbian point guard Vasilije Micic to the fold. Might be a draft and stash here to preserve a roster spot, while adding a quality back-up point guard for the future.

Keep following along here to get updates and information on the 2014 NBA Draft Class and more.

News & Notes

  • After early returns the three candidates the Suns have on the All-Star Ballots are not in the running to make the team...
  • Bledsoe notched a career-high 28 points against the Kings...
  • At 14-9 the Suns are off to their best start since the 2009-2010 season...

Previewing the Week Ahead:

Wednesday, December 18th vs. San Antonio Spurs (19-4)

Friday, December 20th @ Denver Nuggets (14-9)

Saturday, December 21st vs. Dallas Mavericks (14-10)

If the winning streak was the Suns statement that they have arrived, then this week will be a test to see how well they can stick around. All three match-ups will be against playoff teams and with two out of three at home they will have that advantage. Winning two out of three puts the Suns at 16-10, 3-0 at 17-9, and worst case if they fall back down to reality either 15-11 or 14-12.

This season the Suns are 0-1 against the Spurs, 1-0 against the Nuggets and have not played the Mavericks to date.

PHOENIX – Like a teenage boy with a cracking voice and wispy hair appearing on his chin, the Phoenix Suns went through an awkward growth period during the first quarter of the 2013-14 season....

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