No one knows quite what to make of the Phoenix Suns' three-headed guard rotation.
No one knows quite what to make of mad scientist Ryan McDonough's image of an NBA team. As General Manager of the Phoenix Suns, he has invested heavily in point guards - moreso than any team in recent or long-term memory. He inherited Goran Dragic, traded for Eric Bledsoe, drafted Tyler Ennis in the first round and signed Isaiah Thomas this summer.
Even their own players are a bit skeptical.
"Who knows," Isaiah Thomas said to the media just before training camp. "We'll see how it works out."
That skepticism is prevalent all over the NBA. Veteran point guard Tony Parker - who physically profiles perfectly with the Suns contingent, and has had super-sub Manu Ginobili for more than a decade - is scratching his head too.
"I thought maybe Phoenix didn't know if Bledsoe was going to stay so they're just assuming and signed Thomas," Parker said. "Now they have three good point guards so it's going to be tough. They're going to play with a lot of guards. There's going to be a lot of pick-and-rolls and it's going to be hard to guard them."
This after Parker watched the three-headed monster score 51 points against his depleted team, including an 11-2 run while sharing the floor late in the first half.
Why the skepticism? The NBA has always found a three-headed guard rotation to be beneficial. Golden State has enjoyed good third-guy play Jarrett Jack two years ago, and signed Shawn Livingston to a big deal this offseason because they miss that threat off the bench. The Spurs have had Manu Ginobili coming off the bench for a decade. The Clippers rely on Jamal Crawford.
Thomas should strive to be to the Suns what Crawford is to the Clippers. The 6'6" Crawford is a part-time playmaker, most-time shooter who annually ranks highly on the Sixth Man of the Year tote board.
Crawford has made as much as $10 million in a season on the back of a Sixth Man award in 2009-10, and then won it again last season for the Clippers. He hasn't started regularly since 2008-09, yet has earned 30 minutes per game while scoring 17 points and dishing three assists. He gets his 30 because he spots at PG and SG seamlessly, and can work alongside the starters or bench players.
With Jack, Ginobili and Crawford as perfect examples, why such skepticism of the Suns paying Isaiah Thomas $6 million per year to fill a similar role?
Thomas scores in bunches and is a better passer than any of them, while his defense is no worse.
It could be a size issue. Jack is a burly 6'3" and had 6'8" Klay Thompson alongside him much of the time. Ginobili and Crawford are both 6'6".
None of three guards in the three-man Suns weave is over 6'3", so the universe only thinks of them as point guards. Goran Dragic is the biggest of the three at 6'3" which is great for a point guard but undersized for a shooting guard. Eric Bledsoe is 6'1", but like Thomas that's only on tall days. In their preseason picture with 4th point guard Tyler Ennis, who measured just a few months ago at 6'2" in shoes, Bledsoe is clearly more than an inch shorter than Ennis.
But does size really matter?
All three can score in bunches from anywhere on the floor. All three can set up their teammates. All three get out in transition on makes and misses, and can create turnovers in the opponents' back court to open the game even further.
On the defensive end, all three Suns guards can control their man on the perimeter. Bledsoe, especially, is a vice grip on opposing guards. Dragic has better athleticism and lateral movement than most give him credit for. Neither was abused by the opponent. In fact, together they helped the Suns play excellent defense, going 23-11 with a plus-9.4 point differential per 100 possessions.
With Thomas rotating in, you might worry about a decline in defense. But Thomas has good lateral quickness himself. He mitigates his size disadvantage with quickness and when he's locked in he can be a real pest. He's no downgrade from last year's backup guards on that end: Gerald Green and Ish Smith.
Forget the size issue. Forget that Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas all profile as point guards because they are relatively short by NBA standards and know how to pass a ball.
They are going to be deadly together. Let the NBA players, coaches and front offices keep scratching their heads. The more they scratch, the more the Suns will run over their team in an 82-game schedule.
The key to making the playoffs is to win games. The key to winning games is to create mismatches you can win.
No one else will be playing the way the Suns play, so opponents won't be ready for them on most nights. It's an 82-game schedule with very little preparation by the players from game to game. When the Suns show them a different look, they won't be able to handle it.
It's all about that mismatch.