NBA trading season is underway and teams are trying to snipe off one or more of the Phoenix Suns three starting quality point guards before the February deadline.
The Suns have started poorly this season - 14-14 overall despite an easy slate of opponents - while Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe have all made mention at various times of the need to "sacrifice" their games for the sake of the current point-guard-glutted roster.
By far, the leaders in the sacrifice club are Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. Dragic is playing much more off the ball than ever before with a career-low in usage rate, while Thomas is playing a career-low in minutes per game as the backup among the three.
Not helping matters is that Thomas is a bit hobbled by an ankle sprain while Dragic has a tight back that limits his effectiveness on occasion, including Saturday's early game against the New York Knicks.
Blame has been vehemently levied at coach Jeff Hornacek for not shaping the offense around All-NBA player Goran Dragic from day one, even while Dragic is nursing a sore back, and for not finding a way to make all the players play as hard as they did a year ago.
Blame has also been levied at Isaiah Thomas for dominating the ball during his few minutes of designated playing time, despite the extension of those minutes being entirely dependent on his effectiveness that night on a play by play basis. Thomas has always been a score-first point guard, so when you tell him the only way he will get extra time is playing great, he's going to chuck it.
And finally, blame has been levied at Eric Bledsoe for being Eric Bledsoe. He's quiet and just plays the game the way he knows how, but somehow still gets rated poorly by fans even after double-doubles in winning contests. Nitpicking is fun, isn't it? In fact, I think some great philosopher once said the key to a happy existence is to nitpick everything and anything that doesn't jive with your latest narrative. Or not.
For good reason (mostly), none of the blame has been levied at All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic. He's been the victim in this scenario, asked to play off the ball more than at any time in his career while the other two run the show most of the time.
Still, Dragic has been quite effective. He leads the team in scoring per game (16.0), the second highest scoring output of his career, and is pulling down the most rebounds per game of his career (3.3), while shooting the best 2-point percentage of his career (55.1%) and playing the second-most minutes on the team (32.4, behind Bledsoe's 32.9).
His usage rate is the second-highest of his career (22.0%, a measure of how many of the team's plays are used by Dragic while he is on the floor). Dragic's 22% usage rate is higher this year than 2012-13 when he was a full time point guard, and higher than every season except last year, when he was the team's only point guard for half the season.
But how he's using his touches is different this year. Dragic's assists are way down. His 4.1 assists per game are the lowest since he became a regular, and his assist rate (21.1%, a measure of how many of his teammates field goals are assisted by him when he's on the court) is the lowest since his rookie season. That means a greater percentage of his touches are ending in a shot attempt than ever before in his career.
So, he's now a shooting guard who moonlights as an opportunistic passer when he gets the chance. Is that what you do with your All-NBA combo guard from last season?
Maybe. Maybe not. Certainly, Dragic would prefer to have the ball in his hands at all times, and that could play a part in his free agent decision in July.
Already, other teams are lining up to acquire his services and they don't even want to wait until July to nab him.
Multiple teams already are inquiring as to what it would take to break up the Suns' three-guard rotation of Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas -- with Dragic, a prospective free agent, garnering the most attention. Coincidentally, executives have gotten the impression that Dragic is the one Phoenix would most like to keep if they do, indeed, decide to make a move.
--Ken Berger, CBSSports.com
According to Berger, teams want Dragic but the Suns don't want to trade him.
Dragic, for his part, has decided not to burn any bridges (just as any impending free agent would do).
"Right now, I'm going to be 100 percent focused on the team and helping the team," said Dragic of trade rumors, in the CBSSports.com article. "... If it's going to happen, then it happens. The only thing that I can do is be professional and try to be ready every game and help my teammates. In the end, we're going to see."
That position - keeping Dragic above all others - is entirely consistent with everything the Suns have done to this point, not the least of which was signing his brother Zoran Dragic to a guaranteed multi-year contract last offseason despite the logjam at guard that already existed.
The Suns want to keep Dragic, and they want to keep his Bird Rights in order to be able to outbid any other teams next July.
Still, Dragic fans worry about their player. They want the Suns to succeed with Dragic at the helm and will eschew anyone who gets in the way, including Bledsoe, Thomas and Hornacek. For evidence, just look at the post-game grades given to each player, regardless of wins and losses. Bledsoe often gets failing grades even when he was a great night.
Sadly, some Dragic fans might even prefer Dragic on another NBA team as the lead guard rather than see him "suffer" on the Suns as a secondary (yet still leading scorer) option.
For those interested, here's an interview from yesterday. My guess is that no matter where you lean, you'll hear what you want to hear in his words.
I, for one, hear someone who's just trying to be nice, not burn any bridges, make everyone happy and will ultimately re-sign with the Suns in July.
I've interviewed Dragic about 100 times in the past three years. He's always engaging and considerate of the questions asked, and he never burns bridges.