Point guard Isaiah Thomas is a highly paid backup point guard, but he's been playing like the starter the Suns knew they signed this summer. Has he earned the starting spot?

Isaiah Thomas signed with the Phoenix Suns this past summer for just under $7 million per year for the next four years. When he signed, he knew he was not going to be a starter at point guard unless negotiations went sour with Eric Bledsoe.

But that doesn't mean he's conceded a starting position and accepted a bench role during the prime of his career. He would really prefer to start.

"That's my plan," said Thomas about starting to USAToday.com's Sam Amick. "Every day that I come in, that's what I want to do. That's been my mindset from Day One, since I was a little boy. I mean, everybody wants to be a starter. I'd be lying to you if I said it doesn't bother me that I don't start, but I'm going to do what's best for this team and continue to work, continue to be me, and hopefully one of these days my name is called and I'll be a starter and that's that. I can only do what I can control, and that's being me and giving it my all and the coach has got to do the rest."

The Thomas interview was part of a larger article emphasizing that players still put a negative stigma on being a bench player. He spoke to Manu Ginobili, who's been a bench player for much of the past decade for the Spurs, and Andre Iguodala, who just got moved to the bench this season starting every game in which he'd played.

"Guys are wired like that from a young age," Iguodala told USA TODAY Sports. "I mean I've been playing basketball since I was five, and you're just so used to just starting the game. Even when you're young, it's 'Starters vs. Scrubs.' That was kind of the (mentality).

"If a guy is in front of you, then it's like, 'Well the guy is in front of me so I've got to go get his job.' Really, in the NBA, it's 'I need to get paid like a starter.' A team is not going to say, 'I'm going to spend $10 million for a guy to come off the bench.' A team is not going to do that. Or it's very, very rare."

Luckily for Thomas, he already HAS been paid. He is being paid like a starter. And even more importantly, he is paid exactly what he was worth in free agency this summer at the time he signed his deal.

Thomas knows that. And he knew he was stepping into a role that had no guarantees.

"It is important to me," Thomas, at his introductory press conference this summer, said of being a starter. "But when it comes down to winning I'll do whatever it takes to win. I want to be on a winning team. I know I have a role. It's a big part of what's going on here. I'm all for it. At the end of the day we're going to play with each other no matter who starts and who comes off the bench it's about winning."

The Suns were candid with Thomas in July when they signed him, and in every conversation since then. Bledsoe and Dragic are still the starters. But Thomas is still a huge part of their plans.

"There's going to be two of those guys (Thomas, Dragic, Bledsoe) on the court at all times," Hornacek said. "When that happens, teams are going to really have to plan for that."

Thomas was still saying all the right things at Media Day, though he admitted he really didn't know how it would work out.

"You never really see three talented guards like us on the same team," he said. "That's Coach's problem. He has to play us. He has to figure out how he's going to play us. I don't (worry about it) because I can play different ways. I can have the ball; I can not have the ball. It doesn't really matter with me. I can play any way I like. I make adjustments (based on) who I'm on the floor with."

Even recently, Thomas said he and the coaching staff got on the same page.

"We had meetings (recently) with the coaches and the general manager, and they even said, 'On 29 other teams, you'd probably be starting, and it takes a lot to put your pride aside and do what's best for the team," Thomas told USA TODAY Sports. "I just know everything is subject to change. I mean, it's a long season. There are highs and lows."

Thomas has definitely made adjustments. While Eric Bledsoe has not shot the ball as well this season, he's got a fire-breathing mini-Dragon behind him trying to earn the starting spot.

  • Bledsoe: 13.8 points per game, 4.9 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 46.8% FG, 40% 3P, 104 O-Rtg, 106 D-Rtg, 30 minutes/game
  • Thomas: 17.4 points per game, 4.1 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 47% FG, 32% 3P, 122 O-Rtg, 108 D-Rtg, in 24 minutes/game

Thomas has been killing it, for sure. He's scoring like crazy and helping lead the Suns to victories in the last two games.

But has he earned a starting spot over Bledsoe? Not so fast.

Bledsoe provides a more well-rounded game and as soon as his mid-range shooting comes back around (23% from 3-16 feet vs. 40% last year) he will be back to his usual self on offense. He still needs to mature in terms of running a team (3.5 turnovers per game vs. 1.6 per game for Thomas), but his defense can be difference-making.

Until then, though, it's Thomas' show.

In the last two games, Thomas has played the entire fourth quarter of each as the Suns have overcome deficits of 8 points (Golden State) and 6 points (Brooklyn). Thomas' unit has outscored those teams a collective 70-36 score, with Thomas scoring 27 points and dishing 4 assists against 1 turnover. Thomas was particularly effective getting to the line, making 16 of 17 free throws in the two quarters.

Bledsoe has been supportive the entire time. After what looked like a pouting session in the opening week when he didn't get back in to the game during the big minutes, Bledsoe has been a model of support. He's up and cheering on the sideline, rooting his team on the entire time.

"The bench is definitely our key," Bledsoe said after the win over the Nets.

Bledsoe helped start the comeback against the Nets in the third quarter by playing tough D. The Suns began the third on an 18-4 run. Bledsoe scored 9 points (3-3 shooting, 2-2 on threes), grabbed three rebounds and dished one assist in the third. The entire team played solid D in the second half, where they only gave up 41 points on 27.5% shooting to the Nets.

"It all starts from the point guard," he said. "I just try to encourage my teammates to get it going a little bit."

He finished his post game comments with even more praise for Thomas and Gerald Green (who scored 28 points off the bench himself).

"Isaiah and Gerald have been great for us," Bledsoe said. "They've been coming in and finishing out fourth quarters and been doing a great job."

The Phoenix Suns (5-3) began the week with a heart-breaking loss, and ended it with a thrilling come-from-behind win. They have turned a two game losing streak into a two game winning streak and now...

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PHOENIX — Gerald Green found himself cooking once again on Wednesday night, leading the Suns back from a 19-point first-half deficit in a 112-104 win over the Brooklyn Nets. This year, Green is...

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RISE Network host Greg Esposito and Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Jon Bloom talk #SunsVsNets and P.J. Tucker stops by.

Here's what happened.

First Quarter

The Suns start the game with a miss from Markieff Morris jumper, but their defense on the Nets led to two missed baskets in a row on the other end.  Goran Dragic made a great assist to Keef for the easy dunk at the rim to get the first points of the game. Dragic also drove in for a beautiful basket on the next possession that hung on the rim...Plumlee tried to go for the put-back dunk a little too early as it was called for offensive interference.  For the Nets, Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams are the aggressors thus far, each with a couple of baskets in the first few minutes.

A couple of missed shots for the Suns early, and a turnover for a fast break by Joe Johnson at the other end give Brooklyn an early seven point lead, as the Nets are up 15-8 halfway through the first quarter.  Timeout Suns.  Markieff and Dragic scored a couple of baskets, but the Nets are getting good looks inside and extending the lead.  P.J. Tucker, Alex Len, and Anthony Tolliver enter the game for the Suns.  This didn't help matters though, as the Nets continue to extend the lead up to 14 points with two minutes remaining in the first quarter.  Suns are quickly losing control, and need to establish some type of rhythm in a hurry.

Isaiah Thomas enters for Dragic now, but even he missed his first shot.  The Suns have simply gone cold at the moment, and the Nets are showing no signs of slowing.  Isaiah does get the final shot of the quarter to go off of an aggressive take to the basket.

At the end of the first quarter, the Suns trail the Nets 29-17.  Markieff Morris is the leading scorer for Phoenix with 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist.  For the Nets, Bojan Bogdanovic leads with 9 points and 1 rebound.  The Suns are shooting 37% from the field, vs. 71% for Brooklyn.

Second Quarter

Isaiah Thomas gets the first bucket of the second quarter for the Suns, but it was quickly nullified by a basket from Jarrett Jack and Joe Johnson, and then a steal off a turnover for another fast-break basket by JJ.

The Suns still can't find the bottom of the rim. Thomas gets a quick steal and shoots a three but it misses, he then gets the offensive rebound and shoots it again from just inside the arc...but that misses too.  Uncharacteristically bad shooting from the Suns is causing them to fall further behind.  The Suns call timeout once again at the nine minute mark of the second quarter, already down 38-19.

Suns continuing to settle for jump-shots instead of getting to the rim, and tonight, they just aren't going.  Gerald Green suddenly got going though, hitting back to back three's and getting to the foul line as well.  He is the hot hand for Phoenix, and they need to find him right now.  Green missed a three on the next possession, but got fouled in the process.  Three FT's for Green, and he makes all three of them.

Suns trying to claw their way back into this game, slowly but surely.  Now down 37-45 after cutting the lead to just eight off of a P.J. Tucker fast break and-one.  Gerald Green is playing inspired, and giving the rest of the team energy as they feed off of his play.  The Suns are starting to go back and forth with the Nets again though.  They can't allow Brooklyn to score at the other end if they want to cut this lead down more before the half.  Gerald Green still taking over the work load for Phoenix, and getting to the line if he can't get an open shot.  The Suns are fighting valiantly to get back in the game, but the Nets are hitting big shots to stay ahead.  Joe Johnson drives down the court to score a fast break basket st the end of the first half to put the Nets back up by 14.

At the end of the first half, the Suns trail the Nets 63-49.   Gerald Green is the leading scorer for Phoenix with 18 points, 1 rebound.  For the Nets, Brook Lopez leads with 16 points and 3 rebounds  The Suns are shooting 40% from the field, vs. 71% for Brooklyn.  Nets are leading in rebounding 11-8.

Third Quarter

The Suns started the third quarter with a miss, then a make by Marcus Morris on the next possession.  Eric Bledsoe made one of the best drives to the basket he made all year to get to the rim for a lay-up.  Hopefully that gets him going.  The Suns took advantage of a couple of Nets turnovers and missed shots to shorten the lead.  Miles Plumlee made a great block on Brook Lopez inside which led to a Dragic three.  The Suns are down only five now with nine minutes to go in the third quarter.  Timeout Nets.

The Suns are definitely tightening up on defense now...finally.  They are starting to go after the Nets and frustrate the ball handler, bothering them on every possession. This is when the Suns are at their best.  They have cut the lead to just three.  Let's see if they can continue.

Phoenix continues to play aggressive, but they are still missing some easy looks to keep the Nets in the lead, but just barely.  Bledsoe makes a three point shot to tie the game, briefly, before the Nets answer back.  It's neck-and-neck now.  Suns foul Joe Johnson on a three point shot that he misses, but he makes all three FT's.  Alex Len is quietly affecting the game by playing solid defense inside.  Bledsoe is coming alive for the Suns now after an almost invisible first half.  He now has 11 points, nine of which have come in the third quarter.  Everytime Phoenix seems primed to make their move and take over, they have a sloppy possession or a bad shot.  Suns still not playing sharply on offense with the consistency they need to win this game.

At the end of the third quarter the Suns trail the Nets 84-78.   Gerald Green is the leading scorer for Phoenix with 18 points, 1 rebound.  For the Nets, Joe Johnson leads with 18 points and 5 rebounds, 2 assists.  The Suns are shooting 48% from the field, vs. 59% for Brooklyn.  Suns are leading in rebounding 32-28.

Fourth Quarter

The Suns begin the fourth and final quarter with an aggressive drive by Marcus Morris going in for the dunk that was rejected at the rim by Mason Plumlee.  The Suns missed their first few shots, but finally got on the board with a huge dunk by Len off a Green assist under the rim.  Green turned the ball over, but made up for it with a steal and a fast break drive against two defenders for the and-one.  He now has 21 points.  Dragic missed a three that had the crowd ready to erupt, but he missed and the Nets get the basket at the other end...They are back up by five.  Plumlee left Garnett open a little too long and he made him pay.  Nets pulling back away again.  Timeout Phoenix.

Defensive intensity will be the key to seeing if the Suns can get back into the lead and get this win.  They have shown it at times, but had lapses that have costed them big.  Suns still hanging around and appear ready to strike, but can they put it all together at the right time?

It's now or never time, as Phoenix is still down one with just over six minutes remaining.  They keep closing the gap just to allow Brooklyn to open it back up.  They need consistency now.

Just like that the Suns are able to take the lead off of a Green jumper, and then get a stop, only to turn the ball over on offense again.  Isaiah Thomas hit a beautiful floater to push the lead to three, and then an aggressive drive and foul where he was able to hit both FT's.  Suns now up five with four minutes remaining.

The Suns once again turn the ball over at a critical time and then Green fouls Bojan to send him to the line.  Suns can't continue to make these mistakes against a steady, veteran team like the Nets.  The Suns have energy and young legs on their side though, and seem determined to stay in the lead.

Back and forth they go, and Deron Williams hits a big three for the Nets to cut the Suns lead down to four with 29 seconds to go.  Now it's all about making your free throws.

They do...and they earn a hard fought win in the end.

Game Over, Suns Win!

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