This summer, the Phoenix Suns did not sign any free agents. Not one. For the first time in, like, forever, an NBA team refused to take the bait of filling a hole with an overpriced, veteran NBA free agent.

Free agency has been the lifeblood of NBA since its inception in the late 80s, especially the Phoenix Suns. In fact, it was the Phoenix Suns who signed the NBA's first ever free agent in the summer of 1988. Tom Chambers, 29 at the time, signed a long-term contract on July 1 to help shape a Suns renaissance that lasted nearly a decade.

But this summer, despite owning the worst roster - top to bottom - in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns refused to stem the tide by signing a free agent in their prime who could potentially lead the Suns to the playoffs.

Instead, the Suns sat out the spending frenzy and traded veterans for youth and draft picks. They now will approach training camp with 15 players on guaranteed contracts totaling about $52 million dollars, 10 of whom are on rookie contracts.

I know what you did last summer

The Suns entered the summer with about $7 million in cap space, two first-round picks and nine guaranteed contracts for next season. Of the 9 players already under contract, only three were on cap-friendly rookie deals. The Suns only free agents were minor players - Wesley Johnson, Shannon Brown, Hamed Haddadi, Jermaine O'Neal and Diante Garrett. Everyone else was a veteran on free-agent/market-rate deals.

On the surface, there wasn't much to work with. Their cap space was barely larger than a midlevel deal - the worst contract in basketball, but one dotted all over the Suns veteran roster.

Enter new GM Ryan McDonough

"Walking in there, the main thing I wanted to do is upgrade the talent," said McDonough to the Boston Globe recently. "And do it in a fashion that was sustainable for the long term. I didn't want to try to take any shortcuts or try any quick fixes."

McDonough leaves his first summer having brought in nine new players, exporting seven. In the end, 10 of 15 roster spots for 2013-14 are occupied up by cap-friendly rookie deals with the promise of three more coming next summer.

All that maneuvering leaves the Suns in the same spot they started - with just under $7 million in cap space - but with a much younger roster.

Next summer is different

On the surface, the Suns are set up quite nicely for the 2014 off season. The Suns will enter next summer with

Next off season, the Suns have committed guaranteed money to only three veterans (Goran Dragic, Channing Frye, Gerald Green), totaling $17.8 million. Every other contract is a rookie-slotted contract. Alex Len and Archie Goodwin are guaranteed $4.8 million total, while 9 other players are on either team options (4), qualifying offers (4) or non-guaranteed money (1).

Assuming the Suns keep the four kids on their cap-friendly team options - Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Kendall Marshall and Miles Plumlee - around another year (I know, a big leap) and draft three more first-rounders next summer, they project to have about $22-24 million in cap room.

But some big names are free agents this time. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony could all unrestricted. DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors and Greg Monroe could all be restricted. Every one would get a max deal in this NBA.

From the Suns perspective, Marcin Gortat, Eric Bledsoe (restricted), Vyacheslav Kravtsov (restricted), Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee and P.J. Tucker all become free agents. Gortat, Brown, Lee and Tucker will be unrestricted, meaning the Suns don't have the right to keep them just by matching someone else's offer.

How to spend $22-24 million?

One option is to re-sign Eric Bledsoe and Marcin Gortat to market-rate free agent deals.

Bledsoe will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Suns can simply let the market dictate his price and match whatever offer he gets. According to Amin Elhassan, formerly as Asst Director of Basketball Ops for the Suns, Bledsoe is worth roughly $8 million a year right now. If he plays very well next season, that number could rise to as much as $13 million per year.

Gortat will be a 30-year old veteran center who is still in his prime as a player, and likely still better than Alex Len, Miles Plumlee and Kravtsov put together. If the Suns want to make the playoffs in 2014-15, they will need a veteran center who is healthy and productive enough to play 82 games at 30+ minutes per game. Per Elhassan, Gortat should command about $8.3 million per year as an unrestricted free agent.

Amin Elhassan  ranks Gortat and Bledsoe as the 17th and 19th best free agents available next summer. The players ahead of Gortat are largely restricted free agents from the 2010 draft (meaning, won't be available just for money) or over-the-hill, overpaid stars. Oh, and LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony too.

Elhassan, on Gortat at 17: Stuck in Dwight Howard's shadow to start his career in Orlando, Gortat was a player we targeted in 2010 when I was a member of the Suns' front office. We knew he was a tremendous rebounder, something we desperately needed at the time, and felt he was underused on the offensive end. Since coming to the Suns, Gortat has continued to clean the glass and shown that he's a good finisher with great timing in pick-and-roll situations with either hand. Additionally, he has exhibited better-than-expected touch from about 15 feet. On the flip side, he's not a creative scorer in the post and lacks the ability to carve out space or improve post position. He's also an average defensive player.

Gortat has, at times, an overinflated sense of who he is as a player, but he's still a very solid option as a starting center, especially if paired with an elite power forward. Plus, he's probably been one of the most appropriately salaried players in the league. A three-year, $25 million deal (AAV: $8.3 million) would continue to give him raises over his past salary while maintaining affordability.

Elhassan, on Bledsoe at 19: Bledsoe can look at his time in Los Angeles two ways -- either he was held back by lack of playing time behind Chris Paul or he was saved from overexposure. Either way, we'll find out whether he is indeed the star talent many have speculated he is (including LeBron James, who is represented by the same agent) this season, as Bledsoe will get a ton of minutes playing for the rebuilding Suns. He's an elite athlete at the point guard position, and an explosive scorer out of pick-and-rolls, but he still needs to show the ability to run a team offense. Defensively, he has all the tools to be a terrific on-ball defender but needs to bring more consistency, particularly in weakside rotations.

Phoenix has until Oct. 31 to extend Bledsoe's contract, and it's actually in both parties' best interests to do just that: The catch is they'll each have different valuations. Based on comparable point guard deals signed this offseason (Brandon Jennings' three years, $24 million and Jeff Teague's four years, $32 million), an appropriate valuation would be four years, $32 million (AAV: $8 million).

Elhassan projects those two to make $16.3 million between them. If Bledsoe plays well, his number will rise. Signing those two guys alone might eat up most of the Suns money, leaving only the dreaded midlevel equivalent for a new player.

Of course, I don't expect this exact scenario to happen. The Suns will make more trades between now and then, shifting the landscape even more.

Yet, it's interesting to note that just KEEPING THE TEAM TOGETHER would take almost the entire salary cap to do.

For his part, McDonough has more tricks up his sleeve than simply re-signing the guys he already has.

"One of the exciting parts about the job," he said to the Globe. "With the draft-pick situation, with the salary-cap situation and the market, being an attractive destination, I can see a pretty clear path to get the team to the level that fans are used to in a couple of years, without having to try to rebuild forever."

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The Internet has created a vortex in which opinions, takes, and thoughts are dismissed as "hating," trolling," or some other black and white, close-minded jargon. Asking questions has become faux pas to the point where surface value concepts are taken and accepted as full truths.

Take Michael Beasley, who has a combination of both apologists and detractors.

There have been plenty of apologists that want Beasley to make it because he is a good guy in general. Nobody speaks ill of Beasley the person, but Beasley the player, that has been a different story since his jump from the NCAA to the NBA.

It is easy to dismiss Beasley as a lost cause who is a cancerous element in the locker room that has regressed in terms of on court impact year-after-year. The latter may be true, and in fact it can be proven with a simple glance over the metrics. However, the problem with Beasley has always been about the internal factors that are widely ignored when discussing his issues and future. His talent and issues are discussed ad nauseam. He has made numerous mistakes over the years. There is no questioning that. Those are again, facts.

Over the years Beasley has been given chance after chance to "turn things around" when a chance to actually turn things around might have been all that he actually needed.

The pressures of the NBA were known almost immediately for Beasley, from Frederick, Maryland to getting shipping off to Manhattan (Kansas) and eventually to South Beach to play in the NBA for the Miami Heat. Before his second season in the league he checked himself into rehab for psychological (and potential drug) issues. He checked himself in rehab. The NBA requires a minimum of 30 days in a facility for drug related issues, which is a proverbial drop in the bucket for the reported issues he was having.

What was wrong with Beasley taking a few months, or even a year, to get his mental faculties in order?

In an interview Beasley's father, Michael Sr., referenced pressures of being a father and playing in the NBA that were weighing on his son's shoulders. Those are all excuses, but both valid reasons for Beasley to take proper time to get his life on track. Channing Frye just took a year off of basketball for a heart issue that is diagnosable. For Beasley, his issues are not. Everything comes full circle as he signed with the Heat, nearly six years after they drafted him No. 2 Overall in the 2008 NBA Draft. The training camp contract will allow Beasley to compete for a roster spot and a chance to play for a team that does not need his services.

A training camp invite is far from "battling for rotation minutes and shots," but regardless Beasley is offered another chance. It is another chance, ironically, from the team that originally should have given Beasley the opportunity to step away from basketball, like he could (should) be doing this summer.

There are numerous examples of stars that rose too fast, fell from grace, and never recovered because they did not take the time to put their lives in perspective.

Many of them were unable to get back on track, but the few who did, had to go through a period longer than 30 days to resolve their issues. Is Beasley a drug addict? Unlikely. Is Beasley a manically depressed individual that needs counseling and closed door therapy? Again, unlikely and another extreme conclusion, but he has displayed the symptoms of being somewhere in the middle.

Robert Downey Jr. is a very similar example to where Beasley is at today. He has a different medium, but both are celebrities with similar pressures and doors open to them to make mistakes.

As individual amateurs in their medium Beasley is the equivalent to a star in The Mickey Mouse Club and Downey Jr. would have been a McDonald's All-American on the hardwood. They each have talent and displayed it at a young age, despite what Mark Deeks writes here on the myth of Beasley's talent. Talent is not the question. They each have (had) it. The one advantage that someone like Downey Jr. had was that he saw his bottom, reached it, admitted he was there, and then spent years to get his mental faculties in a position to turn his potential into tangible results.

Getting away from the art can ultimately be the best tool for the artist. In Beasley's case, getting off the court for a year, or as long as it takes, might be better than two-a-day practices and shooting jumpers. After five training camps basketball might not be the answer. It is the easy answer, but those are not always the right answers. It has been nonstop basketball for the better part of a decade for Beasley; some change in that routine might benefit Beasley the person.

Is Beasley capable of making the jump from hyped prep star to disappointment and then to superstar?

Nobody thinks that Beasley is a few years in rehab away from having his Tony Stark moment and taking over the NBA once back. That is not the point.

As this hits full circle with Beasley finding his way back to the Heat for training camp the question is whether this is a responsible decision by him, his circle, and the team. It is clear that 30 days in rehab did not do the proper justice for Beasley. It is clear a move to Minnesota and a change of scenery was not the answer. The exclamation point was added when a big contract, opportunity to star again, and all the coddling one person could ask for was not enough to tap into that talent.

Beasley is not the Tony Stark to LeBron James' Hulk, Dwyane Wade's Captain America, and Chris Bosh's Thor in this scenario. This is not an apologist take on Beasley or another "hater" launching bullets from a cap gun with no meaning. This is just the question that needs to be asked that is not being asked.

Is this the responsible decision for Beasley and the Heat or should he be focusing on himself away from basketball?

Time will tell but as the pattern has shown over the years, there is not a situation that has benefited Beasley the person, the player, or given him what he needs to be successful. The solution could be as far away from basketball as possible.

More from Bright Side Of The Sun:

Former Phoenix Suns forward Michael Beasley will sign a non-guaranteed deal to join the Miami Heat in training camp, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel. A source told Winderman that Miami...

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It is not just that the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers are in the same division and have to play each other four times a year, they are also making moves that make sense with each other. They are helping each other out. They are almost acting jovial with each other.

How is this happening?

The teams orchestrated a trade with one another to help improve the Clippers shooting (one of their biggest weaknesses) while sending the Suns a dynamic, young, athletic prospect -- three of the biggest weaknesses for the team last year.

Steve Perrin from ClipsNation joined the podcast this week to preview the Clippers and the lofty expectations they have. Through all the drama, trades, and moves made by the team; are they better and ready to contend for a Championship? The Clippers have great thing going with star talent, hope, have a winning culture, and are becoming a model franchise.

How did that happen?

Click here to listen to the podcast: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 37 with Steve Perrin

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First things first: credit for the "DragonBlade" nickname goes to none other than...DragonBlade (the artist formerly known as BringBackBarkley17).

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Much has been written about the Phoenix Suns' new starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Both are typically classified as point guards but have the versatility to play the off guard spot as well. They're athletic speed demons that thrive in the open floor and play tough, high-octane basketball. In fact, nearly a fifth of each player's total number of offensive plays were in transition. We can expect that number to rise in Jeff Hornacek's offense.

While we salivate over the thought of DragonBlade-led fast-breaks, we mustn't forget that there's this whole "defense" thing the Suns must play as well. There are many concerns about the success this new backcourt will have defensively, primarily because both players are point guards that may be undersized to play at the two-guard full-time. First and foremost, let's address this notion that the Dragic-Bledsoe back-court is "undersized."

The following is a list of the (projected) starting shooting guards for every Western Conference team, along with their heights, weights, and wingspans:

Western Conference Starting Shooting Guard Sizes
Name Team Height w/shoes (inches) Weight (lbs.) Wingspan (inches)
Monta Ellis Dallas 75.25 185 74.75
James Harden Houston 77.25 220 82.75
Tony Allen Memphis 76.25 213 81
Eric Gordon New Orleans 75.25 215 81
Manu Ginobili San Antonio 78 205 N/A
Randy Foye Denver 75.25 213 78.25
Kevin Martin Minnesota 79 185 N/A
Wesley Matthews Portland 77.25 220 80.25
Thabo Sefolosha Oklahoma City 79 215 86
Gordon Hayward Utah 80 210 79.75
Klay Thompson Golden State 79.25 205 81
JJ Redick LA Clippers 76.75 190 75.25
Kobe Bryant LA Lakers 78 205 83
Ben McLemore Sacramento 76.75 195 79.75
AVERAGES: 6'5.375" 205.429 lbs. 6'8.229"
Goran Dragic 6'4" 190 lbs. 6'7"
Eric Bledsoe 73.5 195 lbs. 6'7.5"

As can be seen above, the Suns' backcourt is undersized relative to Western Conference shooting guards, but not by much. Goran Dragic, the likelier of the Suns' two starting guards to defend opposing twos, is just over an inch shorter than the average shooting guard in the west and his wingspan is also only an inch shorter. On the other hand, Eric Bledsoe is significantly shorter than the average shooting guard but his phenomenal wingspan more than makes up for his lack of height. The biggest size-related weakness of this backcourt is in the weight category: the average Western Conference shooting guard is about 15 lbs. heavier than Dragic and 10 lbs. heavier than Bledsoe.

The average Western Conference shooting guard is about one inch taller, one inch longer, and 15 lbs. heavier than Goran Dragic.


Now that we've highlighted the physical differences between the Suns' starting guards and the rest of the starting two-guards in the Western Conference, let's turn our attention to analyzing the actual defensive abilities of Dragic and Bledsoe. The crux of this analysis will focus on their abilities to defend opposing off-guards. The stats used in this article are from last season (2012-13) and all advanced stats are courtesy of Synergy and Basketball-reference.com, unless otherwise mentioned. Explanations of any statistical terms mentioned can be found on this page.

Before we analyze Dragic and Bledsoe's off-ball defense, here are a few quick notes about their on-ball defense:

-Eric Bledsoe is a ball-hawk. When defending pick & roll ball-handlers (the most common defensive play for point guards), he held opponents to just 0.71 points per possession (PPP), which is a great figure. Dragic was a pedestrian defender of pick & roll ball-handlers, yielding 0.89 PPP.

-On the other hand, Dragic was better than Bledsoe at defending isolation plays, giving up a decent 0.85 PPP, while Bledsoe surrendered 0.93 PPP. Bledsoe's opponents actually shot a worse percentage on isolation plays (39.7%) than the players Dragic defended (40.7%), but the reason for his higher PPP figure is that Bledsoe fouled isolation players at a much higher rate (13.2% of the time compared to Dragic's 5.2% foul rate on isolation plays). Bledsoe is a very aggressive defender, which often gets him into trouble (we will see this later on as well).

-Both Bledsoe and Dragic are adept at playing the passing lanes and creating turnovers. Bledsoe's STL% of 3.7% was third highest in the league last year among those who played at least 800 minutes (behind Ricky Rubio and Chris Paul). Dragic's 2.5 STL% was good for top 20 in the league.

-Bledsoe is an unbelievably good shot-blocker for his size and position. Take a look at this list of players 6'8" and under (with at least 800 minutes played) ranked in order of BLK%. Bledsoe's 3.0 BLK% is third on that list, easily ahead of any other guard and even above like Kenneth Faried, Tristan Thompson, and Lebron James. Let's note once again that the dude is just over 6 feet. Wow.

Haven't had enough defensive stats yet? As I mentioned, the focus of this study is to analyze Dragic and Bledsoe's off-ball defense. I'll focus on three main types of plays: post-up defense, spot-up defense, and off-screen defense. I've watched hundreds of such plays and have noticed a few patterns in their defensive habits I will ultimately highlight.

Post-up Defense

Goran Dragic

One might think Dragic would struggle defending post-up plays, especially against bigger players. However, Dragic was very good defending the post last year and displayed strong defensive instincts while using his underrated strength. The sample size is a bit small - he defended just 34 total post-ups in 2012-13 - but Dragic held opponents to just 0.71 PPP and 37.9 FG% in this category, while not fouling even a single time. Let's take a look at two plays to see why he's so successful at guarding the post.

Goran Dragic defending James Harden post-up

1) Here, James Harden posts up Goran Dragic near the baseline. Note that Harden has about 25 lbs. on Dragic:

Dragic_def

2) Dragic manages to hold his ground and actually forces Harden towards the middle and actually away from the basket:

Dragic_def

3) Harden ends up in the middle of the paint and puts up a wild turnaround jumper, which Dragic contests. Result: missed shot.

Dragic_def

Eric Bledsoe

Although he wasn't quite as great as Dragic, Bledsoe also proved to be a good post-play defender in a limited sample size. In just 24 total post-up plays, Bledsoe yielded 0.79 PPP on 42.9 FG%, and had a pretty high foul rate of 16.7%. Because he's built like a tank and has a ridiculous wingspan, Bledsoe is actually quite capable of defending larger players in the post. However, his aggressive defense sometimes gets him into trouble in this category, as can be seen in the following play.

Eric Bledsoe defending Eric Gordon post-up

1) In this play, Eric Gordon (who has a 1.5 in. longer wingspan and weighs 20 lbs. more) posts up Bledsoe in almost the exact same spot as the Harden-Dragic play above.

Bledsoe_def

2) Unlike Dragic, who held his stance and forced Harden away from the basket, Bledsoe overaggressively attacks the ball and completely opens up the baseline for him.

Bledsoe_def

3) With a clear path to the hoops, Gordon attacks the rim and Bledsoe has no choice but to foul him from behind in order to stop the easy dunk. Result: foul

Bledsoe_def

Spot-up Defense

Goran Dragic

The raw stats will tell you that Dragic is an average spot-up defender. He surrendered 0.99 PPP on 40.7 FG% on 139 total plays. However, it should be noted that he played on a Phoenix Suns team that was absolutely abysmal on defense. Guarding spot-up shooters requires good team communication and strong rotations on defense, which the Suns definitely did not have. The following play illustrates this perfectly.

Goran Dragic defending Klay Thompson spot-up shot

1) In this play, Dragic is seen defending David Lee, who has the ball. The Suns' team defense is already in limbo here: both Luis Scola and Michael Beasley can be seen guarding the same player in the purple circle below. Jared Dudley is marking Klay Thompson but has to rotate to the top of the key to an open Steph Curry, which means that someone else (Gortat) needs to rotate out to the wing to defend Thompson.

Dragic_def

2) Due to a miscommunication, both Dudley and Dragic rotate to Steph Curry, who now has the ball and is about to swing it to Klay Thompson, who remains open because no one else rotated out to him.

Dragic_def

3) Dragic does his best to try and reach Thompson but he's too late. Notice how much ground Dragic has covered in this play from starting out on Lee, then rotating to Curry, then sprinting to Thompson. Meanwhile, Beasley is literally in the exact same spot that he was in when the play started. Terrible team defense resulted in this broken play and an easy open shot for Klay Thompson. Result: made 3-pointer.

Dragic_def

Eric Bledsoe

Defensive possession stats reveal Bledsoe to also be an average spot-up defender. Although he was on a much stronger defensive team than Dragic was last year, he gave up slightly more points on these plays: 1.02 PPP on 40.8 FG%. He actually defended a significantly greater number of spot-up plays that Dragic did (199 compared to Goran's 139) because he played a good deal of his minutes alongside Chris Paul. Bledose's off-ball defensive strengths are his phenomenal speed and athleticism, but he does often get caught watching the ball and sometimes ends up falling asleep when he's off the ball. The following play illustrates this weakness while also highlighting his remarkable physical attributes.

Eric Bledsoe defending Goran Dragic spot-up shot

1) Here, Bledsoe is seen defending his now partner-in-crime Goran Dragic on the near side of the court while PJ Tucker has the ball at the top of the key.

Bledsoe_def

2) Bledsoe gets caught watching the ball as it moves on the far side of the court and doesn't notice that Dragic is sliding over to the corner.

Bledsoe_def

3) The ball swings cross-court and lands in the hands of the open Goran Dragic. Bledsoe actually does a very good job of running back to contest the shot but he's just a fraction of a second too late as Dragic gets off his shot. Result: made 3-pointer.

Bledsoe_def

Off-screen Defense

Goran Dragic

This is a definite area of weakness for Goran Dragic's defensive abilities. For some reason, he seems to have trouble fighting through screens to get to his defender and his struggles are most apparent when he's dealing with off-ball screens. On plays that he defended guys coming off (off-ball) screens, Dragic gave up 0.98 PPP 42.1% shooting. Once again, it's important to note that clear team communication is absolutely essential for good defense, and this is especially true when defending screens. Dragic's troubles defending screens might have been accentuated by a lack of help from his teammates. In any case, the following play showcases his off-screen defensive issues.

Goran Dragic defending Chris Paul off screens

1) In this play, Dragic is defending Chris Paul at the top of the key while the ball is in Willie Green's hands on the far side of the court. Paul will force Dragic to chase him through a series of screens.

Dragic_def

2) Here, Paul has made his way down to the baseline and is getting ready to go through another screen as he goes back up near the top of the key, already having created a bit of separation between Dragic and himself. Meanwhile, the ball has rotated to Blake Griffin on the left elbow.

Dragic_def

3) Paul makes his way to the right elbow and has a wide open shot after receiving a pass from Griffin. Dragic gets caught on a Deandre Jordan Screen near the free throw line and finds himself not several feet away from Chris Paul. No chance. Result: made shot

Dragic_def

Eric Bledsoe

Eric Bledose is an even worse defender off-screens than Dragic. Playing on a much better defensive team last year, he surrendered 1.08 PPP on 45.8 FG% to players coming off screens. To find a reason for his surprisingly bad off-screen defense, we can once again look at his overaggressiveness and tendency to watch the ball and lose track of his man. The following play is a great example of this weakness.

Eric Bledsoe defending Lou Williams off screens

1) At the beginning of this play, we see Bledsoe covering Lou Williams very well off the ball at the top of the key.

Bledsoe_def

2) As Williams slides over to the right wing, Bledsoe decides to leave him and aggressively attack the ball, which is promptly passed to another Hawks player.

Bledsoe_def

3) By the time Bledsoe realizes his man is wide open and runs after him, Williams slides back up to the top of the key and hides behind a screen set by his teammate, which Bledsoe can't get around. This play is a direct result of Bledsoe leaving his man to instead try and steal the ball when he really didn't have a great chance to. Result: made shot.

Bledsoe_def

Conclusions

Having gone through a lot of data and screencaps, it's time to summarize the findings (essentially a TL;DR section):

1) Both Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic are good overall defenders. They have strong physical attributes that enable them to defend well and both provide great effort and hustle out on the floor. However, they definitely have some weaknesses that will be tough to hide as they play alongside one another.

2) Eric Bledsoe should primarily defend opposing point guards, while Dragic should defend shooting guards. Pick-and-roll defense is one of Bledsoe's fortes, mainly because it's an area that is well-suited for his aggressiveness and tenacity. On the other hand, Dragic is better at defending players in the post, spotting up, or coming off screens, which enables him to be a better defender of opposing two-guards than Bledsoe.

3) However, there will be some instances where Bledsoe is better suited to defend the opposing team's shooting guard and Dragic the point guard. Specifically, Bledsoe should defend opposing twos that are better slashers and drivers than shooters. For example, when the Suns play the Dallas Mavericks, I believe Dragic should defend Jose Calderon while Bledsoe marks Monta Ellis.

4) The backcourt's "lack of size" will not be a big liability. As mentioned above, the average starting shooting guard on a Western Conference team only has about a one inch advantage in wingspan over the Suns' starting guards. The biggest difference is in weight, but both Dragic and Bledsoe have proven they can defend the post well, albeit in a limited sample size. In any case, there are very few two-guards who post up well in today's NBA (Kobe, Dwyane Wade, and Joe Johnson are the only ones who come to mind). In fact, as Jacob's recent shooting guard rankings revealed, that position is currently the weakest in the league in terms of overall talent, which should bode well for the Suns' two-headed point guard experiment.

5) Defending spot-up shots and plays off screens will be the toughest task for this backcourt. The analysis revealed that defending players coming off screens is the one defensive area in which Dragic and Bledsoe both struggled the most last year. In the former's case, poor rotations and lack of team defensive discipline and communication might have been the issue. For the latter, overaggressiveness and ignoring his man in favor of chasing the ball has been a recurring problem. The new coaching staff will need to address both of these issues in order to maximize this backcour's defensive potential.

6) Defensive success is largely based on the team, not the individual. More than offense, defensive cohesion requires a team to be on the same page, with all five players giving maximum effort and buying into the team's system. This was a huge problem for last year's Phoenix Suns team, which struggled mightily with rotations, individual defense, effort, and basically all other important facets of basketball. A player's defensive statistics rely heavily on the success of his team's defense. For example, one might think that Kevin Martin is a great off-ball defender based on his 0.85 PPP allowed overall and 0.83 PPP allowed off screens in 2012-13. However, it must be understood that his defensive success was largely a product of the OKC Thunder's team defense (in 2011-12, he surrendered a much higher 1.09 PPP off screens on a worse defensive team, the Houston Rockets).

Since they are such a young (and not very talented) team, the Phoenix Suns will most likely struggle with team defense this year, which will trickle down and hurt even good defenders like Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. It's important for this coaching staff to instill strong defensive principles into the entire team. In an interview with me last month, new Defensive Coordinator Mike Longabardi recognized that this would be no easy task:

"Teaching defensive values will be a day-to-day effort. There's no magic wand to immediately get there...We're going to have to get consistent effort. We know that there are going to be some nights that we might lose because we're overmatched with talent. But the important thing is to give effort and see progress."

This is an important step for a new coaching staff with a young, inexperienced team. Although the team's overall defense may struggle this season, I think Dragic and Bledsoe will prove to form a successful starting backcourt on both sides of the court. They will have their issues, especially against teams that boast shooters with good size (the Warriors, for example, with Klay Thompson), but I do believe the uniqueness of this pairing's versatility will result in a net success in the backcourt. At the very least, they'll be an exciting duo to watch.

2013-14 is the year of the DragonBlade.

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