The Suns unexpectedly assembled one of the most dynamic, explosive backcourts in the league last season, but is it the linchpin to a future title run or just a means to an end?

All of the hullabaloo surrounding Kevin Love's announcement that he would opt out of his contract in the summer of 2015 resonated with me on several levels. First, I've been a proponent of him becoming a Sun since the first hint of him becoming available at some point. Second, I have no doubts that the asking price will be high and the Suns still might struggle to put together a competitive package despite their recent sorcery in terms of asset collection.

While the Suns have completely unproven nice young pieces in the form of Alex Len, Archie Goodwin and multiple midrange first round picks, front offices around the league aren't slavering over them. Likewise, nobody is eyeing the likes of Markieff Morris and Gerald Green with cupidity as key components in a deal for a superstar. Those are nice embellishments, but it just doesn't seem like any combination of those assets could be the crux of a blockbuster trade.

While McStiltskin may very well leave me nonplussed by spinning the straw of his trade assets into superstar gold, it would seem that Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic have to be in the conversation if the right deal presents itself. Not only that, but people should be resigned to the fact that one of them will be included in such a deal.

That shouldn't necessarily shock anyone since last season was a rebuilding process. It was never intended to be close to a finished product. Sure, keeping Dragic and Bledsoe together while adding another piece better than either of them would be outstanding, but is it really feasible? After all, neither is the piece to build around, but an excellent adjunct to put around that piece.

And while it would be great to keep them together is it really even necessary?

Or even great, for that matter?

Maybe this was a star-crossed pairing from the outset. Let's take a look at the backcourts from NBA champions since the 1999 CBA.


The Suns proved this past season that their two point guard lineup was more than a gimmick as Phoenix jumped from the dregs of the league to a playoff contender in a deep Western Conference. Injuries played a part in derailing the team's playoff aspirations with the tandem of Dragic and Bledsoe playing together in just 37 games, but even in that limited sample there was plenty of evidence they complemented each other well on the court. The team went 24-13 in those 37 games and it seems reasonable to speculate that more time together might further galvanize the duo.

While it would seem like a boon for the Suns to have two upper echelon starting point guards, this hasn't traditionally led to success. Of the last fourteen championship teams, only Tony Parker (three times) and Chauncey Billups were top flight point guards during their team's title runs. Chauncey Billups is the only point guard on the list that could even be arguably considered the best player on his team, since Parker's championships came earlier in his career when Duncan was undeniably the team's best player.

This list shows that premiere shooting guard play has been much more vital to winning championships, with Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant combining to play on eight of the 14 champions.  Throw in Tim Duncan and that number balloons to 11.  Obviously running mates like Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James made several of these titles possible, but that still feeds into the leitmotif that top five (and especially top one or two) talent is nearly indispensable in winning a championship.

Notice how none of those players listed is a point guard. Why don't we look back a little further...


This continues a list of solid, but unspectacular point guard play. In fact, the last premiere point guard prior to Tony Parker or Chauncey Billups to win a championship in his prime was Isiah Thomas on the 1989-90 Detroit Pistons. This would become even more unique if qualified under this criteria - 1989-90 might be the last time that the best player on a championship team was its point guard.

23 years since a point guard has been the best player on a championship team. It's pretty hard to argue otherwise, except possibly in the case of Billups. Point guard just doesn't seem to be that important of a position.

After all, if point guard is such an important position then why can't/couldn't players like Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson, Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway and John Stockton lead teams to championships in their primes?

The best players haven't traditionally been point guards in a long time.


Now let's flip back to the last 14 seasons when teams were playing under the rules of a more current CBA. What does a team need from the point guard position over this period of time?

About 11.7 points and 4.7 assists per game. Hmm... not exactly overwhelming. This is mostly a list of role players that aren't/weren't even great distributors or primary ball handlers. Jason Kidd was in the twilight of his career when he piloted the Mavericks squad and Rajon Rondo was still a 21 year old neophyte when he won in Boston. The Celtics came up just short while Rondo ascended to All-Star status and the veterans aged in later years.

Having a point guard run system just hasn't been a recipe for success.  Heck, Goran scored more this past season than any player on that list. Only one player on that list even averaged more than 6.1 assists per game.


This last piece shows a breakdown of the salaries of the backcourts over the last 14 seasons and their percentages of the team's salary cap. Ten of the 14 point guards made less than 10% of the team's cap number. That would equate to less than ~$6 million under the current cap. Teams just haven't traditionally invested that much money in that position.

While many of these teams paid a large share of their money to their backcourts that was almost exclusively earmarked to Bryant and Wade.

*Although this does show that it is possible for a team to win paying over a third of their cap to their starting backcourt. The Suns will be giving that to Dragic and Bledsoe if they are both on the roster in two years.


I want the Suns to win a championship and I'm confident that is the team's goal. Keeping the pairing of Dragic and Bledsoe may very well be incommensurate with that aspiration.

A team ultimately needs a transcendent talent (and maybe more than one) and point guards just don't seem to fit that bill. I was wrong before in thinking that Goran Dragic would never become an All-Star caliber player, but I'm still not banking on him joining the ranks of LeBron James. Dragic and Bledsoe may very well be great players (still want to see more of Bledsoe), but they aren't the cornerstone.

The Suns best trade assets are Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe and should absolutely be in play to bring that type of player to Phoenix.

In fact, the Suns almost succeeded with this strategy before. They traded away part of the  two point guard backcourt the current team has used as a model to demonstrate how the current incarnation can work. Hornacek and KJ were coming off of a season where they averaged a combined 40 points and 16 assists per game, but the organization felt that the team was missing something. Hornacek has even told the story ad nauseum that he felt the team was missing the type of presence that Charles Barkley ultimately brought. Unfortunately, at his expense.

Ultimately, the Suns failed to win by acquiring a bonafide top five talent, but it did lead to the team's second NBA Finals appearance and a truly great time to be a Phoenix Suns' fan.

Now the Suns may have another chance to land an elite power forward. One who can put up 25 and 12 in his sleep, but isn't going to make any All-Defense teams. One who can't seem to put the team that drafted him on his back and propel it to the playoffs.

But whether Ryan McMiracle has his eyes set on Kevin Love or some other player that's not even on my radar that he thinks he can build a championship team around he needs to go after him with an unparalleled zeal.

And he definitely doesn't need the insistence of keeping Dragic and Bledsoe together to get in the way.

The Suns would have to create a tempting package or get lucky in Tuesday night’s draft lottery to grab Jabari Parker. But considering it took me less than five minutes to get the above result...

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Before the NBA Draft Lottery determines where the Phoenix Suns will pick in the 2014 draft, we kick off our draft profile series with a look at arguably the biggest prize of all. As impossible an...

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The NBA Draft Lottery takes place tonight, and the Suns are gambling for more than just one lottery pick. Here's a break down of the odds and what the Suns have at stake.

What: NBA Draft Lottery

Where: Times Square Studios, New York City

When: May 20th, 5pm PST (AZ Time)

Watch: ESPN

Tonight, the Phoenix Suns find themselves in relatively familiar territory, unfortunately; vying for a chance at a top three pick with the odds stacked against them.

The Suns are slotted at the 14th and final lottery slot, their third time in the last four years that they have been in the 13th or 14th position heading into the lottery.

So far, they've yet to hit it big...In fact, in the history of the NBA Draft Lottery there has never been a team pre-slotted as the 14th pick that has ever moved into the top three.  Then again, the NBA lottery has only included a 14th slot since 2004...before that, there were only 13 lottery teams.  Even so, a 13th slotted team has only moved up once, when the Charlotte Hornets moved up to the third overall pick in 1999.

But there's a first time for everything right?

How it works

The way it's set up is that there are 1000 possible combinations of the four ping pong balls numbered 1-14, disregarding the order in which they are picked.  The teams are assigned a number of possible combinations depending on their win-loss record...which determines their pre-slotted position.

Here's a break down of the odds for each position of getting the number one pick overall:

  1. 250 combinations, 25.0% chance of receiving the #1 pick
  2. 199 combinations, 19.9% chance
  3. 156 combinations, 15.6% chance
  4. 119 combinations, 11.9% chance
  5. 88 combinations, 8.8% chance
  6. 63 combinations, 6.3% chance
  7. 43 combinations, 4.3% chance
  8. 28 combinations, 2.8% chance
  9. 17 combinations, 1.7% chance
  10. 11 combinations, 1.1% chance
  11. 8 combinations, 0.8% chance
  12. 7 combinations, 0.7% chance
  13. 6 combinations, 0.6% chance
  14. 5 combinations, 0.5% chance

The ping pong balls are then placed back in the process is then repeated for the second and third picks, and the odds are readjusted accordingly.

In a chart form, that looks like this:


(Chart courtesy of Wikipedia)

As you can see, the Suns have a .5% chance of landing the first pick, a .6% chance of landing the second pick, and a .7% chance of landing the third pick.  Add them all together, and the Suns have a combined 1.8% probability of moving into the top three.

So you're telling me there's a chance...

Although the Suns have only a 1.8% chance of landing a top three pick, which has never been done, this would certainly be the time to do it.

Not only is this draft absolutely loaded with elite talent, the Suns are actually gambling on a two-for-one win.  If the Suns somehow manage to make history by being the first team to ever move into the top three from the 14th position, they also push the Minnesota Timberwolves back from the 13th pick to the 14th.

If the Timberwolves end up picking 14th, then that pick is conveyed to the Suns, per the conditions of the trade that sent Wesley Johnson to Phoenix in 2012.

So not only are the Suns hoping to land a top three pick, they are hoping for an additional lottery pick from Minnesota as well.

In other words, this is the time to break out your voodoo dolls, good luck socks, prayer beads, lucky underwear, etc...The Suns need this one!

Taking a look at how signing Carmelo Anthony this summer would impact the Suns roster.

The Phoenix Suns have reached a delicate point where they're trying to figure out how to get from being a borderline top 10 team to a legitimate NBA Championship contender.

It will take precision from both general manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek for Phoenix to take this difficult next step.

According to when Eric Bledsoe was on the court this season the Suns, played to an offensive rating of 107.4 (points per 100 possessions) and a defensive rating of 103.2.  That would have been good for the 13th best offense and 5th best defense in the NBA.   Without Bledsoe the offense improved, but the defense dropped dramatically. Phoenix profiled closer to a championship team when the Kentucky product was playing, but he missed 39 games.

When looking at what the Suns want to do this offseason there are tons of variables to work through.

Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker are restricted free agents, while Channing Frye can opt out of his contract.

Phoenix currently has a little over $25 million in 100% guaranteed money on the books for 2014-2015.  Frye's decision along with the pending cap holds of Bledsoe and Tucker will change the amount they have available to spend on potential free agents.  Phoenix also has four 2014 draft picks, which may cause a fluctuation depending on which of the picks wind up on the roster, stashed away in Europe or traded.

The Suns will have flexibility; it's more a question of how much.

Bringing back Bledsoe is a must, which will probably cost anywhere from $12 million to $15 million per season.

You also want to keep P.J. Tucker.  His skill set compliments elite, high usage talent seamlessly. Tucker doesn't need the ball in his hands, shoots corner threes at a high percentage and has the ability to guard one through four depending on matchups.

If your top two targets this summer are Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love (and they should be if you set aside the prospect of LeBron James or Chris Bosh becoming UFAs), it makes Frye expendable.  Both Melo and Love need to be spend the majority of their minutes at the four position and to get the most out of either player you want a defensive minded rim protector next to them.

Frye alongside Melo/Love at center would be deadly offensively, but if your sinking that much money into one of those two prospective stars then redirecting the money that would be paid to Frye is a reasonable idea.

The Suns could try to clear enough cap space to sign Melo outright with available cap space or work out a sign and trade with the Knicks.

At this point Love would have to be acquired through a trade with the Timberwolves.  This makes figuring out how to build the roster a more challenging process.

For the Anthony scenario we can keep it a little bit simpler, thus making it easier to determine if investing in him as your third major piece with Bledsoe and Goran Dragic makes sense.

Looking at the payroll:

According to the Suns have $25,197,873 invested in Dragic, Beasley (not on team amnesty money), Gerald Green, Alex Len, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Miles Plumlee and Archie Goodwin.

Assuming Frye opts out to capitalize on his value from this past season to get a himself a three-year contract instead of being an expiring contract. --  he's off the books.

If Phoenix brings back Bledsoe for $13 million and Tucker for $5 million that puts the Suns at $43,197,874 in player salaries with a projected NBA salary cap of $63,200,000.

Using the 2013 Draft slot values of the Suns draft picks - and assuming they keep the 14th and 18th pick plus stash the 27th in Europe -- that adds on another $3,424,080.

This brings us to a total of $46,621,954 with 11 roster spots filled, giving Phoenix around $16 million to throw at Anthony in the first year of the contract.

It also needs to be acknowledged that while this is a short term look, the long term reality is that after this season Goran Dragic can become an unrestricted free agent, Gerald Green is a UFA and the Morris brothers will both be restricted free agents.

Why Melo Makes Sense:

The Suns goal is to get a player who can push them into a top 10 offense and keep them there defensively.  When Bledsoe is healthy Phoenix is already in the top 10 on D, while adding Melo pushes them into the top third of the league offensively and won't inversely hurt them large amounts on the other end of the court if the former Knicks star is surrounded by the right players.

He's by no means an elite or even good defender, but with the right complimentary pieces, playing the right position and in a strong scheme, Melo can be part of a high level defense.

It wasn't by much or even an impressive number, but Anthony's 2013-2014 block rate reached a career high and his steal rate matched a career high in 2013-2014.  On top of that, he's an excellent defensive rebounder for his size which helps make the smaller lineups with him at power forward work.

If you can limit the amount Anthony has to chase players around on the perimeter --where he doesn't enjoy fighting through screens, can be inattentive off the ball and with rotations -- you can limit the amount of damage he does to your defensive fluidity

Right or wrong, Anthony will also take to the challenge of one on one matchups he deems worthy.  His help sliding over as the last level defending the pick and roll has improved, but still isn't something you put in a defensive teaching tutorial.

From my own experience of watching nearly every game of his since joining the Knicks, he also benefits from refs giving him a ton of leeway with his wild swats at the ball -- the full arm swing block or when instead of getting in good defensive position between the man and the basket he stands to the side to takes a swipe at the ball.

Having Melo surrounded by a defensive-minded center (getting to this position later), Tucker, Dragic and Bledsoe would be enough to keep the Suns in the top 10 of DRtg along with accentuating his offensive strengths.

What Melo Brings on Offense:

In 10 seasons in the NBA, seven full with the Nuggets and three with the Knicks, Melo's teams were on average ranked 10th offensively for the entire period and in half of the individual seasons have placed top 10.

These past two seasons with the New York, Anthony has gone from being a great offensive player to an elite offensive player (I don't even really know what that means, but Anthony has improved).

If his body holds up, specifically his shoulders, he can continue to show late career growth with a superior supporting cast.

What makes Melo's improvement more impressive is he's become more efficient with the amount of possessions he finishes going up (USG%) and a decreasing free throw rate.

His turnover percentage has been below 10% the last two seasons (there are only 36 times a player has compiled a USG rate over 30 and a TO% under 10) and his true shooting percentage has been right about 56%.

This chart appropriately puts Anthony's previous two offensive campaigns in perspective:


The jump in efficiency come from an increase in three points attempts.  Not only is Melo shooting more threes, he's hitting them at a higher percentage.   Anthony is shooting 5.5 threes per 36 minutes the past two seasons at a 39% clip and broke 40% (.402) for the first time in 13-14.  His career attempts per 36 is 3.1 and shooting percentage comes in at .345.

Anthony's deadly volume shooting off the catch has been a boon to his game.  He averaged 6.8 catch and shoots point per game according SportVU, tied for eighth best in the NBA, and only .1 less than Frye (a player who's primary offensive contribution is off catch and shoot situations).   Melo connects 43.8% of the time on catch and shoot threes, tied for 12th best in the league.  Most of these attempts are also coming above the break.

You're never going to get Olympic Melo on a consistent basis throughout a season, but the more attempts he gets like this the better.

That level of production is completely unrealistic, but the basic idea of putting him in position to make quick, decisive decisions with leverage instead of working hard on an even playing field increases his probability for a positive outcome.

It's important to remember that Anthony was able to enjoy the high level of success he's had recently with a lack of other creators on the Knicks roster.  His ability to play without the ball in his hands was largely dependent on how Ray Felton was playing.

According to SportVU this past season Melo had the ball in his hands for 3.6 minutes per game and Felton was at 5.4 MPG.

For context, Suns guard Goran Dragic had the ball in his hands 6.3 MPG and Bledsoe was in control for 5.8 MPG.   They both present significantly greater threats than Felton and would open up the court Melo.

Certainly there does need to be a balance, as you don't want to completely take the ball out of his hands.  Bledsoe and Dragic both didn't make it through the season injury free with the amount of offensive weight they had to carry.  Dragic's left ankle was a mess by the end of the year and Bledsoe's knee is a significant concern.  All three can be used to lighten the offensive load off each other.

Melo's ability to give half court sets some diversity is a huge plus if used in the correct fashion.

Anthony can have sets run through him at both elbows, the wing or from up top running pick and roll.  With trustworthy teammates surrounding him, Anthony can attack a defender one on one or find the open man with the defense shifted his way.  This can lead to open looks, especially at the three-point line, as the opposition scrambles to rotate.  Melo being more consistent passing the ball when the defense shifts his way instead of taking contested pull jumpers is something you hope the Suns coaching staff could maximize.

Despite how slow the Knicks played the past two seasons I wouldn't worry about Anthony's ability to fit in an uptempo offense.  While he was in Denver they never finished lower than 6th in pace.

Melo's flaws offensively don't shine through in statistics.  He can still fall into old habits by holding onto the ball too long, which hurts the flow of the offense.

In addition, his sense of time and situation are questionable (end of quarter and shot clock time management have been a major issue).  You want strong-minded players not afraid to look the other way as he sticks his hand out for the ball.

Set At Center?

As mentioned earlier a necessary piece next to Anthony is a center with the ability to anchor the defense by protecting the rim.

Miles Plumlee looked like an excellent complimentary piece in his first year getting real rotation minutes.  There's still room for growth and improvement in his game, but in trying to construct a higher level roster the preference would be to shift him to being a first big man off the bench.

Alex Len might be the guy to compliment a player like Melo, and I'm much higher on him than most.  The realistic progression in Len's second year is as a consistent rotation player for 15 to 20 minutes a night.  If you get anything higher that's great, but he's only going to be 21 years old going into next season.  Expecting him to play 30 minutes a night would be asking a lot.   According to there's only nine players over seven feet between the ages of 18-22 who averaged 30 minutes a game or more in their second NBA season since 1946-1947. Lowering the time to 25 MPG expands the list to 13.

If the Suns bring Melo into the fold they're saying we're ready to compete now.   Anthony will be 30 by the time next season starts and his contract will run through age 33.  I don't think the Len timeline in his development matches up with the potential two-year Carmelo window, more if you're lucky enough to get more than two years of Melo playing at his peak performance.

It doesn't mean Len is out of your big picture plans, but a need to be conscious of where he is as a player.

Finding a way to upgrade the center position in addition to signing Melo would probably be needed to give yourself an opportunity to win a seven game series against teams like the Spurs and Thunder.

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