Why Dragic, Bledsoe Backcourt Works for Suns
It sounds great in theory: have two young, quick point guards split time in the backcourt on a fast-paced, up-and-coming team.
But making it work on a tangible level is another issue entirely.
Nevertheless, with a 14-9 record and nursing a current five-game winning streak just 23 games into the 2013-14 season, the Suns have proven that their formula not only works, but is a major factor in their early success thanks to the brilliant play of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe.
A quick look at the duo’s eerily similar and equally impressive stat lines thus far demonstrates how effective they’ve been in the Suns’ up-tempo system (Dragic is 6th with 5.4 and Bledsoe is 9th in the NBA with an average of 4.7 fast break points per game).
Incredibly, Dragic and Bledsoe average the exact same free throw percentage (78.6) and 3-pointers attempted per game (3.7). Furthermore, they share nearly identical averages (we’re talking a difference of mere percentage points) in minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted, 3-pointers made, free throws made, free throws attempted, assists, steals and points.
Rarely, if ever, do you see a backcourt whose efficiency is, essentially, parallel.
But what is it about Dragic and Bledsoe, specifically, that has led to the increased productivity?
It starts with their respective skill sets. If a tandem, interchangeable backcourt is to work, both point guards must possess the ability to see the floor and score the ball at an operative rate. Rather, they not only need to create offense for their teammates but also for themselves while maintaining pace, control and fluidity.
Dragic and Bledsoe do exactly that.
In any given game, the duo can account for nearly 70 of the team’s points either from their offensive output or assisting on teammates’ shots.
Both Dragic and Bledsoe average over 18 points and six assists per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor. In fact, the last teammates in the NBA to both average over 18 and six in a season were Michael Jordan (30.1, 6.1) and Scottie Pippen (21.0, 7.0) of the Chicago Bulls in 1991-92. Prior to Jordan and Pippen in 1991-92, the feat had only been accomplished twice: Fat Lever and Michael Adams of the Denver Nuggets in 1988-89 and Jo Jo White and John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics in 1972-73.
Comparatively speaking, the Golden State Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (whom many consider to be the best backcourt in the NBA) combine to average 5.7 assists and 46.2 percent from the floor.
But it also requires both players to make a sacrifice for the betterment of the team. Indeed, Dragic and Bledsoe could likely average more points or assists in a different system, but sharing the ball and playmaking abilities for the Suns this year has led to immediate, real success.
And that makes everyone happy.
“I get back home, I’m smiling, I’m having a good time with my kid, my wife,” Dragic said after beating the Warriors recently. “The next day, I can’t wait to get to practice and play basketball with those guys.
“We don’t want to stop here and only win 14.”
But Dragic and Bledsoe can’t do it alone – and they haven’t needed to. The Suns have six players that currently average double-figures in scoring (Plumlee and Tucker are only percentage points away from bumping that to eight). Phoenix currently shoots 46.5 percent from the floor as a team (7th in the NBA) and 37.5 percent from beyond the arc (9th in the league).
The backcourt of Dragic and Bledsoe has given the Suns an indelible identity – one of camaraderie, hard work and a collective belief in each other.
All more than fitting characterizations of the Suns’ season.