How Good Is the Phoenix Suns' Backcourt?
February 19th, 2015.
That's the day Ryan McDonough and the Phoenix Suns finally admitted to themselves that the three-point-guard system just wasn't working.
...until later that day, when the Suns acquired point guard Brandon Knight in a three-team trade with the Bucks and Sixers.
This move left everyone wondering whether this was going to be another failed experiment or if there was a lot more to the move than first caught the eye. So far, it's been the latter of the two and Suns fans should rejoice and be glad in it.
After going through a few injury complications in his short time as a Sun in 2014-15, Knight has been great in the new season. And as for Bledsoe? Well, he's a new man. Together, they've been an incredible combination.
As I sifted through Basketball Reference's lineups and combinations data, it was plain to see that the duo has been killing this year.
Knight and Bledsoe show up in five of the Suns' 10 lineups with positive Net Ratings. Naturally, that includes the starting lineup of Knight, Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Tyson Chandler, which on the year is a +17.3 in nearly 130 minutes of action together. After logging so many minutes together, it's not always so easy to post such a high Net Rating.
To go further, three of the Suns' five most common four-man combinations contain the outstanding talents of Knight and Bledsoe as those combinations all together combine for a Net Rating of +34.7.
And when you boil it down even further -- to a two-man combination -- the two may be the team's 12th-best lineup (in terms of Net Rating) but they've put together a Net Rating of +6.2 in over 255 total minutes together. That's the highest total of any two players on the Suns.
No surprise there though, as Knight (34.4) and Bledsoe (33.4) are first and second on the team in minutes per game and are the only Phoenix players to average at least 30 minutes per game. They're the fire and light of the Suns, in more ways than one.
Having just talked about how great the two Kentucky products are together, it's hard to imagine how they're just as good -- if not better in some ways -- when they're not running the court together.
But that's exactly the case.
In this young NBA season, each player is having a career year in their own right. Knight and Bledsoe are averaging the most points per game of their individual careers -- with over 20 points per game apiece -- and, with Effective Field Goal Percentages of 52.3% and 54.5%, are shooting the best they have to date.
As a result, each of them are boasting career highs in Player Efficiency Rating, Box Plus-Minus and Win Shares per 48 Minutes. Their improvements have been huge, and their efficiency has rocketed through the roof.
Surely they've helped to improve one another's game, both in practice and in games, but they've also been the two biggest reasons for the Suns' third-ranked offense, in terms of points per game (105.8).
Take a look at this table.
|Player On||Player Off||Team Pts./Poss.|
This table (numbers courtesy of NBAwowy!) shows you just how valuable one has been when the other hasn't been on the floor. What this table doesn't tell you, however, is that the Suns, as a team, average 1.040 points per possession -- fewer than what they yield as a team with just one of the two guards on the court.
That's a testament to the gigantic role each player plays in the Phoenix offense.
Knight, with a Usage Rate of 25.7%, averages 5.0 assists per game and assists on 24.5% of his teammates field goals while on the floor. Bledsoe, with his own Usage Rate of 28.4%, averages 5.9 assists per game and assists on 31.1% of his teammates field goals while on the floor.
Both are point guards, shooting guards, scorers, passers and playmakers, but best of all, both are players -- really good players.
And their team will surely benefit from that as the season goes on, and especially down the stretch as the Suns look to compete for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference. Given their hot start, we project them to finish just outside the top eight in the West, with playoff chances of 57.7%.
If their dynamic backcourt of Knight and Bledsoe can sustain their great starts, who is to stay what this team's destiny can be?
And if they do survive the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and manage to earn a playoff spot, no one can doubt the point guard experiment 2.0.