The two-point guard line up isn’t necessarily new. It was heavily employed by George Karl, first with Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton, then later with Lawson and Andre Miller. Mike Woodson found success pairing Felton with Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni, as well as playing Prigioni alongside Kidd last season, though he inexplicably moved away from that stratagem in the playoffs. These line-ups are often schemes or tactics, deployed in the flow of the game — rare is the team that features two point guards in their starting line up.
Enter the Phoenix Suns, who will start both Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in the backcourt this season.
“We told them they’re going to play together. Some days, or some parts of the game, one guy might have the ball and another time the other guy is going to have it, depending on the match ups,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said after the Suns defeated the Nuggets thanks to a 38-point fourth quarter that was led mostly by the Dragic-Bledsoe attack. “They have to try and get everyone involved.”
The adjustment hasn’t been easy, especially for Dragic. He signed a four-year, $34-million contract with the Suns in July of 2012, figuring to be the point guard of the future. With a new point guard of the future in Phoenix, Dragic is in a completely foreign role.
“It’s different for me because I have to play a new position,” Dragic said. “I have to take different shots, I have to learn.”
What’s the toughest part of playing off the ball for Dragic?
“That I don’t have the ball,” he said with a sigh.
Dragic finished shooting 3-for-11 from the field on Wednesday night, but within that paltry number lies promise. As the game progressed, Dragic moved better without the ball, keeping in rhythm with Bledsoe should he need a kick-out or kick-back option, such as in the video below.
As both Hornacek and Dragic noted, it’s not as if Dragic is strictly the two-guard, forever banned from his natural position. He’s still a creative force, and will find himself in numerous pick and roll situations throughout the season. But the undeniable reality is that he’ll be spending a lot more time off the ball, and will therefore have to adapt his game.
The concerns about Dragic centered around his ability to play off the ball. The concerns for Bledsoe were much more varied. Could he run a team full-time? Could he maintain the same chaos-causing dynamism he displayed as a sixth-man when made a starter? Would his jump shot improve enough to where he could keep defenses honest?
Preseason was never going to answer these questions, but it did show which of those concerns are more pertinent than the others.
His shooting, especially from beyond the arc, still looks to be an issue, as he only shot 4-of-22 from deep in the preseason. His form, however, looks good. Twice on Wednesday he pulled up from three after receiving a screen from Gortat, and while only one of those shots went in, both had great arc and trajectory.
As for his passing, Bledsoe’s been a pleasant surprise as a distributor. Three times in preseason he notched seven assists, and dished out nine (with no turnovers) in another. However, he struggled to take care of the ball, recording three or more turnovers in all but two games. This is somewhat expected of a player that had previously never been the leader of a team’s offense. How fast and how well Bledsoe develops as a passer will have a direct impact on how often Dragic plays with the ball when the two share the court.
The biggest optimist for the success of the Dragic-Bledsoe pairing is the one who stands to benefit the most from the attention it creates: Marcin Gortat.
“Both of them are shredding defenses every night. Both are capable of penetrating, shooting and making plays,” Gortat said. “They bring so much attention to themselves that the bigs are actually open, and we have more freedom to play.”
“There’s going to be enough time and space for both of them to create. We’re going to attack constantly, and (defenses) have to cover (Dragic and Bledsoe) both. The whole defense is going to focus on them. The only thing they have to do is make the right pass.”
In the first quarter of Wednesday night’s game, the Suns turned the ball over eight times, with Dragic accounting for five of the team’s giveaways. The ball stagnated on offense, with little of the movement and free-flow that coach Hornacek wanted to see.
“If we walk the ball up the court, with this young team and (struggle to execute), it makes it tough when teams really lock in to us. That’s what happened early in the game, and we ended up taking tough shots,” Hornacek said.
The fourth quarter of the game was a complete turnaround from the disastrous first, with Dragic recording four assists and no turnovers and while Bledsoe scoring eight points. It made the entire game resemble cliché fairy tale, in which two heroes are forced to work together against their will. In the first act, the heroes struggle to co-exist. Their timing is sloppy, their communication lacking. By the end, however, they’ve put aside their differences, finding a common ground that allows them to act in harmony and best the evil before them.
Wednesday night showed the potential of the two point guard line-up, both how it could struggle, and how it could excel. Said Hornacek: “Hopefully, they learned a lesson from that fourth quarter.”