In employing two point guards in the starting lineup, the Phoenix Suns are able to maximize the pressure that their offense exerts on opposing defenses. If an action on one side of the floor stagnates or is snuffed out, Phoenix has the luxury of swinging the ball to the other side and trying something new — or, in some cases, running the exact same set all over again. But the Suns also use their two ball handlers in a number of ways that are designed to optimize their playmaking abilities within the same play.
One of the sets that most exemplifies Phoenix’s commitment to its two point guard lineups combines the prowess of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic with a couple of well-set screens by Miles Plumlee. It’s a play the Suns run often, especially as on the first possession of the game. It begins with Plumlee at the left elbow and Channing Frye slightly above the area extended from the right elbow. Dragic stashes himself in the strong-side corner, and P.J. Tucker starts above the break on the weak side.
From there, Phoenix sets its offense in motion. Frye clears out to the weak corner, and Plumlee steps up to set a screen for Bledsoe. Yet it’s not your typical top pick and roll, as the video below demonstrates.
For those unable (or unwilling) to watch the clip, after Plumlee sets a screen for Bledsoe — which one would assume is designed to lead to Bledsoe penetrating into the lane with three shooters stationed outside the 3-point arc — he turns and sets a pindown screen for Dragic, who’s lifting from the corner toward the ball. Bledsoe makes zero effort to head toward the paint, instead attempting to get the ball to Dragic with a little bit of space and a head of steam provided by the Plumlee pick. Were Dragic a shooter and not a ball handler, that might be the end of the play, with an open mid-range jumper just below the free throw line Phoenix’s just reward.
Instead, the pindown screen and catch seamlessly morph into an interior pick and roll on the right side, with Plumlee moving into space a second before Dragic gets the ball. Plumlee’s defender — in this case, Philadelphia 76er Spencer Hawes — then has a tough decision to make. As Dragic’s defender trails behind him, Goran has a sizable amount of space to work with in getting toward the rim. Hawes hedges toward the middle in order to put a deterrent betweeen Dragic and the rim, which leaves Plumlee free to operate at the baseline. At that point, Dragic looks to get the ball to Plumlee, who in this example eludes Hawes retreating back to him to go under the rim for the dunk.
It’s a set that leverages all of Phoenix’s strengths — three point shooters spacing the floor, the threat of Bledsoe or Dragic getting into the lane, the ability of both to make plays, and Plumlee’s solid screen-setting and knack for using the space around him to create open looks at the rim. And all of that motion takes right around 7 seconds (a mythical number in Phoenix, to be sure); if it’s well-defended, the Suns still have plenty of time to go into a different action, with Bledsoe still at the top, ready to re-initiate the offense, and Frye and Tucker a pass away for an open 3 if one of their defenders crashes down to help.
Solid play design and solid execution, coupled with knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the personnel. In 2013-14, that’s Phoenix’s motto.