EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Free-flowing offense, Bradley Beal’s availability could be match in Phoenix

Nov 21, 2018, 7:46 AM | Updated: 4:19 pm
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) stands on the court during the second half of an NBA bask...
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) stands on the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, in Washington. The Heat won 113-112. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Phoenix Suns need a point guard.

Your neighbor down the street Jay, who talks too much about his garden, knows this. That nice lady at the pharmacy Janice knows this. The mailman Craig you are sure to leave a holiday tip for knows this.

Are we sure, though, the Suns actually need someone who plays point guard to be their point guard?

In Igor Kokoskov’s offensive system, the answer is ‘no’, and that’s why the Suns’ horizons on the trade market should broaden.

That system often leads to a situation where Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are able to go to work because there is space created by shooters.

In this example, Booker gets a two-man game going with Richaun Holmes and is crafty enough to find the big.

The problem with the current roster is that nobody besides Booker is able to effectively create offense as the ball-handler like in the clip above.

Kokoskov relies on motion to start the offense. Who brings the ball up or makes the initial read doesn’t matter all that much. That’s why moving Isaiah Canaan to the bench on Monday wasn’t truly representative of a point guard not starting.

The Suns average 307.2 passes per game, tied for the third-most in the league. The problem is they create only 40.4 potential assists per game, a bottom-10 number.

What the system asks for is multiple ball-handlers who can make plays when the opportunity arises.

The passes and motion on a play here against the Raptors lead to Kawhi Leonard gambling off Trevor Ariza. That gives Ariza a chance to make something happen, but he’s never been that type of player and has been miscast in Phoenix as the secondary ball-handler.

Check out this possession from Monday in two different perspectives. First, Mikal Bridges has tons of room at the top of the key to operate and create. Secondly, T.J. Warren sees that space still available for a drive and tries to get there in a hurry.

As my podcast co-host Kevin Zimmerman has put it, the Suns don’t really need a point guard under Kokoskov. They need more guys who can make plays off the dribble, specifically another primary option to help ease the burden on Booker to do nearly all of this.

This is where we arrive at the dumpster fire Washington Wizards and their shooting guard Bradley Beal.

Their franchise is a highly flammable building, and the current tenants are skipping around, holding a lighter and a match. The building is going to burn down in flames eventually, it’s just a matter of when the match gets struck. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday everyone on the roster is available in trade talks, including Beal.

Players like Beal don’t become available that often.

In his seventh year at the age of 25, Beal’s prime is underway.

He’s a high-level scorer all over the floor (21.8 points per game) and will, as it turns out, remind a lot of Suns fans of Booker.

Beal has a gorgeous three-point stroke (39 percent career shooter) that he can take off the dribble to finish at the rim or pull up from any spot. He relies more on craft and skill than outright explosion or speed, and can make the right pass when it’s there.

The level of difficulty on most of his buckets in this early-season matchup against Portland is pretty darn high and he makes it look quite easy.

Beal doesn’t score with elite efficiency, but he’s consistent enough to be in a solid space for high-volume scorers.

In the past two seasons, Beal has managed to average at least 22 points per game while having a true shooting percentage of 56 percent or higher. Among players who took at least six three-pointers a game as well, Beal joins only Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker to reach those qualifications each of the last two years.

Beal is just enough of a playmaker with the way he scores to fit within a free-flowing offense.

On this assist to John Wall, Beal goes from a potential jumper off a screen to a jumper off the dribble to finding the open man in about a second and a half.

There’s a lot there when he gets space.

While he’s only averaged 3.4 assists a game over his career, Beal takes care of the ball.

Thirty-five starters last season had a usage percentage over 25 percent, and Beal ranked 12th in turnover percentage at 11.5 compared to other players at his position like Victor Oladipo at 12.7 percent and Booker at 13.9 percent.

Let’s now talk how Beal would slot into the Suns’ roster.

Defensively, it won’t be the prettiest. The Suns would hope for a trade-off the Portland Trail Blazers have been living with from Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum — enough elite offense, smart coaching and defensive execution to offset a bad defensive backcourt on paper.

Beal makes at least $25 million for the next two seasons after this year and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2021 when he’s 28 years old.

That gives the Suns two-plus years of a fantastic backcourt while the rest of the team’s potential materializes around Booker, Ayton, Mikal Bridges and whatever else is left of the roster.

What we’ve been dancing around also is exactly how “available” Beal is, which leads to questions no one can answer that isn’t in the Wizards’ front office.

Beal is the best piece Washington has, but they might be stuck with Wall’s contract and want to separate the two.

Would the Suns have to empty nearly their entire magazine outside of “the core” to get a deal done? Is Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, a top-3 protected first-round pick next year that loses its protection in 2020 and the Milwaukee Bucks’ protected first-round pick enough? Too much?

Before you headbutt your keyboard to protest this trade that’s not for a point guard, hop back in this thought exercise with your pal for a minute longer.

The Suns are an atomic state right now. They entered this season with a flawed roster, haven’t competed in half their games and for all we know, have not even begun to rebuild a front office they hucked a couple shelves off nine days before the start of the season.

All of this takes place after an offseason hyping legitimate improvement and proclamations that the rebuild is over from the man who writes the big checks.

This all cannot happen when you have Booker growing more unsettled, upset and distrusting of the franchise faster than another top-10 pick by Ryan McDonough flops.

The Suns need a quick patch. Now. Booker, Ayton and Bridges have a bright future down the line, but the path from where we are now to those players in their mid-20s competing in playoff basketball is a winding road in the shape of a question mark.

A year ago, signing Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap didn’t make sense. Neither did trading a top-5 pick for a highly likely rental Kyrie Irving two years ago.

A lot has changed since then. If there’s an opening to pair Booker with an All-Star on a manageable contract and find some stable ground, the Suns need to capitalize. Whether that’s Beal, or even … gulp … someone like Kevin Love, the Suns have to look past the coziest fits and repair their own self-inflicted damage.

Penguin Air

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