Jeff Hornacek will tell you his dual-point guard system is simple no matter who is at the reins.
A point guard runs a pick-and-roll. If there’s nothing there, swing it to the other point guard. No drive or shot?
Do it all over again.
The Phoenix Suns found success with the offensive system two seasons ago and, to some degree, last season despite unhappiness from Goran Dragic that led to his departure. Eric Bledsoe is back for his third year under Hornacek and teamed with Brandon Knight in the starting backcourt, it’s the same M.O. for Phoenix on offense.
“The way Brandon shoots the ball, the way Eric penetrates — really both of them,” Hornacek said, hinting at the strengths of the two guards before describing the vice versa. “Brandon can penetrate and kick, and Bled can shoot the ball. If they move the ball and alternate between the two and really attack, we’ll have teams on the defensive.”
There lies the first indication of how this will work.
As the more deadly shooter, Knight, who only played 11 games with the Suns after being acquired from Milwaukee last season, may end up being point guard 1B — or what Dragic might deem as the guy standing in the corner. Knight’s ability to sit on the weak side of the court as Bledsoe works a pick-and-roll should fit the Suns well, especially now that Phoenix has Tyson Chandler rolling to the rim and sucking in defenders.
Both Knight’s experience and the numbers say he’ll be fine not having the ball in his hands all the time.
“I can’t say that I played off the ball,” Knight said. “I can say that I played with other point guards. Did a lot with Milwaukee, especially when Ramon Sessions got traded to our team. So I played half a season with him, both of us.”
Statistically, Knight stacks up to Dragic’s spot shooting that came back down to earth last season following his historic run in 2013-14. Even though Knight’s overall field goal percentage was far worse last season (42 percent to Dragic’s 50 percent), he shot 39 percent on catch-and-shoot three-pointers to Dragic’s 38 percent, and both shot an effective field goal percentage of 59 when taking a shot with no dribbles, per NBA.com/Stats. For reference, the Suns like a player’s overall effective field goal percentage to be around 51 percent.
Knight’s inefficiencies come in his mid-range opportunities and his less frequent number of shots close to the basket. Dragic got within 10 feet on 51 percent of his shot attempts to Knight’s 32 percent. That might be due to ability — Dragic has an uncanny skill of getting his hip past defenders — or simply Dragic’s will to get to the basket.
While Dragic’s shooting at the rim was elite, there’s room for Knight to grow in terms of becoming more of a slasher, and likely more efficient.
Simply put: Knight, who created 59 percent (a high number) of his own shot attempts last year, should be able to cut out one-on-one play playing next to Bledsoe and focus on a Morey-ball approach: shoot as many threes as he has in past (5.7 per 36 minutes last season) but trade pull-up jumpers for attacking the rim.
Doing so will also help Knight’s dynamic with Bledsoe and the Suns’ offense as a whole.
That’s where Hornacek’s distinction — that Knight is more a shooter and Bledsoe more of a slasher — becomes important. Because when Knight is running the pick-and-roll, it will be interesting to see how teams defend the Suns.
How much has Bledsoe improved his three-point shooting? A little would go a long way.
Bledsoe shot 32 percent from three and 31 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last season, but he can still benefit from Knight’s drives by getting by defenders sinking down to help. Catching a kickout and blowing by defenders will be more possible and frequent if Knight is determined to attack or swing the ball rather than pull up on pick-and-roll action. It’ll be easier if defenders worry about Bledsoe’s jumper.
In transition, Knight doesn’t possess Bledsoe or Dragic’s outright speed, but his 11-game sample size with the Suns showed a drastic uptick in transition possessions compared to his Milwaukee days.
Defensively is where the Suns could look most different, though offseason additions have a lot to do with it. Knight is more capable of handling smaller, faster guards than Dragic, who openly admitted his deficiencies there. That ability also plays to the Suns applying more ball pressure this season now that Chandler is playing behind the guards.
“Us allowing pressure on the ball, it’ll help everybody else,” Knight said.
Bledsoe will again be tasked with taking either bigger shooting guards or more deadly point guards, but it’s to-be-determined how Knight will handle the latter situation. If Bledsoe takes Stephen Curry, can Knight limit Klay Thompson?
Maybe the only real schematic difference to how the Suns will operate that dual-point system compared to the Bledsoe-Dragic pairing is that, as right-handers, Bledsoe and Knight will at times operate on a less-favorable side of the court (Dragic was a lefty and could play on his strong hand more naturally with Bledsoe).
There’s little reason Bledsoe and Knight won’t develop and fit fine together, so long as they play simple Hornacek ball. Read the pick-and-roll, make the easy play or give it to the other guy to try to do it again.
“He’s a point guard just like I am,” Bledsoe said. “We both look to get in the paint, create for each other.
“We just try to play the game.”
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