Yes, they have committed five year contracts worth $70 million apiece to Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, but that has not stopped Phoenix Suns top brass or in this case, Coach Earl Watson, from making the most ideal choice for this rebuilding franchise.
Stating last season’s starting Guard Knight would be moved to the bench to accommodate the pure Shooting Guard Devin Booker in the starting lineup, Watson is taking a similar route then rookie head coach Steve Kerr did in transforming Golden State Warriors from playoff contenders to champions.
In his first season after life as a pundit, Kerr surprised everyone by moving veteran Andre Iguodala to the bench with the intent to make the bench more dangerous and capable of holding it together as starters took breaks. Long story short, the move ended with the Warriors earning a first championship title after multiple decades and kick starting the small ball frenzy that has gripped the league tightly.
Unlike the Warriors who were on the back off two straight trips to the playoffs including a shock first round win over the higher ranked Denver Nuggets, the Suns are suited to be in a similar position three or four seasons down the line.
The impressive collection of young talent including Booker, Alex Len, 2016 draftees Dragan Bender, Tyler Ulis and Marquese Chriss, the Suns are set to be major players’ years down the line. But moving the five year veteran Knight to be replaced by a soon to be 20 year old has its perks with Booker only having a season in which he made All-NBA Rookie Team and heralded as the future star, under his belt.
Knight and fellow Kentucky University Guard Bledsoe are not the best of matchups in the NBA’s deepest position simply because they are not the best shooters in the league. Despite averaging 19.6 points and 5.1 assists according to Basketballreference.com, Knight converted 120 of 351 three point shot attempts which is far better than what Bledsoe averaged last season; 48 conversions on 129 attempts.
In effect, the inadequate scoring from distance both men pride makes it easier for defenders to pack the paint and close out driving lanes to prevent the athletic Bledsoe from attacking the basket. On the other hand, Booker’s numbers from distance (99 made three point shots from 289 attempts) is respectable for a first year player finding his feet in the man’s league called the NBA. Moving Brandon Knight to the bench instantly improves Suns bench; a bench that will have veteran shooter Jared Dudley and do everything man Leandro Barbosa. Dudley, as good a shooter he is, isn’t the same player (at least physically) he once was during his first stint in Phoenix basically down to how much the game has changed since he was drafted in 2007.
Unable to keep up with speedy wingers and shooting Guards anymore, Dudley has thrived as a Power Forward with the ability to score from the perimeter in a small ball lineup. With young big men in need of playing time (Bender, Chriss and Cory Jefferson), that move is highly unlikely to happen. Hence, putting Knight in the second unit gives Watson a competent veteran albeit third option (Dudley) who can contribute major points in limited minutes. Looking at the success hitherto rebuilding franchise Portland Trailblazers have had by handing the team’s keys to young players Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, perhaps it isn’t a bad idea to have Booker in the starting lineup.
Giving youngsters extensive playing minutes shape them into better players as experiences synonymous with franchise leaders are learnt quickly. It is the main reason Congo-born Emmanuel Mudiay started games for Denver Nuggets ahead of 2004 Draftee Jameer Nelson. All these scenarios may not pan out the way Phoenix has envisaged because emotions and egos are in play here as ceding a starting position to a 20 year old can be too much for Knight (who has been a starter for the best part of his NBA career and can be a starter now on several teams in the league; cue Orlando, Philadelphia, Sacramento and Los Angeles Lakers) and lead him to abandon the project by seeking a trade.
He who is down fears no fall and for a down trodden franchise like the Suns that recorded 23 wins and 59 losses last season, a wild move like the one they just pulled off stand to cause more good than harm.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah