Suns make things happen with three guards
They form the smallest backcourt in the NBA, but size is not a handicap for the diminutive trio of guards with the Phoenix Suns.
“I’m 6-2. OK, 6-1 without my shoes on,” Suns starting guard Eric Bledsoe, generously listed as 6 feet 1 in the team’s media guide, said laughing.
“I’m 6-4,” said starting guard Goran Dragic, who is listed at 6-3.
“I’m 5-9,” said reserve guard Isaiah Thomas, who is listed at 5-9.
“It doesn’t matter how small you are, but how hard you work and how you want to win,” Bledsoe said. “We’ve got heart.”
The Suns are the only NBA team to rely on a trio of speedy guards to drive their offense.
Last season Phoenix was one of the league’s surprise teams, as the Suns finished with a 48-34 record but missed the playoffs by one game. The Western Conference looks even tougher this season, but the Suns are sticking with their up-tempo offense to try to break into the playoffs.
Lakers Coach Byron Scott has watched his team lose twice to Phoenix this season, and in both games the Lakers couldn’t stop the Suns’ guards. Scott described Bledsoe as strong, quick and explosive, Dragic as an attacker, and Thomas as a player who can penetrate and hit three-pointers.
“They all bring a little bit of a different element to the game,” Scott said. “So it makes them that much tougher. But I like that three-headed monster because they do give you fits.”
Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek was a skilled shooting guard who played 14 seasons in the NBA. He said that having three dynamic guards makes it difficult for opposing defenses to key in on a particular spot on the court.
“We wanted to put the pressure on teams, and that’s by pushing the ball up the court,” Hornacek said. “If we’re going to walk the ball up the court, we’ll probably be in trouble. We’re not a big team. We need to get up and down the court. It’s a weapon we have to use.”
Thomas is second on the Suns in scoring through the first six games, averaging 16 points coming off the bench. Bledsoe is third in scoring (15.0) and leads the team in assists (5.5) and Dragic is fourth in scoring (13.7).
“I think we’re just so competitive and we don’t back down to anybody,” Thomas said.
Thomas has shown that attitude since he was the 60th — and final — player selected in the 2011 NBA draft. Last season he averaged a career-high 20.3 points for Sacramento and was acquired by the Suns in a sign-and-trade with the Kings over the summer in a four-year, $27-million deal.
“We’ve got that feistiness in us. That’s what the NBA is getting to anyway, going to two smaller guards at times. It’s just working for us. We’re just playing to our strengths, playing real fast, being real aggressive and attacking,” Thomas said.
Phoenix wanted Thomas as insurance in case Bledsoe, a free agent, didn’t return. After lengthy negotiations, Bledsoe signed a five-year, $70-million deal with the Suns in late September.
“Now it’s a little bit tougher for me because we have three guards,” Dragic said. “I was used to so much playing with the ball, and now I’m playing without the ball. It’s kind of tough. But I need to do what’s good for the team.”
In some games Hornacek has played all three guards at the same time.
“Their speed is amazing,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “Now what they’re doing is putting them at the one, two and three [spots]. On certain nights that’s going to work and certain nights it’ll hurt them. But they’ll have to figure it out.”
Many oddsmakers expect Phoenix to be a lottery team once again, but Bledsoe thinks the Suns have enough talent to be one of the top four seeds in the West.
“I know we’re trying to make the playoffs, but at the same time, I think we have a chance to get home-court advantage,” Bledsoe said. “Teams don’t expect that from us. But why not?”
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