The new look Phoenix Suns challenge the traditional narrative as it pertains to the point guard position, especially in the Valley of the Sun. James Jones is building a roster that doesn’t have a prototypical distributor. Who actually does today?
Chris Paul, one of the last right point guards in the game, is now with Golden State and Cameron Payne (who is a point guard in name only) is in San Antonio. Their departure means Phoenix is looking to change their offensive strategy. Say goodbye to watching Deandre Ayton set five high screens per game. possession as CP3 tries to set up the pick-and-roll, only to opt out and not pass the ball to the rolling DA.
I know it’s hard to fathom. Suns basketball, rich in point guard plays throughout its history, makes some have a hard time understanding how and why Jones would do such a thing. After all, it is the land of KJ and Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Starbury. We need a point guard in Phoenix. That’s all we know.
In the past three seasons, Phoenix was led on the field by Chris Paul. In that span, we’ve seen some of the most prolific offenses in franchise history. The season before that? It was Ricky Rubio who ran for the Suns. That team was a Caris LeVert jumper away from making the postseason, and it’s the best the team had looked in a decade. A decade filled with subpar point guard play.
So when The Athletic’s Shams Charania tweets that the plan for Phoenix next season is to have Bradley Beal, who would be defined as a shooting guard, as the primary point guard next season, people start to panic.
What is this Tomfoolery?! How could this franchise ever deviate from the norm?! We definitely need a dedicated distributor to set up the offense!
I’m here to tell you that it’s all going to work out.
James Jones is embracing the way modern NBA basketball is played, and it’s time to stop being the old guy telling people to get off your lawn. Embrace the change. Know that, as the Mandalorian says, “this is the way”.
Don’t you believe me? Still beating the “we need a traditional point guard” drum? Let’s look at the last four NBA champions, shall we?
2023 Denver Nuggets
Starting point guard: Jamal Murray
Murray is not what you would describe as a traditional point guard. Similar to Bradley Beal, he is a smaller shooting guard who has the ability to play the make. He averaged 26.1 points in the postseason with 7.1 assists en route to Denver’s first-ever championship.
Yes, Denver has Nikola Jokić, a premier passing big man, and one that helps with the distribution. Like the teams we will list below, that has become the strategy: having two players who possess the ability to play on the floor.
2022 Golden State Warriors
Starting point guard: Stephen Curry
Would you define Steph Curry and his 35-foot three-pointers as a pass-first distributor? He’s entertaining to watch and exciting to play with, but his defining characteristic isn’t his ability to set up his teammates. As he and the Warriors marched to their fourth title in six years, Steph averaged 27.4 points and 5.9 assists.
He was also on a team that relied on multiple players’ ability, combined with back screens and movement, to generate open shots.
2021 Milwaukee Bucks
Starting point guard: Jrue Holiday
We know what Holiday is capable of firsthand after the Bucks went 0-2 to the Suns in 2021. NBA finals, rattled off four straight and won the title. Holiday, who played point in all 23 postseason games for the Bucks, averaged 17.3 points and 8.7 assists. Holiday impressed with his 105.6 defensive rating after the season-high assist total by a starting point guard who won a ring over the past four years.
Between Holiday, Giannis and Khris Middleton, the team had players who possessed offensive gravitas. When offensive gravity emerges, the defense collapses in an effort to stop highly productive players. What is happening? Open sliders. Easy assists.
2020 Los Angeles Lakers
Starting point guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
KCP started all 21 games for Lakers in the Orlando Bubble, and very much akin to teams above, was not relied upon as a primary play maker. LeBron James was the primary ball handler as he led the team with a 29.6 shooting percentage. KCP was at 15.2%.
Anthony Davis and LeBron create enough gravitas to negate the need for a primary traditional play maker, so KCP filled his role as a three-point shooter, taking 29% of all postseason three-pointers for the Lakers.
Let’s look at the starting PGs for the last four NBA championships:
’23: Jamal Murray
’22: Steph Curry
’21: Jrue Holiday
’20: Kentavious Caldwell Pope
Case. And. Point. People. https://t.co/X23SsqAqfq
— John Win (@DarthWin) 16 July 2023
Given the gravity of the players on the Suns roster, combined with their ability to make plays, the team does not need a traditional point guard. Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal all have the ability to make plays. Add Eric Gordon to the mix and the team is poised to have players who can whip the ball around while drawing defenders to them due to their offensive abilities.
Jordan Goodwin appears to have the inside track for the backup point guard position, with two-way Saben Lee bringing up the back. Neither are traditional either, with Goodwin possessing Jrue Holiday-like intensity on defense and Saben Lee being an aggressive cycle seeker.
It’s time to let go of the old school mentality of positional basketball. The Suns, organizationally, are catching up with the times instead of dictating them as they did under 7SOL. James Jones has built something that will be deadly on offense. And in defense? This is where Frank Vogel comes in…