Predicted by many to finish near last in the league, the Suns went 48-34 by starting both point guards. When Dragic and Bledsoe shared the court, Phoenix scored at a top-five level, defended even better and outscored opponents by 11.0 points per 100 possessions.
But the Suns traded Dragic and for Knight just before last season’s trade deadline.
The new point guard duo hasn’t looked nearly as cohesive. Rather than pushing the pace and attacking from multiple angles like Dragic and Bledsoe did, Bledsoe and Knight have seemed aggressive enough only when it’s their turn with the ball – which puts them in worse position to strike when it’s swung to them. Phoenix was outscored by 0.9 points per 100 possessions when they shared the court last season and 2.6 this season.
Apparently, the issues continue off the court.
The Knight-Bledsoe pairing has been awkward, and has created some minor locker-room tension, according to sources familiar with the matter.
This problem has obviously been solved for the season. Bledsoe is sidelined for the year, giving Knight reigns of the Suns.
But it remains an important issue for Phoenix. Knight (four years, $56.5 million) and Bledsoe (three years, $43.5 million) have substantial salary commitments after this season.
When Dragic and Bledsoe began playing together, Dragic was the primary ball-handler. By the time Dragic was traded last season, that had switched to Bledsoe, contributing to Dragic’s unhappiness. Bledsoe maintained that leading role upon the arrival of Knight, who has always insisted he’s a point guard whenever questioned.
It’s easy to see how this could’ve spread off the floor with the – understandable – egos involved. I wouldn’t blame Bledsoe or Knight for wanting to be seen as the one and the other as the two. And at that point, teammates are going to choose sides.
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek did an excellent job maximizing the effectiveness of the Dragic-Bledsoe combo. Phoenix needs someone to smooth things between Bledsoe and Knight on and off the court . (If the former comes first, I suspect the latter would follow). But Hornacek might not even be around once Bledsoe gets healthy.
When the Suns consider who coaches them next season, Bledsoe and Knight ought to be top priority. It’s a tricky situation, one that’s lowering both players’ trade values. Rather than sell low on at least one of the point guards, Phoenix should try righting this first.
Knight has a chance to stake his claim as the rightful top guard by playing well the rest of this season. But the Suns are 0-3 since Bledsoe went down, and Knight has struggled in those games.
Phoenix could also shake up other parts of its roster, perhaps changing the dynamic of a divided locker room. But there’s no saying new players would solve the issue rather than just changing who’s taking sides.
The simplest solution is getting Bledsoe and Knight to click on the court – and that’s far from simple.