The Phoenix Suns are the cinderella story of the 2013-2014 NBA season. This NBA season has been depressing with the barrage of injuries to seemingly every team in playoff contention. Even the Phoenix Suns, who are the eighth seed in the Western Conference, have been affected by a rash of injuries. With Eric Bledsoe having a piece of his meniscus removed, suddenly everyone is writing the Phoenix Suns off.
Bledsoe elected to have a piece of his meniscus removed, rather than having it repaired. This means that Bledsoe will be able to return in a shorter timetable (4-6 weeks), however it may have implications on his long-term career. (See: Dwyane Wade, meniscus, 2002)
It will be a difficult task for the Suns to maintain their elite level, particularly replacing Bledsoe’s 18.0 points, 5.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds he puts up every game. Regardless of the return of Bledsoe, the Suns still must find a way to stay afloat in the Western Conference. However, I believe the Suns with be just fine.
The All-Star break hasn’t even arrived yet, but the Phoenix Suns should be treating every game like a playoff game. The Suns are only two games away from going from an eighth seed to an 11th or 12th seed — that’s how competitive the Western Conference is this season. The Suns are a game behind Dallas for the seventh seed after going on a rough three-game losing streak. As you can tell, a few victories or losses here could keep the Suns in or out of the playoff race. With that being said, there are many reasons to believe the Suns will overcome the injury to Bledsoe and hold their playoff spot while he recovers. Let’s take a look at the reasons the Suns will make the playoffs with or without Eric Bledsoe.
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The Play of Goran Dragic
Eric Bledsoe garnered a large percentage of the hype in Phoenix this season, but Goran Dragic is playing as good, if not better than Bledsoe. With the injury to Bledsoe, this is important to look at. While the Suns will be missing a lot with Bledsoe out, it’s not like they don’t have someone in Dragic who has been having the best season of his career. Look at these per game and advanced statistics charts from Basketball-reference.com.
Their points, assists, steals and shooting percentages are practically identical. Dragic and Bledsoe have similar PERs, true shooting percentages and usage percentages. Dragic is the true point guard between the two and the one who is more successful initiating the offense. This season, people have been quick to anoint Eric Bledsoe as the reason for the Suns’ success, but Dragic has been just as important.
Per 82games.com, Eric Bledsoe only appears in two of the Phoenix Suns’ five most effective lineups. On the other hand, Dragic appears in four of the Phoenix Suns top five-man floor units. These three lineups with Dragic are only 23-18 this season, while the two with Bledsoe are 12-13. The Suns second best unit consists of Dragic, Green, Tucker, Frye and Plumlee. The Suns have used this lineup for almost 200 minutes this season, while scoring 1.14 points per 100 possessions and having a +/- of eight. It’s important to note that the No. 3 ranked floor unit, which features Bledsoe without Dragic, gives up 1.03 points per 100 possessions, while only scoring 0.93 points per 100 possessions. Also look at how every top five floor unit has a +/- of 14 or higher, while the one with Bledsoe running the point without Dragic, has a +/- of -18. When looking at this, one can even argue that Dragic is more important to the Suns’ success, rather than Bledsoe.
It’s obvious the All-Star caliber play of Goran Dragic can keep the Suns in contention while Bledsoe recovers. Dragic can run the two-point guard sets, but he can also have the offense run through him and maintain a high level of play. The Suns still have lineups that they have used for over 300 combined minutes this season, without Bledsoe, that have contributed to a large amount of wins already for Phoenix. My point is that the Suns have been using lineups all season without Bledsoe that have seen successful.
Weak Schedule For The Next Month
There is never a good time for a star player to suffer an injury, but this is perhaps the best time it could have happened. With Bledsoe reported to be out about four to six weeks, I looked at the Suns schedule from now until their last game in February on the 28th. Bledsoe should be back, or close to returning by the end of February. Out of 21 total games during this stretch, 11 of the Suns’ opponents will have records under .500. That will play a huge role for Phoenix being able to stay in the hunt during Bledsoe’s absence. Even if Bledsoe is out longer than indicated, this stretch of games is important. After February, there will only be about a month and a half left of games for the Suns. If the Suns take care of business against opponents they should beat, it should solidify their playoff position.
Another point about the schedule is the lack of games during this stretch. For about the next 40 days, the Suns will only play in 21 games. The lack of strength and lack of games during this next month and a half means Phoenix will have plenty of opportunities to prove their worth as a playoff team. Even without Bledsoe, this next month and a half features opponents like Philadelphia, Cleveland, Los Angeles [Lakers], Utah, Boston and Milwaukee — all games that the Suns should have no problem winning. Bledsoe is an important part of the team, but they can sustain success without him, which they will have to do to remain in the playoff hunt.