Sebastian Telfair preparing to build on stellar final month


PHOENIX — For three months, the Phoenix Suns received the same kind of abysmal backup point guard play they have become accustomed to throughout the Steve Nash era, save for a Dragon sighting here or there.

Sebastian Telfair was so bad to start the season that Ronnie Price was handed the backup point guard reins and even when Bassy regained that role midway through January he did nothing to inspire confidence in the Suns’ sputtering bench unit.

And then all of a sudden it clicked.

Be it Alvin Gentry finally discovering the right bench rotation, Bassy becoming comfortable with the Suns’ system or just legitimate improvement throughout the course of the year, Telfair provided the Suns with one of the best backup point guard months of the Nash era in April.

“Second half of the season I came out and played with a lot of confidence, got a lot better, was a lot more consistent, so I’m satisfied for myself,” Telfair said.

According to the NBA’s stats tool, in 46 games through April 1 the Suns were outscored by 12.9 points per 100 possessions with Bassy running the point, producing a putrid 94.5 offensive rating and a 107.4 defensive rating. That’s about a bucket every 100 possessions better than the Bobcats this season.

That all changed during Bassy’s final 14 games starting April 3. The Suns’ offensive rating with Telfair in the game shot up 15 points per 100 all the way up to 109.4 for a total net rating of 6.2. The difference between April Bassy and first three months Bassy boils down to a whopping 19.1 points per 100 possessions.

The Wins Produced stat illustrates Telfair’s improvement even more clearly.

Through April 1, Bassy ranked dead last on the Suns by producing a -0.083 WP48. During the team’s final 14 games Telfair shot all the way up to first on the entire team with a 0.212 WP48 that was percentage points ahead of Steve Nash himself!

For those who prefer traditional stats, Telfair averaged 4.7 points and 1.9 assists on 35.8 percent shooting during the first three months and 10.9 and 3.6 on 52.2 percent shooting down the stretch.

“I think it was a brand new environment for him. I think he’s been in other situations where he’s struggled and people have just kind of put him to the side and let that be it,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We tried to stick with him because we felt like he had a lot of potential and he could do a lot of good things.

“We liked the fact that we thought his defense could be a huge factor for us, and we just kind of hung in there with him. He started to play better and feel good about himself. I think everyone forgets since he’s been in the league so long, he’s 26 years old. We’re not talking about an old guy. I’m happy for him, I think that’s good.”

As those numbers indicate, Telfair seemed to morph into a different player than the underachieving former high school phenom that he’s been throughout the majority of his career.

He took command of the offense and was a ruthless pest on defense (starting earlier in the second half on the latter point). His defense set the tone for the rest of the unit and his relentless energy earned him a well-deserved Majerle Hustle Award.

“I thought Sebastian Telfair played at a really higher level than what we had here before as a backup point guard,” Lon Babby said.

While sounding a bit like a dig at The Dragon, Babby’s point makes sense for the final month of the season. If the Suns get backup point guard play like that, this team is tough to handle.

After being a major weakness early in the season, the Suns’ bench transformed into a potent unit by season’s end. Now all of a sudden fans no longer held their breath when Nash rested as the bench mob extended leads and dug into deficits, sometimes even outplaying the starters in April.

“Bassy, you’ve got to give credit to Sebastian the way he finished off the season,” said Price, who often pushed him in practice and developed a close relationship with him. “He was key to our success as a team the second half of the season. I think that Bassy just like the rest of the team was trying to find a rhythm in this offense, this system at the beginning of the year, and once he got comfortable in the system he was able to show he’s a good player, great player.

“Man, the way he finished off this year was special.”

The question now, of course, is whether he can sustain that kind of success for an entire season, something he has never been able to do before.

Gentry feels “there’s a big jump that he can make,” and to that end Bassy plans to work on his jump shot and on becoming a more consistent player over the summer.

With a year in the system under his belt and a better understanding of what the Suns expect out of him, he expects to get off to a better start next season, although the cynic would point out he could hardly get off to a worse one.

Telfair “absolutely” expects to return next season, saying Phoenix has “been a great place for me.” Based on his flourish to end the year, it stands to reason the Suns will want him back as well since he has a seemingly below market nonguaranteed contract worth $1.57 million for 2012-13.

Of course, Telfair’s role next season will depend on a number of factors yet to be decided this offseason. The Suns could bring back Nash and go with the same point guard rotation with Bassy leading the bench unit. They could sign Aaron Brooks either to compete with Bassy if Nash leaves or to load the team up with point guard depth for a potential trade if he stays. They could also bring in a free agent such as The Return of the Dragon to solidify the position.

At this point Telfair can hardly worry about any of that. After such a disappointing and ineffective career thus far, Bassy can’t get too excited about one great month. Yet that month did prove how good Telfair can be, especially in a backup/energy role.

“I got an opportunity of a lifetime this season,” Telfair said. “I improved a lot on being consistent. I’m real excited for myself.”

Statistical support provided by NBA.com.

Tags: Sebastian Telfair

  • Scott

    The Suns really need two quality backup PGs, or they will lose every game that Nash misses due to illness or injury.

    With the experience Telfair has gained and the way he was playing by the end of the year, it certainly seems he can be one of the two backups.

    While I think Aaron Brooks is likely to get signed to play ahead of Telfair, I also like Price. Price’s intelligence and tenacity are wonderful qualities to have on the team, but if he wants to stick with the Suns he needs to confidently nail his perimeter shot, have a reliable midrange jumper, and be better at creating team offense. If he can open his time on the court with a successful perimeter shot, jumper, or layup, it will help him draw enough defensive attention to create openings and get his teammates going.

    So I hope Price works on his game this summer. Portland will be shopping for additional PG power, and Aaron Brooks is probably on their list of prospects. If Brooks signs with Portland, regardless of whether Nash stays or not, if Price has made improvements he has a shot at another season with the Suns.

  • Scott

    (My guess is that Portland will ideally sign Billups to be starting PG, Brooks to be his backup, and they’ll keep Smith as a developmental 3rd PG.)

  • PennuAnd1

    @Scott

    Nash will be healthier next year if he comes back, because he’ll actually have more time to heal without the compressed schedule. Telfair was solid during the latter half of the season, but I said it before and ill say it again, consistency is what separates a good player from the rest. Can Telfair be consistent, though things don’t get his way?

    If the Suns somehow get Eric Gordon, and steal LMA fom Portland through a trade, that means having two superstars the Suns can build around with for the future, on top of Nash & Hill (my wish) leading them and helping them.

  • Grover

    I can’t picture Dragic in Phoenix. I, as everyone on this board did and so now does Babby, hated the Dragic trade – not so much the Dragic for Brooks part but for tossing in a first round pick as well. That said, the Suns didn’t give up on Dragic without some thought. He seriously underperformed that final year and there were some very real questions about his mental abilities to lead a team. On top of that there were strong rumors of immaturity and professionalism regarding the stretch he was out injured for stepping on a glass in the middle of the night (rumor has it he was out partying).

    They were around Dragic for a couple years and should have a good read on his mental makeup. Aside from having to publicly eat crow by bringing him back, I just don’t think the Suns feel Dragic is capable of being a starting pg. Maybe he learned something by being tossed to the curb. Maybe he grew up or got mentally stronger. After all he did show some capability te back half of this year for Houston. Even if that Is truly the case, he has a lot of inertia to overcome with this management and coaching staff. I just can’t see them bringing him back, and even less so given he will not be cheap.

    Brooks is the more interesting question to me. Telfair looks to be a very good backup pg for the money – glad to have him back. If Nash comes back it seems odd to have Telfair and Brooks. I vaguely recall that Brooks cannot be part of a sign and trade, so if you don’t want not that means letting Brooks go or trading Telfair. Anyone have reports on how Brooks fared in China this year? Not that I care whether he enjoyed himself… Just curious what it might imply about his worth to the Suns.

  • Bill_Thomas

    I don’t understand the comments suggesting that we need to “sign” Brooks or that he may go elsewhere if he likes. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t he either a restricted free agent or entering the final year of his contract–since he didn’t report at the start of the season last year?

    Incidentally, I understand Brooks played quite well and with great enthusiasm in China–so it makes sense to retain him regardless of team makeup and release Price if necessary–Brooks can always be dealt later if we have too many PG’s and/or if his attitude is not helpful. We should also consider drafting a PG or combo guard if we don’t have as many PG’s as it seems we will. And yes, agreed with prior responses to another post that Gordon and possibly OJ Mayo are primary potential “gets” (although Mayo may be somewhat overpriced considering his current salary, and his inconsistency and recent playoff shooting record are troubling).

  • grover

    Brooks is a restricted free agent, which essentially means he can field offers from other teams but Phoenix has the right to equal the offer. If Phoenix equals the offer, he stays at Phoenix even if he doesn’t want to. If Phoenix doesn’t equal the offer, he walks. It’s not quite the same bidding war that can erupt over a unrestricted free agent, but typically there is competition and the salary could get high. What this means for the Suns is Brooks could end up costing them $6-8 mill per year depending on how much he is wanted by other teams.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    Yes, Brooks is restricted. The Suns plan on extending him a qualifying offer to retain those restricted rights. That’s where it gets interesting. The Suns cannot sign-and-trade him because he was not on their roster last season. That is a new rule in the new CBA aiming to prevent a situation where Keith Van Horn was involved in the Jason Kidd trade via a sign-and-trade despite being retired because the Mavs and Nets needed his salary to make the deal work.

    The Suns kind of got screwed with the timing of everything with Brooks going to China days before the lockout ended, which prevented a sign-and-trade (my preferred outcome in an ideal world).

    If anyone offers him a long-term deal, I think the Suns should pass. I just don’t think that guy is the answer at the point guard spot. However, unless they really need that cap space, I’d be fine bringing him back for one season with the intention of trading either him or Bassy down the line.

    Brooks averaged 22.3 ppg and 4.8 apg while shooting 55 percent from 2 and 41 percent from 3. Unfortunately, the CBA doesn’t come close to comparing to the NBA so I’m almost surprised the numbers aren’t better.

  • Scott

    I agree that I’m not so hot on Brooks. However, Blanks may believe he’s perfect, and that’s what really matters.

    I think Blanks went out to China to check on Brooks to see if he wanted to come back to the Suns. I gather Brooks said yes.

    @Penny -

    Hard to see Portland giving up LMA, and hard to see NO giving up Gordon. Why would they give up a young star when they’re trying to rebuild?

    I agree, though, that Telfair’s performance toward the end of the season is no guarantee of consistency, and it also doesn’t mean that he’ll still be successful after opposing teams adjust to him, or with whatever bench unit appears on the court next year.

    If there ARE substantial changes to the roster, who knows, maybe Telfair won’t adjust to the changes until March. That would be pretty useless.

  • Tim in BC

    While I would really like to see Dragon come back to the Suns I kind of doubt it will happen because management would then be admitting their mistake of trading him in the first place. He did have some trouble the year they traded him (with the glass incident) and his play was not always conistent then but the Suns shouldn’t have given up on him because of one immature incident and some sporadic play. He was so good at other times and sometimes I thought he was Steve Nash when he made some great plays. Dragon has proven this year he can be a great starting PG and he would be a terrific addition to the Suns if Steve leaves or even if he does not. Having said all that, I do like the way Telfair plays, with heart and enthusiasm and skill even if not quite as skillful as Dragon. I hope Brooks does not come back.

  • Ty-Sun

    I’ve always considered Brooks more of an undersized 2 guard rather than a PG so I certainly don’t think he’s the future PG for the Suns or even the future backup PG. It was simply a bad trade that sent Dragic to Houston for Brooks even though I can understand the reason they made it. At the time the Suns were looking for more scoring punch from the 2nd unit and they took a chance on Brooks to supply it. If that trade had never happened, I think the bench would have been much more effective this year with Dragic and Morris on the court together.

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