Steve Nash now wears the gold and purple, and for a franchise that historically has given the franchise keys to the point guard, the signing of Goran Dragic and the draft pick of Kendall Marshall again places the emphasis on the 1 spot. Whomever becomes the floor general of the Suns’ future is a recipe for discussion, but the answer to that question — if it’s one, the other or neither — won’t come this season.
More immediately, we don’t know who will be the Suns’ backup point guard.
Forgotten in all of this is Sebastian Telfair, a guy whose name was lost in all the reshuffling this offseason. Dragic will be starting come the regular season and to understand why pegging Marshall into the backup spot ahead of Telfair is unfair, look no further than to last season.
From Michael Schwartz’s article rehashing Bassy’s season that went from ugly to beautiful:
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!
Call it a month-long fluke or not, Telfair ended the 2011-12 year on the highest of notes.
Telfair’s place on both ends became clear and in that, the eight-year pro found likely his best role as an NBA player. He’s a perfect backup point guard, a guy who knew when to give his teammates touches and when to attack himself — he even impressed with his jump shooting, the skill that has ultimately dragged him down as he’s tried to latch on to teams for the long term.
Through 14 games in April, he shot 50 percent from the floor despite taking two shots more than any other monthly split of the year. But the crux of what makes Telfair a model for an NBA backup is his defense. To go along with his improved handle on the offensive tempo with Phoenix, the firey New York City native displayed a style of pesky defense to disrupt the timing of opponent’s offenses. It was perfectly suited for short bursts off the bench.
Take an example from an April 20 game against the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the most pivotal of the season. In the final minute of the game, Telfair was playing alongside Nash to defend Chris Paul. With the Suns leading 91-90, the generously-listed 6-foot tall Telfair blocked Paul’s shot out of bounds with eight seconds left, then denied the All-NBA guard another shot attempt as Phoenix came out victorious. After the game, Jared Dudley labeled Telfair “the black Sasha Vujacic. Kind of someone you hate, gets under your skin.”
So what about Marshall, the assist machine out of North Carolina?
Gentry will obviously be in the position of needing to develop Marshall for the future, all while trying to win games in the present. But look no further than a young Steve Nash for how that can turn out. Remember, Nash played on a 1996-97 Suns team that, through much turnover, made him the fourth-best point guard to play that year behind Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd and Sam Cassell.
There’s no telling how Gentry will handle Marshall this year. Tempering expectations on a 20-year-old is something NBA execs and coaches will do. Perhaps Marshall’s defensive downfalls could make the tug-and-pull in deciding on backup minutes become one-sided in favor of Telfair. On the other token, Marshall could turn out to be so good that Gentry can’t keep the rookie off the floor. Even then, will his pass-first style translate to playing a backup role?
It’s easy to get caught up in talking about all the new pieces. But not to be forgotten, Telfair will have his say at the backup point guard spot come the beginning of the season.
Tags: Sebastian Telfair