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.