The Phoenix Suns are not the first team to have three high volume offensive players all seemingly worthy of touches.
Often teams will move one of the high volume players (think OKC with James Harden), or a player within the trio is capable of adapting their game to fit the system.
What makes the situation much more difficult for the Suns is that all three players are guards. Of the three Suns guards (Devin Booker, Eric Bledsoe, and Brandon Knight), Devin Booker stands out as the lone wildcard. He will need to be capable of playing the small forward position for 5-10 minutes a night for this current roster to work.
There have been examples of three high volume scorers on a single team, but they have always been capable of playing at the same time. You cannot have one of your top 3 offensive weapons on the bench at all times. In the cases where all three players are wing players, there has been one player capable of sliding down to the three spot, when the matchup allowed for it.
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Booker would not need to guard the best small forwards in the game. He could play SF in selective situations, and it would still allow all three guards to get starter minutes.
If he cannot do that, it will mean at least one of these three guards is not on the court enough.
The three guards:
Brandon Knight is the guard most dependent on having the ball at all times, and when he plays, he is going to get up 15-20 shots.
Eric Bledsoe has been the alpha dog for the Suns in recent years. He is also the most efficient scorer in the group.
Devin Booker became much more aggressive after the All-Star break. He has the most upside, and will need to get his shots to develop. He is also the most capable of playing off the ball, and most likely to accept a lesser role next season.
In the 2015-16 season, the most comparable example is the Boston Celtics. Running a trio of Evan Turner, Isaiah Thomas, and Avery Bradley, they have been able to run three guards at the same time for 498 minutes this year, and have outscored opponents by approximately 8.2 points per game (.082 points per possession, with a pace of 100). Again, the question is whether or not Devin Booker can slide to the three spot at all, as Evan Turner is capable of at 6 foot 7.
If the position issue can be settled, there still remains the question about shots. Are there enough to go around? Here are the three guards field goal attempts per game (FGA/G):
- Brandon Knight (17.2 FGA/G, Full season)
- Eric Bledsoe (15.9 FGA/G, Full season)
- Devin Booker (17.0 FGA/G, Post All-Star Break)
The question is: can three players shoot this much on one team? Is anyone doing it currently?
Using NBA.com, I looked back through the 2007-08 season, and found very few comparable setups.
In 2015-16, there was a total of 0 trios each taking 15 or more field goals per game.
2014-15 – 0 trios
The most recent trio was the Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, and Rudy Gay in the 2013-14 season. Despite their trio of 20 point scorers, that Kings team finished 17th in points per game.
The best comparison of a trio that played the majority of the season together was the 2007-08 Golden State Warriors’ Monta Ellis, Baron Davis, and Stephen Jackson. Each player appeared in 73 or more games and took 15 field goals or more per game. That was not a bad team (48-34), and appears to be the best recent example of three volume scorers – and all three are wings.
This lineup worked well enough, but was also part of a frantic pace that lead to the highest scoring average in the league – and the worst defense in the league. It all comes down the Booker being able to guard the small forward position.
For this trio to work for the Suns, it will require the most sacrifice by Devin Booker.
Booker will need to give up shots, play off the ball more and more, and slide into the 3 spot on defense. He will be forced to play a more physical style of play, which might stunt his growth.
Just because Booker is capable of these sacrifices doesn’t make it a good move. The Suns front office needs to decide if Brandon Knight is worth altering Booker’s development so severely.