The Phoenix Suns have a problem most teams would kill for.
Their roster features three young guards who each deserve to play 30 plus minutes, with enough depth behind them to cover the reserve minutes. Something has to give to alleviate this minute crunch, and a trade seems to be the only viable solution.
Devin Booker is only 19, and after the rookie season he put forth there is no way he will be suiting up in another uniform next season. So, let us examine which player the Suns should trade away to accommodate a larger role for Devin Booker.
Let us first examine each aspect of Eric Bledsoe’s game to see what he brings to the court.
Offensive Skills and Production
Bledsoe is known for his extraordinary speed and athleticism. This makes him a match-up nightmare for opposing point guards. Since coming to the Suns in 2013, Bledsoe has shot 45.7% from the field, 79.3% from the line, and 34.4% from beyond the 3 point line. He sports per game averages of 5.9 assists, 3.4 turnovers, and 17.9 points.
He uses his speed and overall quickness to attack the basket, both off the dribble and pick and roll. He is not afraid to pull up for an available mid-range jumper. He admittedly is more of a scorer than a true point guard, but a player with gifts should be willing and able to score the ball when the opportunity presents itself.
The big drawback to Bledsoe’s offensive game are the turnovers. In each of his three seasons with the Suns, he had one of the eleven highest turnovers per game average. He sometimes plays a little too fast for his own good. He will be careless with his handle or make an errant or unnecessary pass, but his assists and points certainly outweigh the negative contributions of his turnovers.
Defensive Skills and Production
Bledsoe has played well on defense in his Phoenix career, averaging 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game. All three numbers are exceptional for a point guard. His physical gifts are often most on display on the defensive end. Below is Bledsoe’s defensive shot chart.
As you can see from the chart, Bledsoe is a great perimeter defender, holding opponents to 29%. He rates above average in both mid-range categories as well. These numbers rate Bledsoe as a well above average defender.
Eric Bledsoe rates very well in advanced metrics. In his 3 years with the Suns, he is positive 2.1 in offensive box score plus/minus, positive 0.6 in defensive box score plus/minus, and has a great 6.3 value over replacement player (VORP). All advanced metrics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.
If you look at win shares, Bledsoe also rates exceptionally. He has amassed 8.2 offensive wins shares, 5.4 defensive win shares, and a .124 wins share per 48 (.100 is average ). No matter the metric, Bledsoe rates as a very valuable contributor to the Phoenix Suns.
If you are standing up, you better sit down because this is where things turn bad for Bledsoe. During his 6 NBA seasons, Bledsoe has missed 140 games. You read that right, Bledsoe has missed over a season and a half because of injury in those 6 seasons.
He has torn the meniscus in both knees that has caused him to have 3 knee surgeries and had his right meniscus removed in 2014. His most recent surgery has a left knee meniscus repair. There is some long-term concern about the health of his knees after 3 surgeries, but his on-court play has been exceptional in his time with the Suns.
Now, let us examine each aspect of Brandon Knight’s game to see what he brings to the court.
Offensive Skills and Production
Brandon Knight, like Bledsoe is also more of a scorer than a true point guard, but his numbers look very strong on paper. His 41.6% from the field for his 5-year career is not pretty, but he puts that with 80.6% from the line and 36.0% from beyond the arch. He also pitches in 4.6 assists and 15.9 points per game.
Knight is 6’3, 189 pounds, but is successful at attacking the basket by using his great quickness. He can play off the ball as a spot-up shooter as well. If you review the chart below, you’ll see that Knight is deadly from both corner 3‘s and shoots well in the paint for a point guard.
Knight is a little more careful with the ball, only turning it over 2.8 times per game for his career. Do not give him too much credit, though, because he had the ninth highest turnover per game average among qualified NBA players last season. Knight is a skilled offensive player, but has a knack of turning the ball over.
Defensive Skills and Production
Brandon Knight struggles on the defensive end of the floor. For his career, he has averaged 3.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals, and 0.2 blocks per game. Those are average to slight below numbers for a point guard. Let’s take a closer look at his defense by reviewing his defensive shot chart.
He is below league average in every single spot on the floor, except mid-range where he ranks barely above average by 0.2%. He struggles at guarding his man mightily. This is a negative to any team, but especially one starting a 2nd year SG next to him who has not had the time to develop his own defensive game.
Knight's career offensive box score plus/minus is a positive 1.0, his defensive box score plus/minus is negative 1.9. His career VORP is 3.0. All advanced metrics again courtesy for Basketball-Reference.
If you look at win shares, he has created 5.7 offensive wins shares and 5.6 defensive win shares, but his win shares per 48 are only 0.050 . He ranks well below average in the win shares per-48 category. Overall, his advanced metrics are strong on offense, but he rates poorly defensively.
Brandon Knight has never played more than 75 games in a season, and often has minor injuries that only cause him to miss a few games before returning. Since coming to the NBA, he has injured his right hamstring, right hip, right quad, left ankle, a heel, his groin, and most recently had a sports hernia at the end of last season (Courtesy of Fox Sports).
The positive thing is that he doesn't seem to have a persistent ongoing problem with a specific body part.
Which player should the Suns trade away to accommodate a larger role for Devin Booker?
The answer is obvious if you dig into the numbers, they should move Brandon Knight.
Bledsoe shoots better from the field, provides more assists and points, and is unquestionably a much better defender. They both seem to have an injury every year and struggle with turnovers, so it's wise to keep the player who provides more statically and analytically.