Vander Blue is now less than three weeks out from waiting to hear his name called in New York at the NBA draft. The 6-foot-4 guard has used the last two months to transform his game toward running the point, and after a successful two-day run at the Combine is generating interest from teams.
To date, Blue has had confirmed workouts with the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons. Per his own tweets, it appears he also has worked out with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets. Blue should have more individual workouts as the June 27 date nears, but he may have already found the team that gives him both the best opportunity to be drafted and thrive on the court.
The Phoenix Suns have been in rebuilding mode since 2010, when Amare Stoudemire bolted in free agency for the New York Knicks. Coming off a 54-28 season, Phoenix went into a nose dive without their star, going 40-42 in 2011 and 33-33 in 2012 behind Steve Nash. But in an attempt to continue their rebuilding, the Suns traded Nash to the Lakers and signed Goran Dragic, who spent his first 2.5 seasons in Phoenix, last offseason.
The franchise bottomed out this past year, going 25-57, its worst record since its inaugural season in 1969 (16-66). The rebuilding has reached its peak (valley?), and June’s draft is of the utmost performance. Management cannot afford to miss on either of their two first-round picks (No.5, No. 30) and they’ll have their choice of projects in the second round (No. 57) which could also be a role player down the line.
Blue fits in at that No. 57 spot because the Suns seem to be set at point guard. Dragic is the organization’s franchise player and is under contract through the 2015 season–at $22.5 million (with a $7.5 million player option for 2016). The Suns used last year’s lottery pick on North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall, who is under team control on his rookie contract through 2017. Marshall didn’t show much in his rookie season, appearing in just 48 games, but he projects as someone who could handle the offense in an up-tempo system. Reserve Diante Garrett has a qualifying offer for next season, but the 24-year-old Milwaukee native appeared in just 19 games as a rookie last year. He’s expendable.
ESPN.com’s Chad Ford has the Suns selecting Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore at No. 5 and wing Glen Rice at No. 30. They have bigger needs than point guard, and after the Marshall selection they won’t use either pick on a point guard. That bodes well for Blue, who fits in well with the Suns and is a low-risk pick at No. 57.
Last year Phoenix played the ninth-fastest offense in the NBA, the same as 2012 and just under their eight-fastest pace in 2011–in Year 1 of the post-Amare project. Granted, those three seasons were run by Alvin Gentry (fired) and Lindsey Hunter (interim in 2013), but new head coach Jeff Hornacek says he wants to maintain the uptempo style of play and pick-and-roll sets. The offense will look similar, simply put.
If Blue intends to play point guard at the next level, it must be in a quicker offense. We documented earlier this offseason that Blue was dominant on the fast break, and the Suns, to go along with their quick pace, ranked 14th in the NBA in fast-break points per game (13.5). Their efficiency was slightly better, 13th, at 1.675 points per possession.
“Talking to coach Hornacek, I know he wants to play up-and-down. He’s a tough guy, he likes young guards that get up and get going and I think I can really help this team being a great combo guard for them,” Blue told Suns.com after his workout, “and just doing all the dirty work and the tough work and try to get things right back in Phoenix.”
The Suns have their collective eye on the 2014 season, meaning players such as Wes Johnson, Shannon Brown and Hamed Haddadi could be on the move to clear cap space. But they still need to fill out the roster, meaning a second-round pick like Blue would be a cheap option with, again, little risk and some real upside.
Maybe more so than anything, the eye test is what makes Blue a fit here. The Suns play quick but have lacked premier perimeter defenders for quite some time. The Suns were 28th in 3-point field goal percentage and 26th in total makes, too, but if they’re able to add players such as McLemore and/or Rice, taking Blue–who won’t do any damage from 3–works for both parties. Blue needs to find his niche somewhere, and there’s one to be found in the desert.
And as much as we try to shy away from the headache-inducing “Marquette plays hard” storyline, it’s tough to ignore come draft day. The NBA scout we spoke with in May said the play of Wesley Matthews, Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder has proved Buzz Williams-coached players do the little things to help teams win. For a franchise in Phoenix that needs a little bit of everything, having a gritty, second-round pick fighting for a spot wouldn’t hurt. In fact, it’d be a plus, making Blue the perfect fit.