October 21, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns burst out of the nether reaches of the NBA to put together the most surprising season in the league a year ago.

With a fast, fun-to-watch style replete with fast-break baskets and rainbow 3-pointers, the Suns compiled 48 victories in coach Jeff Hornacek's first season, a 23-win turnaround from the miserable 25-47 mark of 2012-13.

A double-point guard lineup of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe was at the heart of Phoenix's success, a system many greeted with skepticism. Hornacek and general manager Ryan McDonough proved it could work.

When Dragic and Bledsoe started together, the Suns went 23-11. But Bledsoe missed much of the season after undergoing knee surgery. Dragic, in a breakout season, did his best to carry the load, but in the tough Western Conference, 48 wins weren't quite enough.

Now McDonough has doubled down.

With a dynamic backcourt in place, Phoenix's biggest offseason move seemed puzzling - the acquisition of yet another high-scoring point guard, Isaiah Thomas, in a sign-and-trade deal with Sacramento.

But the idea is to have two prolific, dynamic point guards on the floor at all times, while the other sits.

''The goal is to try to keep pressure on teams,'' Hornacek said.

Dragic averaged 20.3 points, Bledsoe 17.7 and Thomas 20.3 last season. Their assists add up to 17.5 per game. There are differences between the three, of course, but some similarities the Suns are counting on.

''We're very aggressive,'' Thomas said. ''We're all scoring guards that like to get out and run.''

The only significant player gone from last season's team is Channing Frye, who took a big free agent offer from the Orlando Magic. As a power forward, Frye stretched the defense with his 3-point shooting and played much better defense than his reputation carried.

Phoenix signed free agent Anthony Tolliver to try to make up for some of what was lost.

Here are things to look for as the Suns begin their season:

TO START OR NOT TO START: Even with Frye's departure, the Suns might keep Markieff Morris coming off the bench in the sixth-man role he filled well last season.

Last season, his third in the NBA, Morris averaged a career-high 13.6 points and six rebounds per game.

''Is he deserving to start? Probably yes,'' Hornacek said, ''but we have to figure out what's going to be best for our group of guys. If we're not utilizing his talents in a starting lineup and we can use him more off a bench, then maybe we do that.''

BLEDSOE'S BUCKS: Bledsoe has a new five-year, $70 million deal to remain with the Suns.

That's a lot of money for a player who became a full-time starter only a year ago and wasn't able to play an entire season due to injuries, but he's only 24 and the Suns feel his best days are ahead.

FRONT-COURT QUESTIONS: The Suns did little to bolster their frontcourt in the offseason, only bringing in Tolliver from Charlotte

The team is counting on improvement from those already here, particularly Alex Len.

The Suns really want to see more from the 7-foot-1 center, the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft who has been slowed by injuries. The team has gotten glimpses of what it thinks Len can provide.

''He's a lot stronger, more poised,'' teammate Miles Plumlee said. ''We think he will be a big help.'

GERALD TIME: Gerald Green's spectacular athleticism combined with streaky but often devastating outside shooting made him the Suns' most fun to watch player most of the season. Now his minutes might be squeezed with more court time for Thomas.

Green can play shooting guard and small forward.

After bouncing around to six NBA teams in six seasons, Green found a home in Phoenix, averaging a career-high 15.8 points per game. He shot 40 percent from 3-point range, also a career best.

THREE POINTS: As if two point guards aren't enough, Hornacek is toying with having three on the court at the same time. He did it in a preseason game and the crowd loved the results.

''Sometimes for a three- or four-minute stretch it might change the direction of a game if we were a little slow and need something picked up,'' he said. ''It's great to see how it worked the other night so that we can think about at least using it occasionally.''

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