Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe has always been a polarizing figure in the NBA.
There have been very-few players at the mere height of 6’1″ who can obtain such sturdy athleticism and power in which Bledsoe has. To include that he has the abilities of catching a high lob-pass in mid-air, or even running the length of the court for a chase-down rejection (on someone eight-inches taller than him). The nickname, “Mini-LeBron” was born.
Bledsoe has played in less than 45 games across three of his seven seasons as a pro, after being decimated by constant knee-injuries. But when healthy, there’s very little that any matchup can do to stop him. He’s now played in all 46 games of the 2016-17 season, and has certainly been impressive.
While averaging 21 points, 6.2 assists, 5.0 rebounds and also having his lowest turnover percentage since becoming a full-time starter, Bledsoe is in the midst of a career-year, despite the Suns third-worst record in the league at 15-31. On shots within eight-feet of the rim, Bledsoe is converting on 59.7% of his attempts. He’s getting to the rim seemingly at will, while even demanding perimeter players such as Devin Booker, Jared Dudley or even Leandro Barbosa to space the offense.
On a side-note, Eric’s 3-point shooting has taken a dip this year. What’s different however, is that he’s getting to the line more often, and his finishing ability in the paint has boosted. His true shooting has gone up to .564%, the second-highest of his career.
His ability to lead the team as a floor-general has been a fantastic development. In the past, a high-screen at the top of the key was a perfect “in” for Bledsoe to drive through space towards the basket. Now though, his persistence in the pick-and-roll has been redefined. He’s learned to slow the game down at the right time, and instead of turning on the jets, he finds the open-man with a subtle pocket pass, or perhaps lob to one of the young big-men on the team. A gentle reminder of his time under the tutelage of Chris Paul.
The way people overlook Bledsoe‘s offensive capabilities have certainly made him an underrated player. And although he isn’t mentioned as an All-Star snub by the casual NBA fan, his worthiness to be in that conversation is undeniable.
When you look at the raw numbers, Bledsoe is outscoring Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley by 2.4 points per game (although not as efficiently), out-rebounding him by 1.2 boards, averaging more steals and blocks, and equalling Conley’s assist tally of 6.2 dimes. On the other end of the floor, it’s a coin-toss as to who the better defender is, with both players having a reputation for terrorizing opposing guards and being such a lock-down presence in the back-court.
Bledsoe’s NBA career is a fascinating story to follow. With the fierce competition in the Western Conference, it’s looking unlikely that he’ll ever be awarded an All-Star nod, at least not while the likes of Curry, Paul, Westbrook and also James Harden continue to dominate at their respective positions.
But at the same time, Bledsoe beginning to make a name for himself as one of the top two-way guards in the entire league.