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The Risk And Reward With Eric Bledsoe

Feb 3, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe (12) tries to keep the ball from going out of bounds against the Boston Celtics during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline came and went, and the results were very lackluster. As anticipation rose for potential trades of Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, and Kevin Garnett, we were fed an unhealthy dose of salary cap trades, rights to European talents, and playoff teams declining to deal their first round picks in return for proven talents. What ended up intriguing me more on trade deadline day were the rumored deals. The Josh Smith to Milwaukee rumor spoke volumes to me; pairing Josh Smith with Larry Sanders (SANDERS!) would’ve given Milwaukee an elite defensive frontcourt, but an equally as poor offensive frontcourt. Kevin Garnett to the Clippers made sense from a Clipper standpoint (acquire KG, place him in the frontcourt, and let him do his thing on defense), but talks broke when the Celtics asked for too much couldn’t come to terms on a deal, and Garnett later squashed it, stating Boston was his home.

The Paul Millsap- Eric Bledsoe rumor, however, was the most intriguing. The Clippers don’t need another power forward, but due to Millsap’s offensive versatility, the Clippers could stick him at small forward for a handful of minutes. Would that be the title contending move? Maybe, but we’ll never know. The more intriguing part was Eric Bledsoe going to Utah. Not only does it remove the large glass ceiling named “Chris Paul” restricting Bledsoe from a successful NBA career, but it also allows Derrick Favors to start as well, a double whammy for Utah, and league pass fans worldwide. Knowing head coach Tyrone Corbin, Bledsoe would’ve been a reserve for this season, but for NBA fans, the idea of Bledsoe, finally free from backing up Chris Paul, would’ve been an enticing storyline for next season. Even before Bledsoe’s impending freedom, I have just one question:

Is Eric Bledsoe a starting caliber point guard?

Here’s what I know: Eric Bledsoe is a terrific athlete, and over his three seasons, we’ve seen plenty of growth in his game. He’s become more aware on the defensive end, he’s shown to be a solid passer (at times) in his limited minutes, and he’s become more dangerous around the basket. Still, I don’t have enough evidence to say that he’s going to be an effective starting point guard. Of course, Bledsoe will have his moments where he’ll look like a superior point guard compared to his counterpart, but in a league where the point guard position has reached a level with zero drop-offs, I have my concerns on where Bledsoe will fall in that pecking order.

Another issue of mine has to do with his offensive production. When you look at Bledsoe’s PER-36 numbers (numbers projected if a player received 36 minutes a game), Bledsoe’s numbers only max out to 15.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.6 assists, which isn’t terrible, but the assists numbers seem pretty low. Along with the average assists totals, his outside shot is still in its development phase. According to Hoopdata, Bledsoe is shooting 35 percent on shot attempts from 10 to 15 feet, and when he steps out to attempt long-twos (shot attempts from 16 to 23 feet), Bledsoe is shooting a meager 29%. Even his three-point percentage is fluky, as Bledsoe percentage is fantastic (41% this season), but he’s only conjured 56 attempts this season.

Eric Bledsoe’s shooting numbers, broken down by the locations. (Via: Hoopdata.com)

The assist numbers, per game and PER 36, aren’t huge for Bledsoe, and to add to it, the turnover numbers aren’t great. With Bledsoe being a reserve, you have to take some of these numbers with a grain of salt, but Bledsoe’s averaging 2.0 turnovers per game, and his turnover percentage is 17.6% this season, per Hoopdata. The 17.6% is down from his first two seasons in the league, but it’s still high compared to some of the elite point guards (Rondo, Westbrook, Paul, Curry, and Parker), and it’s even higher than some of the middle tier point guards (Teague, Vasquez, Lin, Lawson). Along with his turnover rate (again, something that can flux depending on the amount of possessions), Bledsoe also ranked 6th in turnover rate (similar to turnover percentage) among point guards who played at least twenty games and averaged at least twenty minutes.

Bledsoe’s advanced numbers from his rookie season to his current season. (Via: Basketball-reference.com)

Dipping deeper into the advanced statistics, Bledsoe has been a force off the bench for Los Angeles on the offensive end . He still has his vices, but he’s making strides this season scoring from the  ball-handler position. According to Synergy, Bledsoe is currently ranked 64th in the league in scoring as the ball-handler. Bledsoe sports a 0.79 PPP (points per possession) and he’s currently shooting 42% on 154 attempts. While Bledsoe is improving with the ball in his hands, it’s off the ball where his value skyrockets. The other areas where Bledsoe is dangerous offensively are offensive rebounding and cut plays. On offensive rebounds, even though he’s in a scoring opportunity just 5.2% of the time, Bledsoe is 20/32 overall this season, which equal 62.5% His athletic ability allows him to become a factor in offensive rebounds, and that allowed him to get points. As a cutter, Bledsoe finished on 60% of his total attempts. Thanks to experienced ball-handlers like Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford accompanying him in the backcourt, Bledsoe is allowed to wreck havoc off screens without the ball, and that has paid dividends for Los Angeles’ second unit.

As if re-signing Chris Paul to a max extension wasn’t enough pressure for Los Angeles this offseason, Eric Bledsoe will be eligible for an extension off his rookie contract. With Paul’s extension, Blake Griffin’s extension kicking in, and DeAndre Jordan’s contract, the Clippers don’t seem like a team that will also dole out money for Bledsoe, which would force them into the luxury tax. Somewhere, I already created an alternate reality where the Clippers dump Bledsoe (and Caron Butler’s expiring contract) to a lottery team for the draft rights for Georgetown forward Otto Porter. The Clippers get relief financially, a young prospect in Porter, and Bledsoe gets his own team. Even if that isn’t the direction Los Angeles takes, I think moving Eric Bledsoe is almost certain at this point.

Whoever acquires Bledsoe this offseason will be happy to have him, and rightfully so. It’s just the question of whether Bledsoe evolves into a Rondoesque point guard, scaring opponents with his ability to put up triple-doubles on a nightly basis, or if he’ll be more like George Hill, an effective point guard on both sides of the ball, but a point guard who you feel good about,  yet never great about. It’s moves like this that always provide intrigue in the league. Maybe Eric Bledsoe will be an effective point guard who can play 35 minutes a night for the next decade, but the early signs say that he’ll always be a nice effective combo guard who could wreck second units. To me, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

qhaynes