Why Eric Bledsoe Will Blossom to New Heights Under Chris Paul's Leadership

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Why Eric Bledsoe Will Blossom to New Heights Under Chris Paul's Leadership
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

When Eric Bledsoe was traded to the L.A. Clippers during the 2010 NBA Draft, he had no idea how sweet of a situation he was entering.

He joined a Clippers team that had won just 29 games the prior season. Any starting hopes he had were dashed by the presence of guards Baron Davis and Eric Gordon.

The limited run he earned during his rookie season of 2010-11 displayed the typical growing pains of an NBA rookie point guard. His 6.7 points and 1.1 steals in 22.7 minutes of action per game showed flashes of the player that he could be, but his 42.4 field-goal percentage and 3.6-to-2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio suggested that he had some work to do.

However, the landscape of the Clippers' franchise (and Bledsoe's career trajectory) turned upside down when the team acquired perennial All-Star Chris Paul in the days leading up to the 2011-12 season. The Clippers' winning percentage jumped from .390 in 2010-11 to .601 in 2011-12.

The arrival of acclaimed veterans Paul and Chauncey Billups (both point guards) along with a torn meniscus in Bledsoe's right knee saw his minutes shrink to just 11.6 minutes per game and his scoring fall to 3.3 points per game.

A rare Clippers playoff appearance (which spanned two rounds and 11 games) saw Bledsoe inherit the minutes vacated by Billups (who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in February). He used each of his 189 minutes (17.2 per game) to reestablish himself as one of the NBA's hottest trade commodities.

By the time the Spurs had dispersed the Clippers in the second round, Bledsoe had tallied playoff averages of 7.9 points per game on 58.7 percent shooting.

Bledsoe's athleticism fills up his growing highlight reel (like this block of Dwyane Wade during the Clippers' 107-100 win over the Heat earlier this season), but a developing well-rounded game has kept his name near the top of the trade rumor mill.

With Billups still rehabbing his Achilles, Bledsoe has once again leaped at his opportunity. His 10.4 points per game (on a career-high 50 percent from the floor) ranks fifth on the 8-2 Clippers, despite him seeing just the eighth-most minutes (18.7 per game). 

There are countless basketball minds who see this as only the beginning for the young point guard. The Clippers have heard from trade suitors who see the presences of Paul and Billups as stunting Bledsoe's development.

In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Bledsoe credited Paul, Billups and assistant coach Robert Pack (who played 13 season in the NBA) in his ongoing development, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. Given the wealth of information accumulated by this trio, things will only get better for Bledsoe—even on this guard-heavy roster.

He's a gifted athlete and already one of the league's quickest players. His relentless defense often extends the court's full 94 feet. That quickness, combined with his natural instincts, have led to 4.11 steals per 48 minutes, good for third-best in the NBA.

If there are still limitations in his game, it's his inability to consistently convert his three-point attempts (career 25.8 percent) and his tendency to lose control of the basketball (4.6 turnovers per 48 minutes, tied for 19th-most in the league).

That perimeter shot will only improve with some serious gym time. But there might be a player or two (and even a coach) who can help Bledsoe improve those unsightly turnover numbers.

Paul battled his own turnover demons in his career. His turnovers per game peaked at 3.0 in 2008-09, but he's improved that number in each season since (down to just 2.1 this season).

With the collective whispers from his three personal point guard coaches in his ear, Bledsoe will discover that unique balance of playing aggressively while remaining in control of the basketball.

He's far too talented for those trade requests to stop and the Clippers will likely be faced with some enticing offers, but the Clippers would be doing themselves (and Bledsoe) a disservice by entertaining those offers.

He still has too much to learn from Paul, Billups and Pack.

All stats used in this article are accurate as of 11/19/2012.

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