Eric Bledsoe is having a tremendous year off the Clippers' bench.
In his third NBA season, the 23-year-old point guard has flourished, averaging 8.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.6 steals in 18:53 minutes per game off the bench.
With Chris Paul leading the squad, Bledsoe is often viewed as organizational depth in a team with an embarrassment of riches outside its starting lineup.
Bledsoe is not the first, or even second name to pop up when discussing Six Man of the Year candidates on his own team, but he is quickly emerging as one of the best backup point guards in the NBA.
Learning from the best, Bledsoe is morphing into one of the game's most effective point guards under Paul's tutelage. According to Basketball Reference, he has averaged 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 3.0 steals over 36 minutes. His 19.5 PER is higher than rates set by Stephen Curry, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams.
He's stepped up his offensive game, shooting a career-high 46.4 percent from the floor with a .527 true shooting percentage.
And he also provides exemplary effort on the defensive side. The numbers from 82games.com show that, although it's commonly against lesser competition, the Clippers are a better defensive unit with Bledsoe on the court. They allow 100.2 points per 100 possessions with him present as opposed to 103 points in his absence,
Opposing point guards fare poorly against Bledsoe, managing just a .435 effective field goal percentage while turning the ball over 4.1 times per 48 minutes (also via 82games.com).
He's so athletic and ferocious defensively that his teammates nicknamed him "mini LeBron." That doesn't sound like a guy they should give up.
The Clippers have recently discovered the importance of a deep bench. Paul has missed the last three games with a bruised right kneecap, but Bledsoe has stepped right in to lead the Clippers to three wins.
Having too many good players is a good problem, and eradicating that could create a legitimate problem if Paul goes down again.
Or worse, what if he leaves this summer? Paul's contract expires, and while one would think he'd stick with a booming squad loaded with talent, there could be a super team waiting to be assembled elsewhere.
It'd be one thing if Los Angeles had a glaring need that needed to be addressed, but this is one of the most complete squads in the NBA. It's also one that, at 31-9, is gelling perfectly en route to a possible title run.
That's not something any team should toy with, especially one that has rotted away as a bottom-dweller for years while its crosstown rival took all the attention and accolades. For a team that has been reduced to a punching bag for years, too much is at stake for the Clippers here.
They're desperate to make a deep playoff run, and Bledsoe is a substantial piece of the puzzle.
Everyone has a price, but it's doubtful the Clippers will receive a fair exchange for a rising 23-year-old point guard.
If given a chance, he could develop into an above-average starter, even an All-Star. But from the Clippers' perspective, it makes no sense to open that door just yet.
Maintaining this nucleus together down the road will be a challenge, but they need to keep the gang together to make a run at the Larry O'Brien Trophy this year.