After making the jump from the NBA’s best-kept secret to the intriguing engine on the Los Angeles Clippers’ "A Tribe Called Bench," young guard Eric Bledsoe has some tough offseason work to do in order to maximize his potential heading into next season.
Bledsoe made a name for himself last year as a change-of-pace guard to maestro Chris Paul and a ball-hawking perimeter defender. The guard’s athletic assets already make him a valuable addition to any rotation, but if he can improve on some of his weaknesses, then Bledsoe can really contribute to both the bench and the starting unit.
Let us take a look at some specifics that Bledsoe can work on this summer.
One of the most challenging components for a young guard is dictating the pace of the game and managing the jump from college to the pros.
Bledsoe is at his best in the open floor, when he is unleashed to create something out of nothing. However, when the game slows down and teams focus on limiting Bledsoe’s penetration, the point guard struggles to read complex defenses and generate a sustainable offense.
In the twelve games that Bledsoe started in place of Paul, there were often mixed results as he attempted to adapt to the starting lineup. In an up-and-down game against the Houston Rockets, Bledsoe dropped in 19 points to go along with seven boards and five assists in an impressive 117-109 road victory.
Despite his impact on the game, Bledsoe still finished with three turnovers, the second-most on the team that night. A 5-to-3 assist/turnover ratio is not ideal for a starting point guard, and it brought to light some of the issues plaguing Bledsoe when he is not in his fast-break comfort zone.
In a road no-show against the bottom-feeder Toronto Raptors, Bledsoe put up a putrid 10 points and three assists to go along with three turnovers in 34 minutes of action. It was an opportunity for Bledsoe to torch a weak defense, and his poor performance contributed to one of the worst losses of the season for Lob City.
Since Bledsoe averaged just 20.4 minutes per night, his cumulative numbers don't fully demonstrate his impact. His per-36-minutes averages of 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 3.2 turnovers are a bit more insightful, giving us a glimpse of some of his potential.
Across the board, his numbers are rather impressive, and that is likely why he could be a valuable trading chip if the Clips are able to re-sign CP3 this offseason. Nevertheless, the most striking part of his stat line is his number of turnovers per game.
Bledsoe needs to work closely with his coaching staff and teammates this summer to develop better chemistry and limit his turnovers. Summer League should also be considered, as more reps in both opening minutes and crunch time will benefit Bledsoe come opening night.
Turnovers usually drop over time as a player matures. However, with Paul, the Clips are not a lottery team. They are a fringe contender and need to expedite the growth process for their young guys.
In order to capitalize on his game, Bledsoe will need a better feel for the half-court offense.
Having improved only two percent from the field between his rookie campaign and his third year, Bledsoe will need to tighten up his shooting both in the paint and on the perimeter.
Bledsoe shot his best in the restricted area, converting 55 percent of his baskets near the rim. A few steps out, that number plummeted to 41 percent in the other parts of the paint. Mid-range jumpers were even more disappointing, as Bledsoe shot just 40-of-135, good for 30 percent.
Bledsoe’s underwhelming shooting allowed defenses to sag off of him, almost daring him to shoot. While a sagging defender might open up Bledsoe’s court vision, his inability to dominate the pace of the game compromises his value.
Bledsoe should work closely with shooting coaches throughout the summer and develop some additions to his game. A soft floater a la Tony Parker or a patented elbow jump shot like Paul's would really expand Bledsoe’s arsenal.
Perhaps he can continue his improvement as a three-point shooter. Bledsoe shot a career-high 39.7 percent from behind the arc last season, a significant improvement from his 20 percent clip a season ago.
If Bledsoe can develop into a more lethal three-point threat, then he can force defenders to play up on him. That defense will play into Bledsoe’s athleticism on the perimeter, giving him more weapons to attack with as he continues his marked improvement.
Team Defense Among the Clippers Starters
Although Bledsoe is a monster individual perimeter defender, improvements in his team defensive scheme will yield tremendous benefits for the Kentucky product.
Bledsoe is an adept thief, averaging 1.4 steals per game last season. He is also a threat as a weak-side rim-protector. Numerous blocks, including Bledsoe’s rejection of the NBA’s best shot-blocking guard in Dwyane Wade, were just some of his highlights last season.
His team defense is also very impressive for a player so young.
Out of Clipper lineups that logged at least 200 minutes together, Bledsoe was on the stingiest five-man unit. Alongside Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf, Bledsoe’s lineup boasted a staunch 89.8 defensive rating.
However, many of Bledsoe’s minutes came against different team’s second units. Given the miserable play of Chauncey Billups in the postseason, mini-LeBron might enjoy more minutes alongside Chris Paul and the Clipper starters in 2012-13, unless the front office finds a significant upgrade this offseason.
Playing alongside the smaller Paul, Bledsoe will likely defend opposing teams' lankier shooting guards. His speed, bulk and monster 6’8” wingspan can make him a pest, but he will need to better know his role alongside budding rim-protector DeAndre Jordan and still-improving Blake Griffin.
Substitute Green for Bledsoe and that number instantly increases. Bledsoe playing heavy minutes alongside All-NBA defender Paul could create a havoc-wreaking hybrid backcourt.
As soon as the Clippers decide on their next head coach, management should determine expectations for the young guard, and come into 2013-14 ready to capitalize on his tremendous offensive and defensive potential.
All statistics used from Basketball-Reference.com, 82games.com and NBA.com/Stats.