Having witnessed Eric Bledsoe develop as a point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers the past three seasons, I have seen plenty of highs and an equal amount of lows. There was the amazing playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs in 2012 and the difficulties of a turnover-prone rookie season.
Having witnessed Bledsoe's ups and downs, it is easy to see where the guard has improved but also what he still needs to work on.
First, Bledsoe is a menacing defender. His athleticism paired with his 6’7.5” wingspan allows him to hound defenders from one end of the court to the other. He is extremely quick laterally, which allows him to pressure the ball and fight through screens.
Furthermore, Bledsoe excels at jumping into passing lanes. According to NBA.com, Bledsoe finished the season second in steals per 48 minutes, and his defensive pressure caused turnovers that led to easy transition baskets. This is part of the reason why the Clippers bench was so impressive last season.
Other numbers reinforce Bledsoe's talents on the defensive end of the floor. According to 82games, Bledsoe held opposing point guards to a PER of 14.9, right at league average and recorded a career-best defensive rating of 101 (per basketball-reference.com).
As if Bledsoe couldn't be more impressive on defense, he also has the strength and leaping ability to block shots. In fact, Bledsoe led all point guards in blocks per game.
All of the reasons mentioned above are why the Clippers were 4.9 points better defensively with Bledsoe on the floor.
Offensively, Eric Bledsoe is at his best when in transition. Because he is so quick and athletic, Bledsoe is able to maneuver through defenses with ease. In the open court he attacks like a 6’8" forward. Much like Dwyane Wade, Bledsoe does not fear contact and often will finish into defenders and be knocked down as a result.
In half-court sets Bledsoe moves well without the ball, and his adequate ball-handling skills sometimes allow him to penetrate against a set defense.
If you noticed, most of Eric Bledsoe’s strengths are on the defensive side of the ball. It is from where most of his offensive opportunities are generated.
It is in the half-court that he really needs to develop his game.
While he is able to create for himself, he turns the ball over far too much. To his credit, Bledsoe was able to limit his turnovers last season, cutting his turnover percentage from 24.4 to 17.9 while averaging nearly nine more minutes per game.
However, he split primary ball-handling duties with Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford. This is one of the reasons why it might be a good idea for the Suns to play him next to Goran Dragic for extended periods of time. He must prove that he can take care of the ball in order to become an adequate offensive threat.
Additionally, his jump shot needs a lot of work. Bledsoe shot a career-high 44.5 percent from the field last season. That simply is not going to cut it for a starting guard.
Furthermore, do not let his three-point percentage fool you. Yes, he did shoot (what was for him) an outstanding 39.7 percent from long distance. But he did so in a limited number of attempts, making 31 of just 78 three-point attempts on the season. While the percentage looks fine, it definitely appears to be more of an outlier than a sign of genuine improvement.
For example, according to hoopdata, Bledsoe connected on only 29 percent of his long twos (16-23 feet). The problem seems to be his form: Each time he shoots and does not have time to properly set his feet, his elbow will flare, the release point will change and he gets off-balance.
The final thing he needs to work on is his awareness when running the offense. Bledsoe recorded an assist percentage of only 23.5. To put that in perspective, Chris Paul’s percentage was 46.5.
He needs to be able to see the floor better, which should come with more minutes. While Bledsoe may never dominate the ball like Paul does, he needs to find a more efficient way to run sets and create for others.
Eric Bledsoe is one of the most athletic point guards in the entire league. The things he can do defensively are so important and effective that they offset deficiencies in other areas of his game. The steals, blocks and pressure defense will be essential to the Phoenix Suns, a team that needs to dramatically improve its defense.
While he is limited offensively, he is still only 23 years old. His overall game has most definitely progressed since his days as a rookie for the Clippers.
Because of Bledsoe's youth and upside, acquiring him was well worth the risk for the Suns. They have a full season to gauge how his offensive game develops, especially in his role as the primary ball-handler.
Furthermore, Bledsoe will play a career high in minutes in Phoenix. The importance of that for a young player cannot be understated. While players develop their skills in the offseason, they need minutes in live-game situations to develop their awareness and feel for the game.
My final thought for Suns fans: Focus on the defense and intensity Bledsoe brings to the table rather than fret over how many jumpers he bricked the night before. In time, the jumper will develop, but his infectious energy and fearlessness will make him an immediate fan favorite.