Would Eric Bledsoe Extension Put Goran Dragic on Phoenix Suns Trade Block?

D.J. FosterContributor IOctober 24, 2013

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 17: Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns in a game against the Sacramento Kings on October 17, 2013 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

In his first substantial move as the general manager of the Phoenix Suns, Ryan McDonough traded Jared Dudley to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe.

It was strange, if only because everything that should have limited the Suns in a Dudley trade didn't. Rebuilding teams are supposed to lose leverage. They're supposed to trade veterans for pennies on the dollar. None of that ended up being true.

It was a heist by McDonough, but committing a crime and getting away with a crime are two different things. If a contract extension isn't negotiated by Oct. 31, Bledsoe will hit restricted free agency in the offseason. There, he'll no longer be Phoenix's steal. He'll just be very, very expensive.

McDonough spoke to Andrew Gilstrap of ArizonaSports.com about the pending decision on Bledsoe:

If we're not able to work out a deal (by Oct. 31), we would start next summer with Eric as a restricted free agent, but obviously we're hoping to get something done before that. With Eric, there's more projection. Some would say there's more risk, but I'd also counter that there's more upside.

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It's the upside that made Bledsoe a target in the first place, and it's the upside that should drive Phoenix to try and negotiate a deal, regardless of perceived fit. 

That's not to say that the presence of Goran Dragic doesn't complicate things a bit, because it does. Dragic is owed $23.5 million over the next three seasons, so it's only natural that there may be some hesitation to dump even more money into a backcourt partner who, at least in appearance, isn't a traditional match. 

Perhaps some of those fears could be assuaged if the Suns had more time to see the pairing in action, but time is not on Phoenix's side.

An investment in Bledsoe, despite the tremendous potential for a reward, requires a small leap of faith, but there are plenty of reasons to believe this can work, despite what's being said.


"Bledsoe is too small to play shooting guard."

It's one of the most repeated complaints about Bledsoe, who is only 6'1".

Of course, height alone fails to account for the fact that players do not block shots or contest passes with the top of their heads. This is not soccer.

Using the pre-draft measurements from DraftExpress.com, here is a list of NBA shooting guards who have a shorter standing reach and wingspan than Eric Bledsoe: Terrence Ross, Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters, O.J. Mayo, Marcus Thornton, Monta Ellis, J.J Redick.

More importantly, here's a list of shooting guards who averaged more rebounds per 36 minutes last year, since we should care more about production than anything else: Andre Iguodala, Vince Carter, J.R. Smith, Evan Turner.

And finally, here's a list of shooting guards who averaged more blocks per 36 minutes: No one!

Bledsoe led all guards with 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes last season.

If you don't think Bledsoe can defend opposing shooting guards, you probably haven't watched him play. He's one of the best defensive guards in the game, and Phoenix will only get better on that end with him playing alongside Dragic, who is an incredibly underrated defender in his own right.


"Dragic and Bledsoe both need the ball."

This is another common critique, but does Bledsoe really need the ball all that much? No one controls the ball more than Chris Paul, so it would make sense to look at how Bledsoe played next to CP3 in Los Angeles.

According to NBAwowy.com, Paul and Bledsoe's true shooting percentage and points per possession both went up when they shared the court together in 219 minutes last year.

According to BasketballValue.com, Bledsoe recorded the highest adjusted plus/minus of anyone in the 2012 playoffs, and most of those minutes came in the backcourt next to Paul. 

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Dragic is not Chris Paul, of course, but there is a precedent here for Bledsoe performing well off the ball that even dates back to his time at Kentucky with John Wall

Dragic, to his credit, is a 35 percent career three-point shooter who can spend time spotting up off the ball. Perhaps fewer shots off his own dribble will help his shooting percentages improve, which will be a key aspect in Phoenix's backcourt meshing together on the offensive end.

As far as sharing goes, it's important to understand that neither player is a possession hog. Dragic and Bledsoe's career usage rates (an estimate of the team's plays used by a player while on the floor) combine to 41.4 percent, which is a hair over the percentage (40 percent) if everything were split evenly by all five players on the court. This backcourt shouldn't be atypically selfish.

The positional label should matter significantly less than the actual skills and production, but that might not be the case here. 


What an extension would mean

The Phoenix Suns are in no rush to compete. Even if the Dragic-Bledsoe backcourt starts off as bumpy as some seem to think, there will be plenty of time during the season to smooth things over.

It should also be noted that Dragic will be on the block no matter what happens with Bledsoe's extension, primarily because he's slightly older at 27 and he already has a substantial contract on the books. Rebuilding teams usually look to move guys like that, regardless of who else is on the roster.

Whether an extension with Bledsoe is negotiated or not, the Suns will want to find out this year what they have. In a way, Dragic can serve as the constant, and Bledsoe can be the variable.

Maybe it's not a conventional pairing, but the Suns have very little to risk by trying to make it work.