The Clippers' Eric Bledsoe - Where Did That Come From?

How unexpected was Eric Bledsoe's stellar performance against Oklahoma City last night?  Starting for the Clippers in only the fifth game of his NBA career, he went for 17 points on 7 for 10 shooting and 8 assists.  There was really nothing that the kid had done on the court previously that would have led us to believe he was capable of such a mature performance. 

We knew about the speed and the athleticism, but the results to this point just weren't good.  Not in Summer League, not in pre-season.  I certainly didn't see all of his games at Kentucky, but playing with John Wall I think it's safe to say that he hasn't been this productive playing the point guard position since he was in high school.  It's difficult to describe just how unlikely such a leap is in your fifth NBA game.

Remember Summer League?  Summer League is the perfect setting for a rookie point guard to learn his trade.  If you think back over the years of the Las Vegas Summer League, the guys who tended to light it up were always young athletic point guards, and not always first overall picks: Nate Robinson, Jerryd Bayless, Russell Westbrook, Brandon Jennings, of course Derrick Rose and John Wall.  In that setting, which was ideal for Bledsoe to have big games, he was a disaster leading the team.  He committed 10 turnovers in his first Summer League game, and then committed 10 turnovers again a few days later.  Again, his athleticism and ability were evident, but he just looked so far away from being ready to play in the NBA.  He was throwing so many passes into the crowd, I actually feared for the safety of innocent bystanders. 

Here's what I said about him after his first SL game:

Bledsoe looked the best of the guys under contract, despite his 10 turnovers.  He made some passes that indicated that he has good court vision - and he also made a lot of passes that he simply should not have thrown.  He has a long way to go in terms of running a team.

When I watched him in the Clippers first scrimmage down at Camp Pendleton, he had clearly made a lot of progress. 

The difference between Eric Bledsoe in summer league and today is night and day.  Watching him today, we saw some of the tantalizing athleticism (he got to the rim easily on more than one occasion, and absolutely froze Jon Scheyer in his tracks on one crossover), and none (well, almost none) of the silly mistakes.  When he got in the lane, he had a plan, and there's little question that he led all players in assists, though I was not tracking those specifically.  I've been assuming that Bledsoe was not going to help this season - after today, I'm not so sure.

Then came pre-season.  With Baron Davis still rounding into shape and missing the first two games, Bledsoe had a chance to play some minutes.  Unfortunately, he was unimpressive when he was on the floor, and after Baron got back, Bledsoe ws relegated to third string again.  Strangely, despite it being pre-season and seemingly the right time to get him some game experience, Vinny Del Negro played him very little once Baron was back in the rotation.

 

 

Min

FG

3FG

FT

Reb

A

S

B

TO

PF

+/-

Pts

POR

30

2-5

0-1

5-5

3

1

0

0

6

1

-26

9

SAC

13

0-2

0-0

1-3

0

2

1

0

2

1

-14

1

SAS

3

0-1

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

0

0

+5

0

DEN

5

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

3

0

0

2

0

+1

0

UTA

1

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

1

0

-4

0

DEN

19

2-4

0-1

0-0

2

7

0

0

4

3

-2

4

SAC

9

0-0

0-0

0-0

0

0

0

0

0

2

-4

0

 

As you can see from his game by game pre-season stats above, his results were mediocre at best.  In his first pre-season game, he had 1 assist versus 6 turnovers and posted a plus/minus of -26 in 30 minutes.  Overall, he had more turnovers (15) than assists (13) in seven pre-season games - a ratio in keeping with his single college season at Kentucky (112 turnovers to 107 assists) - and an overwhelming negative plus/minus total.

In seven pre-season games, I was so disinterested in the kid (who was a first round pick after all), that I basically wrote one thing about him during his 80 minutes of action: "I thought Eric Bledsoe looked good in his 5 minutes of court time.  I'd like to see him get some more burn, especially in pre-season."  That's it.

So, no, I wasn't prepared for him to have a break out performance one week into his NBA career.  The court vision I referenced back in Summer League was in evidence last night.  His ability to make something out of nothing, to find open players on broken plays, was pretty special.  I had to watch his "under the basket behind the back bullet" to Blake Griffin a couple of times to convince myself that he actually did it on purpose (unfortunately Griffin missed the layup robbing Bledsoe of another assist).  His look away lob to DeAndre Jordan on a loose ball scramgle was a tough play that he made look easy - he has to corral that ball, survey the court, and deliver the pass in a split second.  His instincts for the game, at least based on last night's performance, are uncanny.

Here's another thing I wrote after the first game of pre-season:

[I]f he [Bledsoe] can make that Tony Parker tear drop in the lane, he has a chance to be really good.  Unfortunately, he showed absolutely no indication of being able to make it, looking terrible every time he tried it. It's a tough shot, but an absolute necessity for an NBA point guard his size.

Well, I guess he's been practicing that shot.  He made two of them last night against Oklahoma City (although he may not have called glass on the one that banked in).  So I guess he has a chance to be really good.  Most impressive last night was definitely the way he pushed the ball.  Three times he took the ball coast to coast for a layup, and one of those was after a made basket.  But just as impressive was what he did when he DIDN'T get all the way to the rim - he pushed the tempo, but when the defense got back, he pulled the ball out and ran the offense.  It was a high wire act, to be sure - I got the impression that he was on the edge of control several times, and one wonders how easily that game could have been 3 assists and 8 turnovers rather than the other way around.  It worked last night for him, but there will be nights when it won't.

Along those lines, we need to keep this game in perspective.  J.A. Adande may be able to generate some page views by ginning up a point guard controversy, but there isn't one.  Suggesting that there is after one great game from Bledsoe is pretty silly.  I seem to recall Mike Taylor scoring 35 against the Knicks in March 2009; six months later the Clippers cut him.  Big games happen.  Baron Davis is the starter when he's healthy, not because he's a veteran and not because he makes $13M, but because he's better.  Was Bledsoe's performance last night superior to anything Baron did in the first three games?  Sure.  Of course, that's one game, not to mention that apparently Baron was hurt during those first three games.  But that is the sum total of evidence that suggests that Bledsoe should be the starter.  On the other hand, am I the only one who remembers how inept the Clippers were without Baron during the pre-season?  When he played, they looked pretty good.  When he didn't, they looked terrible. 

I'd also submit the pre-season as exhibit A that Baron really is hurt and isn't tanking or faking or mailing it in, or whatever else people think he may be doing right now.  Think about it - why would he come out and play hard during pre-season, and then lose interest when the season starts?  Wouldn't it be the other way around?  If Baron was looking old and slow during the first three games, it certainly seems reasonable to conclude that it was due to issues with his knee. It's not good that he's hurt; but it's better than if he simply didn't care.

For the time being, it looks as if Bledose will have a few more games to show what he can do - Baron probably won't be back for the beginning of the road trip, if he makes it back for the trip at all, and Foye is likely out another week.  Not to be a naysayer, but I'll warm you that the odds are better that Bledse will have a truly terrible game before he has another great one (though I hope I'm wrong).  I'm not saying I don't think Eric B has the potential to be a terrific player - I'm just saying he's a 20 year old NBA rookie who hasn't played point guard since he was in high school.  He's bound to have some really rough nights this early in his career.  It won't be cause for panic if/when he does, any more than one game is an indication of a point guard controversy.

Something else that should be pointed out is how much time and effort Bledsoe has put in to improve since being drafted, a point VDN stressed in his post game comments last night:  "I give all the credit to Eric - he's worked hard."  This didn't happen by accident.  The kid is clearly just flat better than he was in pre-season.

The real question isn't "Who starts when Baron is back?"  The answer there is Baron.  The question is, "What happens to Bledsoe's minutes when Baron AND Foye are back?"  Obviously these next few games will go a long way towards answering that question, but I think it's pretty clear that the guy needs minutes - he can't be relegated to spot duty and garbage time.  When the guard corps is at full strength, I expect to see Baron starting, and I hope to see Bledsoe getting 15 to 18 minutes at the point per night, with Foye moving over to limited shooting guard duty.  Bledsoe showed last night what he can do, and he needs time on an NBA court to get even better.

SB Nation Featured Video
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Clips Nation

You must be a member of Clips Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Clips Nation. You should read them.

Join Clips Nation

You must be a member of Clips Nation to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Clips Nation. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9347_tracker