2012-2013 Clipper Player Previews: Eric Bledsoe

Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

For three weeks this preseason, we'll be publishing Player Previews for each of the 15 players currently under contract with the Clippers. In some cases there may not be much difference from last season's Exit Interviews, but the team does have seven new faces, and there were some significant developments over the off-season for some of the returning players as well, so let's get caught up with all of them before the season starts. Today's edition, the athletic, 3rd year guard, Eric Bledsoe.

Eric Bledsoe career stats (2 seasons)

PPG

RPG

STLPG

MPG

PER

5.6

2.4

1.0

19.0

10.9


While his career stats don't particularly impress, every single member of the Clipper Nation knows that Eric Bledsoe's contributions go far beyond the stat sheet. Recently referred to as the "LeBron James of point guards," Bledsoe is a physical specimen. He's got an incredible vertical leap, constantly rising well above the rim and using his long, Maggette-esque arms to become one of the best (if not the best) shot-blocking point guards in the league. Additionally, he's known to be one of the fastest players in the league--so much so, in fact, that as a rookie, he often struggled with outrunning the ball as he dribbled down court. By the end of his second year, he managed to reign in his faults to the point where his contributions far outweighed them.

Offense:

On offense, Eric Bledsoe can best be described as "lightning in a bottle." He's nearly impossible to catch, moving at full speed, all the time. He's also entirely unpredictable, constantly darting around the court, probing the defense and creating chaos. The vast majority of the time, the chaos he creates benefits the Clippers, resulting in open jump-shots, lobs for his big men, or scoring opportunities for Bledsoe. Occasionally, though, Bledsoe's chaos results in a turnover. His assist-turnover ratio last year of 1.4, among guards who played more than 200 minutes, was the 118th in the league. That's not very good (Chris Paul, for reference, was 2nd in the league with an A/T ratio of 4.4). What is good is how he offsets this with his defensive contributions, which will be discussed later. Bledsoe is also an elite rebounder for a guard too, especially among point guards, and especially on the offensive glass. Per 36 minutes, he's ranked 8th among qualified guards (and 1st among qualified point guards) in this category. He's better at grabbing offensive boards than Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, and Rajon Rondo (and better at rebounding in general than the latter two).

Bledsoe's never been a great shooter. Yes, during the playoffs he shot nearly 60% from the field, but for his career, he's shot just 26% from downtown and only 41.7% overall. Should we expect these numbers to go up? Probably, but it's not going to mean much if he continues to shoot only 5 attempts per game. Likewise, shooting a poor percentage on very few attempts isn't hurting the team much either. His real contributions do not lie in how many points he scores, that much is clear.

Defense:

Bledsoe is one of four Clipper guards who will see major minutes this season, with the others being Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Jamal Crawford. And while Crawford is going to be filling the role of the Clippers' instant-offense off the bench, Bledsoe will be his counterpoint: instant-defense off the bench. Like Crawford, Bledsoe could be considered a combo guard, able to work offensively both with the ball and off of it, and able to defend both guard positions effectively. Though he's only 6'1" (with shoes), Bledsoe's long arms and sturdy frame allow him to stick with all but the largest shooting guards, and even many of the small forwards in the league.

As was mentioned earlier, Bledsoe has become one of the best shot-blocking point guards in the league. And while his 0.3 career blocks per game doesn't seem very impressive, it's his per-minute blocking rate that puts him head and shoulders above the pack. At 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes last year, Bledsoe was in elite company. Among guards who played more than 200 minutes, he ranked 2nd in the league. Oh, and the guy above him? Yeah, that would be future hall-of-famer and well-known shot-blocker, Dwyane Wade. And what about steals per 36 minutes? He ranked 4th in the league, behind Tony Allen, Chris Paul, and Sundiata Gaines. Bledsoe may commit a ton of turnovers, but if for every 3.6 turnovers he committed last year, he stole the ball back 2.4 times, he's really only giving up 1.2 net possessions per 36 minutes, right? Not very detrimental at all. Add in the fact that he rebounds extremely well for a guard and the aforementioned shot-blocking, and Bledsoe's defensive attributes far outweigh his offensive woes.

Word is, Bledsoe put on 10 pounds of muscle during the off-season, and if the preseason is any indication, he's lost none of his intensity. Combined with Matt Barnes, the Clippers have a defensive unit off the bench that seems to use defense as its calling card. Given their dismal defensive ranking last year (18th), this is something that was badly needed.

Statistics:

As we did with my previous preview of Ronny Turiaf, let's see where Bledsoe sits with the three major advanced stats (PER, Wins Produced, Win Shares) for his career. Warning: it's not good.

  • PER ranks him 356th in the league. His 10.9 PER is not very good. This is the kind of stuff that makes me doubt PER. Well, at least when it's trying to evaluate non-scoring defensive-minded players like Bledsoe.
  • Win Shares likes him even less, ranking him at 441st. His 0.011 WS/48 looks terrible and well below average, but much like PER, WS seems to struggle to evaluate players like Bledsoe. Blocks and steals aren't exactly intangibles, but I guess WS doesn't really value them as highly as points or assists.
  • Wins Produced is kinder, ranking Bledsoe 286th, but his 0.056 WP48 is, again, not really being fair to him for all the reasons above.

Bledsoe probably isn't going to ever wow anybody with his statistical contributions, as he spends a lot of time harassing opposing guards, forcing them to take bad shots. That will never show up on the basic stat sheet next to Bledsoe's name, and therefore the three above advanced stats will never give him credit for it. Synergy Sports (mysynergysports.com) does indicate that opponents shot only 38.9% against Bledsoe last year, however. These types of statistical analyses are heading in the right direction, giving credit to guys like Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace, Reggie Evans, or Eric Bledsoe, who do all the dirty work on the court that doesn't appear in the box score.

Outlook:

What does Bledsoe's future look like? What can we expect from him during this coming season? Well, if last year's playoff performance is any indication, we can expect a lot.

During the playoff run, it was the one time when the stats actually did love Bledsoe. And why is that? Well, first of all, he shot 58.7% from the field and 42.9% from downtown. That's out of this world, and he probably won't repeat that over the course of the season. That said, Bledsoe did start to turn it on toward the end of the season, from a scoring perspective. In the month of April, compared to February and March, Bledsoe's minutes increased from 9 to 16 per game. During this time, he went from shooting a dismal 16.7% in February, to an improved but still putrid 34.6% in March, to a very respectable 44.1% in April. Tacking on the 58.7% in May during the playoffs, and Bledsoe's scoring efficiency was skyrocketing. Therefore, there's a reasonable chance he'll settle in that 43-44% area, which would be fantastic, if given the minutes he deserves.

In addition to increased scoring efficiency, if Bledsoe continues to echo his playoff performance, it's safe to say that we can expect to see less turnovers and more field goal attempts. Even if you throw the statistics out the window, the Bledsoe that we're seeing in these preseason games looks more and more like the Bledsoe from the playoffs, rather than the raw, untamed rookie from a year ago. If he can focus on these three offensive improvements--and with a teacher like Chris Paul that seems incredibly likely--Bledsoe will become a very, very solid offensive point guard. Combined with his already-known defensive abilities, he would be one of the best backup point guards in the league.

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