In a couple hours, it will be a Clippers players' birthday. He'll be 23, and he'll take the court against the Toronto Raptors, undoubtedly to wreak havoc upon the struggling Canadian franchise. Let's look closely at the future and the present for this point guard. The player?
6'1", 195 PG.
#12, Los Angeles Clippers.
Or, Chris Paul's backup. The out of control, undersized point guard lacking refined skills who needs to live up to his potential.
Or, mini-LeBron. The athletic phenom who is unstoppable as he nears the rim in transition.
Maybe he's the overly ambitious pesk who is averaging nearly three steals per 36 minutes. Maybe he's the kid who stuffed Dwayne Wade at the rim.
Maybe he was worth a future first round pick. Maybe he's worth an 8-figure extension.
Maybe all of those things are true.
(Spoiler: they are)
Eric Bledsoe is averaging 19.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.9 steals, and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes. He's shooting 48% from the field and 33% from deep. 29% of the time, he's the Clippers PG. That's about 13 minutes a game. 9% of the time, he's the Clippers SG.
He is 17th in the NBA in PER, and third among point guards behind his mentor Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, a player whom Bledsoe is compared to often. Eric leads all PGs in offensive rebounding rate a 8.2 (second place is Royal Ivey at 5.3) and is 2nd in total rebounding rate at 9.1. He's 15th among point guards in wins added. That's a minute-based statistic. Every other player in the top 30 plays more than Bledsoe. Every player ahead of him plays at least 10 minutes more than him. Bled is also 15th in value added, another minute-based statistic.
So, he's pretty great, right? Case closed. Pack it up. Let's go home.
But wait. Are we so sure that this is the guy we want? He's turning the ball over at a rate of 3.6 miscues per 36 minutes. That's over a full turnover more than Chris Paul. Now, while the best point guard in basketball might not be a fair litmus test, those turnovers are an issue. He's often out of control, and he's not a trustworthy jumpshooter. The third year guard has an eFG% of 43.8% on jumpshots.
He's also such a phenom that he's been dubbed "mini-Lebron", even by James himself.
He also did this long before LeBron was singing his praise.
And, a couple weeks ago, he did this.
Go ahead. Watch those again. It's fine. I'm not going anywhere.
I'm serious. Treat yourself. You've earned this.
Now that we've watched Bledsoe's feats countless times, it's hard to make the argument against him as a long term player. He's special. You can tell in the box score, you can tell by his stats, you can tell by watching the highlights. Maybe most importantly, you can tell by watching the game.
His defensive pressure is his most significant contribution. His speed and athleticism is amazing.
The most important thing to me, however, is something that feels like cheating to say. Like we, as Clippers fans, don't deserve it. But when I watch Eric Bledsoe play, it's hard for me not to see it. Every once in awhile, he makes plays that make me say "wow". Not his dunks or steals. But on occasions that are becoming less and less rare, he makes a simple play, like hesitating to secure a seal as he comes around a ball screen, that leaves me wondering if Chris Paul is back in the game.
Now, he's not perfect. But that's a good thing. He'll turn 23 on the day that the Clippers face off against the Toronto Raptors, and he's in just the third year of his 4-year rookie contract. He's carving out a role of 18-20 minutes a night on a team deep with backcourt options.
The question for Eric Bledsoe is his future. It's fairly obvious that he won't be a career backup. He'll start a lot of games in this league and he'll probably play on an all-star team or two as well. There's an issue though. He's not going to be the starting PG for the Clippers for a long time, presuming incumbent Chris Paul hangs around. There's one thing that's for certain, and it's that if he's going to be a Clipper, Eric will have to be a shooting guard. It's tough for a 6'1" guy to do, but he can do it with his length, strength, and athleticism. And he'll have to do it, because once he hits restricted free agency, Bledsoe will get paid.
Basketball is a game of talent. You have to play as a team, but first, you have to have talent. You don't win in an 82-game season, and you don't win 7-game series without talent. Eric Bledsoe is talent. The Clippers could look to trade him if they don't want to play him at SG or pay him to be a backup, but I can't see them letting him walk in restricted free agency. He's just too talented.
So, what does Eric Bledsoe mean for you? Anything from a backup point guard who will be gone next season to the starting shooting guard for the next decade. Hopefully it's the latter.