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Bledsoe’s return bodes well for the Clippers’ title aspirations

Financial considerations aside, the Bledsoe trade could have positive consequences on the basketball court.

LA Clippers v Milwaukee Bucks

When news of the trade that sent Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo, and Daniel Oturu to Memphis for Eric Bledsoe began circulating on social media, many fans were caught by surprise. Bledsoe was simply not discussed as a serious trade target for the Clippers as of late, and the loss of Patrick Beverley is something fans will mourn. Some speculate that the trade was simply for financial reasons (check out the roster and contract implications here), or to grant the team flexibility in case a bigger move could be made in the near future.

Regardless of the true intentions behind the trade, Bledsoe’s return to Los Angeles could have real, visible impacts on the court that will help the team.

Many are quick to remember Bledsoe not as the high-energy, Beverley-esque guard that he was in his first stint with the Clippers, but as a misfit with the Bucks who needed to be replaced in order for that team to win a championship. That characterization is far from what he actually offers on the court.

Bledsoe averaged 21 points, six assists, and five rebounds per game in his best season with the Suns in 2016-17. He is a dynamic combo guard who can both run the offense and play off the ball. He also brings a two-way game that the Clippers prioritize, with defensive stats that don’t significantly differ from Beverley’s numbers. His athleticism may also give him a leg up on that side of the floor, being able to elevate for high-flying blocks that even the tallest players can’t reach.

Most of all, he is a premier drive-and-slash kind of guard, getting a first step on his defender that opens up easy inside buckets or passing lanes for open 3-pointers, and the Clippers were missing that kind of rim pressure last year. Nearly 70 percent of his career field-goal attempts are two-pointers, and his conversion rate at the basket has hovered right around 70 percent for the past few seasons.

Just check out this early highlight reel of Bledsoe when he donned a Clippers jersey in the early part of the decade.

Even after seeing his skillset in the clip above, many still may point to his not-so-great shooting percentages as proof that he can’t fit with the Clippers’ high volume 3-point shooting style of play. There’s more than meets the eye with his percentages—remember, he mainly underperformed with the Bucks, a team that demanded spacing for its non-jumpshooting star in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

On the Clippers, however, Bledsoe will not be relied upon to bail out players on failed drives to the hoop. Instead, he’ll have more freedom to drive to the hoop or cut to the basket, working to set up a good look when defenses are distracted by Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Given his success at the basket in prior seasons, we can expect that he converts on easy interior feeds.

It’s also likely that the quality of his perimeter shots will increase, resulting in better outside shooting percentages. Key off-ball players like Marcus Morris Sr. and Nicolas Batum had marked increases in their 3-point percentages compared to the season prior, demonstrating that the Clippers’ system, in part, helps the players get good shots.

It’s clear that the Clippers have created an environment for players of all backgrounds to flourish. Terance Mann’s game drastically matured, earning him major playoff minutes and a key role when Leonard sits for much of this following season. Reggie Jackson proved that he could not just play, but excel at the game of basketball during high pressure moments in the postseason. Batum’s career was saved, effectively filling the role as an intangibles-focused glue guy which every team desires.

Now, it could be Eric Bledsoe’s turn, bouncing back from several years of underperformance into a revitalized combo guard who could be the missing piece for his former team fighting for a championship.