Eric Bledsoe entered this offseason as perhaps the most sought-after trade prospect that has yet to really prove anything.
Thanks to limitless athleticism and a variety of jarring plays he has made as Chris Paul’s backup the last few years, his potential is tantalizing yet 2013-14 will be his first opportunity to command his own team and prove he’s worthy of that “future star” label.
Yet that doesn’t mean it’s too early to take a look at Bledsoe, as well as a few other new teammates, through the lenses of advanced stats.
Perhaps Bledsoe’s biggest strength at this point of his career isn’t an advanced stat, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. Only former teammate Paul and Ricky Rubio recorded more steals per 48 minutes than Bledsoe’s 3.37 mark last year, making this a category he’s already elite in. Opposing ballhandlers figure to have lots of trouble with the Suns since Goran Dragic has ranked in the top 20 in this department the last two years as well. Bledsoe is also an absurd shot blocker for a point guard, as his average of 1.70 blocks per 48 minutes in 2012-13 more than doubled the next best point guard at 0.7.
It may be too early to call Bledsoe the Suns’ best player, but his 17.60 PER would have led Phoenix a year ago, with Dragic nipping at his heels with a 17.52 mark. It’s hard to say whether Bledsoe can keep up his efficiency when playing more than 20 minutes per game and such a mark would not lead many other NBA teams, but it’s one reason so many teams coveted Bledsoe. Last season’s PER is an enormous jump from the 11.24 and 10.81 marks the former Wildcat put up during his first two campaigns, but such a third-year jump is not uncommon for such a raw player.
Bledsoe improved his true shooting percentage from a measly 45.4 percent all the way up to 51.3 percent as his overall shooting percentage went from 38.9 percent to 44.5 percent. The fourth-year guard has shot around 60 percent around the rim in each of his first three seasons, according to HoopData, but last year he improved from 18.2 to 45.0 percent from 3-to-9 feet. He has been a poor long twos shooter the past two seasons, hitting just 25.0 and 29.0 percent, but he doubled his three-point shooting percentage to 39.7 percent from 20.0 percent last year.
Thus far as a pro, Bledsoe has made a name for himself for his defense and his dunks, and his defensive efficiency numbers bear that out. According to NBA.com, the Clippers were 5.7 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Bledsoe on the floor. The Clips were also 7.6 points worse offensively, on the other hand, yet such a regression is expected for a player backing up an offensive maestro like CP3.
The Clippers’ most-used bench unit of Bledsoe-Jamal Crawford-Matt Barnes-Lamar Odom-Ronny Turiaf outscored opponents by a whopping 11.0 points per 100 in 283 minutes, a better mark than Los Angeles’ vaunted starting group. This lineup yielded a suffocating 89.8 points per 100 possessions, and Bledsoe was sure at the heart of that effort.
Bledsoe also thrived when playing alongside Paul, which could be a reason the Suns are optimistic he can play well in lineups with Dragic. In 185 minutes, the Clippers averaged an offensive efficiency of 115.9 and a defensive efficiency of 104.7, a net positive of 11.1, making them the third-best Clippers duo to play at least 175 minutes together. Somehow Lamar Odom belonged in the top two, and in 996 minutes covering 76 games Bledsoe-Odom were a positive 10.9 with a 93.7 defensive rating.
In terms of Wins Produced, Bledsoe was solid as well with a .151 WP48 that led to 4.89 Wins Produced (.100 is a league-average WP48). Such a mark ranks him slightly behind P.J. Tucker (.158) for tops among current Suns. Jared Dudley led the Suns in this department last year with a .174 WP48 that produced 7.89 wins, so perhaps Bledsoe’s contributions will merely cancel out what JD provided by this measure. Michael Beasley produced a team-worst -3.64 wins with a -.113 WP48.
In sum, Bledsoe was a terrific player in limited minutes who made major strides during his third campaign last season. If he can continue improving offensively to complement his already stellar defense, the Suns may indeed have a rising star on their hands.
The Indiana parts
If John Hollinger had been a member of the Indiana Pacers’ front office for the 2012 Draft, there’s no way he would have selected Miles Plumlee. After all, he ranked Plumlee dead last (60th) on his Draft Rater and likely was flummoxed he became a first-round pick. Hollinger wrote that his system “flat-out mocks Miles Plumlee, who is off-the-charts bad with a 2.49 Draft Rater projection.”
It’s unfair to evaluate Plumlee on the 55 minutes he played last season, but they weren’t good either. The Pacers were outscored by 8.4 per 100 whereas otherwise they produced a positive net rating of 5.2. Again, this is a meaningless small sample that could be subject to random variation, so I would put more stock in the negative draft evaluation than this negative piece of evidence.
With his athleticism maybe he figures it out and becomes a solid energy guy down the road, but expectations should be tempered for Plumlee.
Green played about half New Jersey’s minutes in 2011-12, and they were much better with him on the floor, going from minus 11.7 without him to minus 1.1 with him. In over 27 percent of Indiana’s minutes, the Pacers played about even with Green and plus 6.8 without him.
His PER also regressed from 15.88 in his career year with the Nets down to 9.92 last year whereas much of his career it has hovered between 11.5-13. Green’s true shooting percentage dropped from 57.4 to 46.5 percent last year as well.
The reason Green looks so overpaid right now is because he deserved every penny of the $3.5 million a year he will be making and then some based on his 2011-12 production, but he wasn’t the same player last season. If the Suns get the Nets Green, he may yet prove more useful for an effort besides tanking.
So many options
With seven players set to play under first-round rookie contracts next season, the Suns will face four decisions on whether to pick up a player’s 2014-15 option and a fifth on whether to sign Bledsoe to a long-term deal over the course of the next few months.
The Suns have until Oct. 31 to make these decisions, with the most pressing one concerning Bledsoe. Phoenix presumably acquired him to be a major part of their future so the team figures to make him an attractive offer. However, Bledsoe will gain leverage by waiting until he’s a restricted free agent next offseason, at which point another team could throw a crazy offer at him that the Suns would need to match to avoid losing him.
It’s difficult to peg Bledsoe’s market value since his so much of his worth is based on potential. He enjoyed a great season last year, but he did so in 20 minutes per game and struggled when running the team by himself for long stretches when CP3 was hurt. Bledsoe also is risking injury or ineffectiveness in a key role driving down his current market price.
Bledsoe likely could earn more when other teams have the opportunity to bid his price up, yet if the Suns make him a fat offer based on potential that could be tough to turn down as well. If the two sides do not reach an agreement, the Suns will just need to extend an qualifying offer next offseason to maintain his restricted rights.
The Suns will also face team option decisions on Markieff ($2.989 mil) and Marcus Morris ($2.943) as well as Kendall Marshall ($2.092) and Plumlee ($1.170). We will soon find out whether the Suns don’t see one or more of these four players in their future as well as how much they value their 2014-15 cap space.
Stockpiling for a star
Suns GM Ryan McDonough went on 620 KTAR this week and discussed a concept owner Robert Sarver first brought up three years ago at the press conference announcing Lon Babby and the Suns’ new front office structure when he said the Suns would likely find their next big star via trade.
“When teams have maybe a disgruntled superstar, what are they looking for in return? Well, they’re looking for picks, that’s what they want,” McDonough said. “I think we’re well positioned to strike if and when the next disgruntled superstar becomes available.”
The Suns have yet to even join such a conversation in part because their asset cupboard has been bare, but as the result of several trades the last two offseasons that is no longer the case.
Paul Coro broke down how the Suns’ two-tiered front office structure is finally working as it was designed when Babby was hired as president of basketball operations in 2010. All of the Suns’ basketball operations executives are playing to their strengths, which has helped the team pull off a pair of creative trades this offseason.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.