The numbers will support what your eyes already see. And that’s if you couldn’t figure out any correlation to go with the Phoenix Suns’ five-game winning streak or its seven wins in the last eight games.
Eric Bledsoe’s return from knee surgery and his re-assimilation into the starting lineup has produced these results. Not only does his presence in the starting lineup give back coach Jeff Hornacek one of the elite lineups in the NBA this season as SB Nation’s Drew Garrison finds, but the young point guard’s return has changed Phoenix’s entire complexion.
From the time Bledsoe went down with his meniscus injury at the end of 2013, the Suns inserted Gerald Green into the starting lineup. While that didn’t lead to much drop-off offensively, if any, lacking a ball-hawking point guard to disrupt offenses at the beginning of shot clocks proved to be perhaps the biggest change for the Suns.
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Phoenix’s defensive rating from Jan. 1 to March 11, just before Bledsoe’s return, was 106.3, which during that span ranked 18th in the league. In nine games since Bledsoe’s return, the Suns have allowed just 100.6 points per 100 possessions, a major improvement that during that time has them just behind, in order, Chicago, Indiana, Memphis, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers.
When Bledsoe was out this calendar year, the Suns allowed opponents to shoot 47 percent, the sixth-worst mark over that period. Since he’s been back, the Suns are allowing just 44 percent.
So what’s Bledsoe’s individual defensive impact? When on the court this month, teams have scored at a rate of 95.7, which puts him in a pile of players from defensive teams mentioned above.
A different look on offense
While the offensive does show a tad bit of drop-off with Bledsoe in and Green out, it also brings about a completely different look. Phoenix continued streaking toward an over-.500 team for a good while after Bledsoe’s injury, and credit Hornacek with adjusting to keep his team ahead of opponents, who were learning how to defend a new-look offense.
Eventually, that all caught up with the Suns. They went 3-6 in the final nine games without Goran Dragic’s backcourt mate.
While the point per possession figures have fallen off, the Suns are getting better looks. Instead of jumpers, a lot more is happening in the paint.
Here’s a look at the shot chart with Green playing predominantly and then the shot chart with Bledsoe back.
During the past nine games, the Suns are third in attempts 5-feet and in while hitting a league-best 69.2 percent in that range, which ties the dunk-happy Clippers.
Phoenix’s true shooting percentage — it accounts for threes being worth more, as well as free throws — has jumped from 55.8 to 58 percent, and it’s obvious how much Bledsoe and Dragic have worked together in transition, as well as in the halfcourt.
The slashing threat on the weakside has not only opened up opportunities for one another, but has led to a resurgence of the corner three-pointers being key to the Suns’ success. A quick look at the chart shows how well Phoenix is hitting from the corners, though the wing threes and straightaway attempts have tailed off a tad (sorry, Gerald).
And it’d be careless to forget how much Bledsoe has helped in the clutch.
A deal-breaking three-point shot by Bledsoe against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday closed the door to secure a Suns victory. In 15 minutes of game time with less than five minutes to play and the score differential at five points or less, Bledsoe has gone 5-for-8 from the floor, 2-for-4 from three and 7-of-8 from the foul stripe.
So yeah, Eric Bledsoe is pretty important. I’m sure you knew that already.