Phoenix Suns: 10 Takeaways From The 2014-15 Season (Part 2)

Feb 23, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (left) against Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe at US Airways Center. The Celtics defeats the Suns 115-110. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (left) against Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe at US Airways Center. The Celtics defeats the Suns 115-110. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /
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Eric Bledsoe
Jan 6, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) reacts after scoring a basket in the fourth quarter during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Suns beat the Bucks 102-96. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

2. Eric Bledsoe Is Great, But Not Yet Ready To Lead

The lack of veteran leadership on this team is all too apparent, but if you’re looking for the real thing the Phoenix Suns are missing, it’s a star player. Fans got to see it in person when guys like Stephen Curry or James Harden came to town, taking over late in games and carrying their teams to victory. All the Suns could do was sit and watch and wish they had a player like that.

Ryan McDonough isn’t shy about letting the world know he’s well aware of this team’s biggest need:

"“That’s one of the challenges for us is trying to win in a very difficult Western Conference without a superstar player who can cover up a lot of mistakes. Those guys can bail you out late in the shot clock and create a lot of good looks for themselves and for others. “We have a lot of good players, but we don’t have anybody who’s an MVP candidate or a perennial All-Star and obviously we’d love to get one of those guys.”"

That’s where all that cap space and future draft picks come in. With the NBA salary cap projected to shoot through to roof to approximately $89 million in 2016-17, it might be worth going over the cap to better prepare this team for its future.

“We’ll be active again on the trade market, we have a number of picks, not only our own but coming from other teams, so I think and I hope that we’re still one of the first teams that other teams around the league call if they do have a star player that’s disgruntled or if they want to go in a different direction that they’ll call us first and try to hammer out a deal with us,” McDonough said.

None of this is meant as a slight to Eric Bledsoe, but as much progress as he made this season, he wasn’t capable of replicating his best work on a night-to-night basis. You know, like the time he dueled with Russell Westbrook and won in a game that had a lot of people (myself included) buying in to his potential as a leader:

As much as that game was huge for keeping Phoenix in the playoff picture, and as much as it felt like Bledsoe was ready to take the leap of becoming this team’s go-to player without Dragic, he just wasn’t there yet.

“The exciting thing for us about Eric is he’s just starting to scratch the surface of his potential,” McDonough said. “Last year he started for half a season and we saw glimpses of us but there were some questions externally about could he do it as a starter? Could he do it over the course of an 82-game season? I think he certainly proved that he could with the numbers he averaged.”

Bledsoe finished the year averaging 17.0 points, 6.1 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from the field. The only other players to average a 17-6-5 stat line this season? LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, per Basketball-Reference. The potential is all too clear.

Unfortunately, even with those well-rounded numbers, Bledsoe wasn’t always locked in. He was prone to disappearing for quarters or even games at a time, committed way too many turnovers, played lazy defense a times and just looked unengaged in general some nights.

Part of the problem may have been the Bledsoe needed help. He often charged into the lane at full speed, either losing the ball to the help defense or flinging it out of bounds once the defense collapsed, but having some perimeter shooting on the wings could’ve helped open things up for a guy who loves to penetrate.

Bledsoe may have also been overworked, as he was often tasked with hounding an elite point guard every night on the defensive end. When Bledsoe is locked in, he’s as difficult to score on as anyone in the league thanks to his size, speed, strength and ability to make impressive defensive plays from the weak-side:

“I feel great, but it wasn’t good enough, there’s a lot I need to get better at as far as my leadership, minutes, defensively, my approach to the game,” Bledsoe said on his season. “You know, there’s definitely a lot of areas I need to get better at and I’m definitely going to put in a lot of work.”

There’s a chance Bledsoe was burned out from not only playing more than he’s ever played in his career, but also from doing it while defending elite point guards every night. Part of that comes with the simple fact of playing in the Western Conference, but he deserves a little slack given that this was his first full season as a starter.

In fact, after missing half the season last year, Bledsoe averaged 34.6 minutes per game and played in 81 games this season. The only game he missed was for the birth of his son.

“The key for him will be seeing how consistent he can be,” McDonough said. “He certainly has a bright future at 25 years old and we’re very confident he’ll take a big step again next year.”

Bledsoe is a tremendous player. He’s still very young, he made great strides this season and he can be a tremendous secondary option on the right team. But that’s just the point: he’s still not ready to lead just yet, and the Phoenix Suns remain one superstar away from taking the next step.

Next: No. 1