With a dolorous 16-46 record (second-worst in the Western Conference) the Suns have been swamped away with injuries. And it doesn’t get easier, especially after losing a potential star for the remainder of the season.
Yes, Eric Bledsoe (torn meniscus) has suffered a major knee-injury for the second time in three years. Take note that he only appeared in 43-total games in 2014 due to a sprained meniscus. So experiencing this kind of procedure isn’t fairly new to him.
However, what makes this a rather-painful blow, is that we were just beginning to settle into some real towering numbers from him.
In just 31 appearances this year, Bledsoe averaged a career-high 20.4 points to go with 4.0 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 2.0 steals. His usage-rate bolted from 23.7 last season to 27.5 this year. His field-goal attempts also increased from 12.9 to 15.9 a night. If you look at the following chart, you can visualize the kinds of shots he was getting, and where his favorite spots are from the floor:
55% on shots from directly at the rim for any guard is ideal. For Bledsoe of course, that’s the norm for him. He’s an aggressive-minded ox who isn’t afraid of interior defense. But the area I’ve been most impressed with, is his three-point shooting. Not quite the marksman, especially from the corners, but if it’s from the wing or simply straight-on, his best chances await him.
Even being sidelined, the improvements Bledsoe has made from year-to-year have been significant (after being given the “orange” light). It’s a welcomed pleasure to see someone with his height of ability, finally getting a chance to reach stardom. Since college, he’s played behind great point guards, such as John Wall and Chris Paul. A comparison I’ve always improvised Bledsoe with was to Darren Collison, who was also reserved to Paul in New Orleans (and in LA). Collison is now in Sacramento, as a supposed backup to Rajon Rondo.
Since joining the league, Bledsoe’s path wasn’t the easiest of them all. He’s still had to overcome adversity, such as getting other “big-name guards” involved. It all dates back to last February, when the Suns surprisingly made more moves than they were assumed, or rather “supposed” to make. In other words: they ended up moving Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas for Brandon Knight.
Whenever you cough up two offensive-oriented guards such as Dragic and Thomas, it can certainly open up vast amounts of room to operate. After bringing in Knight, Bledsoe still continued to put up dictating numbers. Whilst being capable to instinctively play the two-spot, he really took it upon himself to provide versatility at the one.
As a huge fan of his potential, it’s a true bummer to see him go down once again. He’s unquestionably been a top-10 point guard in the game, and with a blooming age of young point guards, (i.e. Wall, Lillard, Irving) 2016 really seemed like “that year” for the Bledsoe-eclipse.
Following the shutdown, it isn’t necessarily “a blessing in disguise” but nobody can benefit more from his absence, than Devin Booker.
Pre-Bledsoe injury, Booker averaged 5.4 points in 14-minutes played. Following the injury, he’s improved to 15.2 points on 32.7 minutes as a starter (as of March 2nd).
However, given a larger role and more defensive pressure applied, his shooting has taken a tremendous hit as a starter. But as long as he’s gaining experience and keeping his head screwed-on, he’ll find his strides.
Referring back to Bledsoe, it’s unclear if the Suns are truly entitled, or “sold” about his future. After penning him to a lucrative 5-year $70-million deal last season, he’s all theirs no matter what crosses the Valley. There’s still perhaps more room for him to grow, and even he believes it:
“There’s a lot I need to get better at.” Bledsoe said in last year’s exit interview. “As far as my leadership and mental approach to the game. I’ve got to put in a lot of work…
“I wouldn’t say more vocal. Definitely need to be a little more demanding. You look at the Spurs, I don’t think they yell at each other but at the end of the day they expect more from everybody out on the floor. I definitely need to be a little more demanding, as far as everybody helping each other out.”
(read more: brightsideofthesun.com)
Bledsoe is an unrestricted free-agent in 2019, and it may seem like a protracted length in time, albeit anything can commence ’til then. At 26-years old he’s officially in his peak-years, and the Suns are pushing to get him healthy again. The question is “How?” It’s just so random to see a player like him to go down with all of his physical attributes and overall abilities. And heck, they don’t call him “Mini-Lebron” for nothing…
But alas, if Phoenix continues to find him on the sidelines, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not donning the orange-and-purple in the future. There are a variety of teams in this league that would cough up their entire stomach for a talent of such-value. It all lies in the matter of how much the Suns are willing to move forward with this. And forbid if this ever happens, but it admonishes me of Derrick Rose and his current state in his career.
What adds humor to it, is that Rose is only a year-older than Bledsoe.
He hasn’t won an MVP or even an all-star selection, of course, but with his current pay (due $13.5 million next year) getting him to compete at the highest level won’t be the easiest thing to do. And to include the injuries, he might never have a clear-shot to reach that full potential, or at least live up to his contract. That’s my reasoning as to why I think he’s almost in the same ball-park as Rose, evidently. But what they REALLY have in common, is that they could be out for 2 weeks, or 2 seasons. It doesn’t matter. Their intention is to come back stronger, and help their respective teams win ball-games.
On a side-note, I wouldn’t bet a dollar-short that Robert Sarver has a ton on his mind right now. If “changes” do happen in the Valley, it’s for the betterment of the franchise. From the situation we’re at right now, you can’t go anywhere but “up.”
If anything, Suns-fans have to remind themselves this, as each day passes and the next one arrives: Bledsoe is the #1 priority for the organization.
It’s time to build around him, and to win while doing it.