Phoenix, We Have a Bledsoe Problem

Dec 29, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) handles the ball against Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) in the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns won 99-91. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 29, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) handles the ball against Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) in the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns won 99-91. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

The problem:

Bledsoe is having a career year. But is he the right player for the young core?

Bledsoe is arguably having the best season of his career. Averaging 21.4 points, 6.4 assists, and 4.9 rebounds in 33.1 minutes per game. He has emerged as the player we all dreamed one day he would become. And most importantly, he is finally healthy! But is it too little too late?

At 27-years old how does Bledsoe fit into the future core of this team? If someone had asked me this a couple weeks ago I would’ve slapped them for even considering this a legitimate question. He’s been clutch, a great defender, an incredible leader, and has that unique quality that only a select few have to completely carry the team on their back. Couple his great play this season with the fact he is on a ridiculously cheap contract for a guard of his caliber and there should be no reason to question his place on the Suns for the foreseeable future.

Yet recently two undeniable truths occurred to me that actually made me question if Bledsoe can be Phoenix’s guy moving forward. 1- Bledsoe’s confusing inconsistency. And 2- the draft.

Let’s just take the last game against the Wizards as a perfect example of Bledsoe’s inconsistencies. He finished with 30 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, hit 4 threes, and shot 50% from the field. Bledsoe went toe-to-toe with his old college teammate John Wall and the Suns almost pulled off a miraculous comeback. But even with his great box score performance there were at least 15-20 times this game where Bledsoe made me think “who are you and what have you done with the real Bledsoe!?”.

First play, with 20 seconds left on the shot clock Bledsoe instantly takes Beal and Gortat off the dribble, creates about a foot and a half of separation at the free throw line, and shoots up a fade away shot. The shot itself was a decent look but Bledsoe failed to get any of his teammates involved. There was not even an attempt to orchestrate an offensive possession. Chriss, Warren, Booker, and even Len were lost, stranded near the three-point line. Nobody was cutting or rotating and there was no re-positioning by either Chriss or Len to grab the offensive rebound. All of this was a result of Bledsoe’s poor selfish decision – 4 seconds into the shot clock.

One minute later Bledsoe does the exact same thing. This time he attempts to barrel roll into Beal and draw a foul but it results in a bad turnover. Again, he makes this decision with 20 seconds left in the shot clock. No attempt was made to get his teammates involved. It even looked like a play might had been materializing with Booker coming off a screen from Chriss but Bledsoe wasn’t patient. He didn’t even wait for Len to pass half court before driving into the crowded paint.

This sequence might be the worst of them all and yet it does not even completely capture how egregious the possession was. If the clip was extended another 10 seconds you would see Bledsoe pick up his dribble with about 11 seconds left in the shot clock, sitting in that same spot, doing nothing but waiting for someone to bail him out.

These similar situations happened again, and again, and AGAIN, throughout the course of the game. Where Bledsoe refuses to organize an offensive possession and it results it a poor shot attempt or bad turnover.

Not one of Bledsoe’s assists came from penetration or pick- and-rolls. Three assists were on the fast break where the cutter was wide open and the other two came from designed plays where Bledsoe would sit at the top of the arc and wait for Booker to come off a screen from Len for an open three. Every other situation where Bledsoe was tasked as the main facilitator resulted in him being the number one option and having his teammates defer passes back to him.

Three weeks back I wrote an article about how trading Bledsoe would be a terrible decision. I still stand by that, but recently more of Bledsoe’s bad habits have became more prevalent. My main argument then was that Bledsoe is a good distributor, as he is top 10 in passes per game, but his teammates were not capable of scoring off their opportunities and thus Bledsoe needed to take the brunt of the offense. But I am not too sure this is the case anymore.

Tyler Ulis’s recent play as a pure point guard has highlighted the floor general flaws of Bledsoe. In his last 5 games Ulis is averaging 11.6 points, 6.4 assists, and 1.6 steals, while shooting 54.6% from the floor, in 23.2 minutes per game. He has been playing exceptional and the success he has been having in the pick and roll game with Len and Williams has been staggering.

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Ulis might be the biggest factor in the offensive breakout of Alan Williams. Even at the age of 21 he knows how to organize an offensive possession getting multiple teammates involved. Ulis seamlessly has made everyone around him better. Can the same be said of Bledsoe?

The up coming draft will be the biggest for the Suns in recent years. With 5 of the top 7 prospects being point guards, Phoenix has a real decision to make. The Suns currently have the 3rd pick with most mock drafts projecting the Suns to select either Lonzo Ball or Josh Jackson. This will be the moment the front office either decides if Bledsoe is the future or not.

Lonzo Ball is having an incredible freshman year averaging 14.9 points, 7.8 assists, 6.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 0.8 blocks, while shooting 56% from the field. He has incredible floor vision, athleticism, a nice three-point stroke, and great defense potential. The backcourt of Ball and Booker would build with the youth movement. Furthermore, The Suns could force this tandem to stay together for the next seven seasons. Something highly attractive to any front office.

Josh Jackson on the other hand is the safer option. He is a tremendous defender, efficient with his opportunities, moves exceptional without the ball in his hands, and has a knack of finding opportunities for his teammates to score. This situation feels eerily similar to the decision the Charlotte Bobcats had to make back in 2012. Do you pick the safe, reliable, defensive-minded Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or the offensive potential of the young Bradley Beal? To be fair, Josh Jackson and Lonzo Ball are touted as better prospects than Kidd-Gilchrist or Beal ever were. But the situation remains similar. Drafting Ball would be a much larger risk but could potentially have the greatest reward.

The front office is going to have some important franchise altering questions to answer this off-season.

The big question is: will Bledsoe be apart of it?