By Michael Pina
Eric Bledsoe is one of the four best players on one of the league’s three
best teams. He’s making $1.7 million this season, and is due $2.6 million
in 2013-14. A growing notion across the league (and, of somewhat equal
importance, the internet) is that Bledsoe could be dealt as soon as this year’s
Why? The logic goes that if the Clippers re-sign Chris Paul to a five-year
$100 million contract this summer (a more than likely probability), they’ll
have little cap space to max out Bledsoe once he becomes a restricted free
agent in 2014. He’s very good now, and by then he could be one of the
league’s more exciting two-way players.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, they’ll already have Paul. And paying a
backup max money doesn’t make a ton of sense for obvious reasons. If they
deal him now, Los Angeles can maximize on his value.
But do you really have to trade him now, or after the season (or before next
year’s trade deadline if the Clippers continue to hum)? Bledsoe has already
entered the transitionary phase all fans want from the young players their
team recently drafted.
Despite playing five fewer minutes per game now than in his rookie season
(due to an overflow of capable bodies on the team) Bledsoe has become
a different player. His PER right now is more than double last season and
better than Tony Parker, Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, and James Harden,
and his points per 36 minutes have skyrocketed (from 10.6 to 10.2 to 18.9).
Frankly, as one of the best athletes in a league filled with the most athletic
people in world, Bledsoe’s playing time isn’t acceptable right now. He
hasn’t scored more than 15 points in a game this season, but he also hasn’t
played more than 27 minutes.
Perhaps most impressive about his evolution is the shot selection. Bledsoe is
an unstoppable little monster who gets to the rim and does serious damage
when he arrives. He’s shooting 68.2% on 3.5 attempts per game, numbers
that indicate he should probably be placed in advantageous situations to do
this even more.
His three-point attempts are down and his free-throw attempts are up, which
is good news for a player who shot 20% behind the arc last season and is
shooting 80% from the line right now. Also, his turnovers are way down
while his usage percentage has gone way up. Exactly what you want to see
from a 23-year-old who’s learning how to run a team.
(On top of everything that was just written, Bledsoe’s percentage of shots
assisted has also gone down, indicating a player who’s become more
responsible, and capable, within his team’s offense.)
The obvious answer is “more Bledsoe” as opposed to something else
altogether. But unfortunately, basic economics and simple logic figure to
eventually force Los Angeles’ hand. You can’t give Bledsoe a max contract
unless you’re want your starting shooting guard to stand 6’1”.
Paul and Bledsoe have shared the court for 81 minutes this season, and the
result is basically the league’s best offense by a mile that gives up more
points than the Sacramento Kings.
Independently, when Bledsoe is on the court as opposed to when he’s off
(typically as a point guard) the Clippers defense reaches an elite level,
allowing only 93.3 points per 100 possessions.
Bledsoe’s value across the league right now is high. At 23 years old he’s
already better than a slew of starting point guards, and what he’s shown
in limited minutes (hyper efficient play, top notch defensive ball pressure,
unbelievable athleticism/energy, etc.) should make GMs across the league
salivate at the thought of possessing him throughout his prime.
I took the liberty of polling a few NBA bloggers from ESPN’s TrueHoop
Network, and almost all were willing to part with any player on their team’s
current roster (save for young All-Stars). Clearly his worth is well above per
game statistics, and if placed on the market a maximum contract offer would
be delivered by at least a handful of teams with cap space.
But the fundamental purpose of being an NBA team is to win the
championship, and moving Bledsoe seriously limits the Clippers’ probability
of doing so either this season or next.
As the season goes on, and head coach Vinny Del Negro further explores
five-man units that keep Bledsoe and Paul on the court at the same time,
more and more will the Clippers come to the conclusion that keeping their
future star backup point guard on board is the smartest decision possible.
Sometimes the best move is no move at all.
Michael Pina is a writer on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network and ScoreBig.com.
You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina