The Phoenix Suns traded for Eric Bledsoe because they believe he is a building block for at least the next five years.
With Bledsoe about to hit restricted free agency next summer, he will soon no longer be a value deal on his rookie contract. He’s about to get paid real money and will cost somewhere between 13 and 17 percent of their salary cap starting next season. There needs be legitimate production that leads to wins.
The put-back dunks, chase-down blocks and playing the passing lane steals are nice, but they make up such a small percentage of plays over the course of a game, it’s not nearly enough.
Bledsoe must improve on the nuance of every possession to grow as a player, specifically when looking at him defensively.
Currently, I would describe the former Clipper as a great on-ball defender and good overall defender. There is more to defense than guarding a man one-on-one with the ball in his hands, especially in the schemes being used today.
If you are not attentive and in-sync with your teammates, your opponents will force breakdowns.
This is an area Bledsoe needs to improve upon.
To be an intelligent defender, you need to know your scouting report. Being able to process the information you learned into swift actions on the court is a difficult process.
Bledsoe either didn’t know the scouting report, didn’t process the information or blatantly ignored it.
Pacers point guard D.J. Augustin was a 35.3 percent three-point shooter last year, but only 30 percent from the top of the key according to NBA.com.
It’s not that leaving Augustin is the worst decision in the world, but under these circumstances there was no reason to.
Sam Young, whom Matt Barnes is guarding, isn’t a threat to shoot or attack off the dribble. Barnes was able to play off Young cutting off any passing lane to David West. Lamar Odom was guarding West and in good position with West not being forceful fighting for position. Young doesn’t have an angle to get West the ball. No other help is needed here.
Instead of staying a little above the foul line, where Bledsoe would have been in good position to cut off Lance Stephenson from the weak side wing if he decided to cut, plus close out on Augustin at the top of the key, he dropped down in front of West. Young made the simple play hitting the wide-open point guard, who calmly drained a three.
I like this clip against the Celtics because it also shows a positive.
You can see why I believe Bledsoe has the ability to play in a backcourt with Goran Dragic. The Kentucky product ended up on Paul Pierce, a small forward, and holds his own. He has help from behind in Blake Griffin, but you can see the strength Bledsoe has as Pierce struggles to body him up.
Once Pierce passes the ball across the court to Jason Terry, the good ends.
Terry runs a pick-and-roll, which the Clippers have contained. Griffin sees where the ball is and the Clippers contain the penetration by switching (even though it looks like the scheme might not have called for a switch). Terry isn’t a threat to attack off the dribble and even if he attempts, Griffin has it covered with good positioning.
Bledsoe’s responsibility in this situation is to be cognizant of a potential dump-off pass to Griffin’s man, Jason Collins, and stay in position to recover easily to Pierce at the three-point line where he shot 38 percent.
Bledsoe gets caught cheating towards the middle of the lane, Collins sets a screen behind him and Pierce drains a wide-open three. This wasn’t a set Celtics play, but Terry, Collins and Pierce all read his mistake and took advantage of it.
The final play I’m looking at pretty much emphasizes everything Bledsoe can possibly do wrong.
After Tiago Splitter grabs the offensive rebound off of Gary Neal’s missed shot, the Clippers do a nice job matching up. Then all hell breaks loose because of Bledsoe.
It starts with him getting caught ball watching and losing track of Manu Ginobili. Matt Barnes rotates off Danny Green, doing a nice job protecting the rim. Ginobili makes a ridiculous pass to a wide-open Green on the wing.
Since Lamar Odom also dropped off Matt Bonner at the top the key, Bledsoe made the correct rotation over to Green, but was sloppy, out of control and unbalanced. He ends up flying past Green into the crowd.
Luckily for Bledsoe, the rest of his team made up for his poor close out. Odom mistakenly moving toward Green (should have gone back to Bonner once he saw Bledsoe in a sprint towards the wing) works in Los Angeles’ favor as Green can’t get a shot off and has to swing the ball to Bonner at the top the key. Jamal Crawford rotates from Neal to Bonner, who swings it to Neal. Ryan Hollins forces Neal to put the ball on the ground where Odom is in good position to protect the rim.
While all this is going on, Bledsoe is coming back from inbounds drifting towards the middle of the paint, not finding a man. Neal kicks the ball out on the wing to Green, the guy Bledsoe should have been guarding, for a wide-open three. Swish, an absolutely atrocious defensive possession by the 23-year-old.
For Bledsoe to take the next step as a player, these are the type of mistakes that need to be cleaned up. Great defenders are about more than athletic ability, which he has plenty of. If Bledsoe can learn to be in the correct position and anticipate situations, in addition to his physical tools, he can be a truly special player on the defensive end of the court.