PHOENIX SUNS

Eric Bledsoe’s career night against Raptors exemplifies growth in complementary role

Jan 22, 2017, 8:52 PM | Updated: Jan 23, 2017, 11:29 am

Sweeping a back-to-back set against two Eastern Conference teams sputtering in very different respects doesn’t diminish the Phoenix Suns’ growth. Even if it’s projecting more toward 35 wins than 25 at this rate, it’s improvement, nonetheless.

The health of T.J. Warren, despite his quiet production since returning from a head injury, could be part of Phoenix’s baby steps in the right direction. Devin Booker’s stellar start to the calendar year certainly helps.

But secondary has been the play of point guard Eric Bledsoe, who in a 115-103 win Sunday at Toronto, put together a career-high 40 points to go with 13 assists. It’s the first 40-plus-point, 10-plus-assist game for a Sun since Steve Nash’s 42 and 12 in December of 2006.

Don’t let it fool you: those 40 points aren’t as impressive as the 17 shot attempts Bledsoe took to get there.

The total is not as telling as his 13 assists — it was just the 16th time in a Suns uniform that Bledsoe recorded double-digit assists for a game. Five of those assists turned into open Booker threes.

Eric Bledsoe's shotchart vs. the Raptors

Eric Bledsoe’s shotchart vs. the Raptors

Those 40 points came by Bledsoe playing as a facilitator.

More and more, he’s playing with purpose while running the offense. Against Toronto, Bledsoe hit 11 of his 17 shot attempts, went 14-for-14 at the stripe and 4-for-7 from three-point range.

Coincidentally, two of his better performances of the double-double type have come this year against the Raptors and point guard Kyle Lowry, an All-Star who was arguably one of the best players on Team USA in the Rio Olympics. Lowry shot just 5-of-17 against the Suns on Sunday, scoring 15 points and missing all but one of his nine threes.

In theory, Bledsoe fulfilling his potential would include following a path similar to Lowry, a late-blooming lead guard whose shooting, bulldog mentality on defense and ability as a secondary scorer have the Raptors chasing the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

Of late, Bledsoe, who at 27 is three years Lowry’s junior, has looked more and more Lowry-like.

By appearances, he has let the game come to him more and more, yet he’s taking as many shots and his usage is as high as it was before.

Bledsoe’s assist-to-turnover ratio has spiked from 1.98 in December to 2.71 this month. He’s playing nearly five more minutes per game and — like Booker — has a positive net rating for the first time this year. It was minus-7.5 in December and sits at plus-3.8 through 10 games in January.

Bledsoe’s personal offensive rating has improved each month, from 92.5 (four October games) to 101.5 (November) to 104.8 (December) to 114.1 this month. Much of that has been about forcing things less and deferring to Booker when the 20-year-old shooting guard has gotten hot. The Suns have slowed their pace considerably of late, and Bledsoe has benefitted from that; surprisingly, he’s a poor transition player due to his 20-percent turnover rate on such possessions, per Synergy Sports.

Maybe most importantly, Bledsoe has found his three-point shot — he’s hitting 39 percent this month but including that is still just a 31-percent shooter on the year. Sunday, the shooting stroke opened up the driving lanes. Only two of Bledsoe’s shots came at the elbows.

Bledsoe’s history of knee injuries is, in all likelihood, tied to his steps backward on the defensive end.

If we’re to read into his attacking mentality on offense, perhaps his athleticism that helped him so much on the other end is starting to come back. Whatever the case may be on defense, it’s clear the point guard is hitting his stride on offense, playing reactionary ball instead of over-thinking.

Bledsoe being his best isn’t about him taking the most shots or scoring the most points. Bledsoe at his best is playing the perfect complementary role a la Lowry aside starting swingman DeMar DeRozan.

In the middle of his sixth NBA season, it seems the Suns’ point guard is starting to figure that out. It doesn’t hurt he has a few other players in Warren and Booker who should be able to carry the scoring load.

Phoenix Suns

Karl-Anthony Towns...

Associated Press

Timberwolves hold off Mavericks to avoid sweep in Western Conference finals

Karl-Anthony Towns scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half and the Minnesota Timberwolves held off the Dallas Mavericks.

45 minutes ago

LeBron James and Bronny James...

Haboob Blog

Somebody who owns LeBron.com is teasing LeBron James to the Suns

Someone is toying with the emotions of fans considering the possibility of the Phoenix Suns drafting Bronny James and signing LeBron.

9 hours ago

...

Arizona Sports Video

Video: Why we should not discount the possibility of the Phoenix Suns getting LeBron James & Bronny James

Dan Bickley explains why we should not discount the possibility of the Phoenix Suns getting LeBron James & Bronny James.

10 hours ago

...

Arizona Sports Video

Video: Would LeBron James fit on the Phoenix Suns?

The Phoenix Suns are one of two known teams working out Bronny James ahead of the NBA Draft. Luke Lapinski and guest host Kellan Olson ponder the odds of the LeBron James joining the organization if the Suns were to draft his son, and if so, could the super star veteran fit in with Phoenix's Big 3?

10 hours ago

Bill Walton and Dave Pasch broadcast a basketball game on ESPN...

Arizona Sports

Bill Walton’s broadcast partner, Dave Pasch: ‘He brought the best out of me’

Dave Pasch remembers the late Bill Walton for making his a better broadcaster. And being a friend and sparring partner on Pac-12 games.

12 hours ago

...

Arizona Sports Video

Video: Dave Pasch shares memories of Bill Walton

Dave Pasch shares memories of Bill Walton on Bickley & Marotta.

13 hours ago

Eric Bledsoe’s career night against Raptors exemplifies growth in complementary role