Former Sun Eric Bledsoe giving Bucks new, exciting dimension

Nov 21, 2017, 7:01 PM | Updated: Nov 22, 2017, 11:58 pm
Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe (6) drives to the basket for a shot after getting past Dallas Ma...

Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe (6) drives to the basket for a shot after getting past Dallas Mavericks' Dennis Smith Jr. (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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When the Phoenix Suns traded Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks, there was the sense of it being a “no-brainer” from Milwaukee’s end, and he’s been showing why that’s the case.

After his unorthodox start to the season, it shouldn’t be seen as a surprise that Bledsoe is struggling at the beginning of his Bucks career.

But man is he struggling.

Through six games, the Bucks have the fifth-worst offensive rating in the NBA since Bledsoe’s arrival, and Bledsoe is averaging 12.2 points, 4.5 assists and 2.7 turnovers per game on 36 percent shooting.

That can leave those quick to scan the numbers say it’s been a bad fit early, but there are signs that it can work as everyone imagined.

The specific boxes Bledsoe checks as a player gives the Bucks a type of point guard they haven’t had in a long time.

The reason this is so important for Milwaukee is that it unlocks another branch of their overall potential as a team.

In their theoretical best five-man unit (they have only played with this group for two minutes so far), the Bucks have Bledsoe, Giannis Antetokounmpo — one of the five best players in the NBA — and the trio of Tony Snell, Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton.

The last three players are all great shooters and good passers who work hard defensively and make the right play, but Middleton is the best of the three as a dribbler and scorer. Even then, Middleton isn’t consistently attacking the basket, let alone doing it to set up his teammates.

That’s where Bledsoe comes in.

He’s not only doing that, but he’s pushing the pace as well, something this team sorely needs given the amount of gravity Antetokounmpo and the shooters hold to space an offense.

A perfect example of how it all works together is against the Dallas Mavericks.

Bledsoe runs a two-man game with John Henson with Antetokounmpo, Snell and Middleton on the floor. That lineup, by the way, has been heavily utilized by coach Jason Kidd — it’s already the team’s third most-used five-man group — and is producing a solid 8.4 net rating.

Wes Matthews does not dare leave Middleton any space in the strong corner, no one is ever helping off Antetokounmpo in the weak corner and Harrison Barnes can only briefly tag Henson as he goes back to recover on Snell.

That leaves poor 39-year-old Dirk Nowitzki left to cover Bledsoe and rookie Dennis Smith Jr. battling through two screens.

With Bledsoe more engaged on both ends, he’s going to be seeing more opportunity to create on the offensive end.

DeAndre Liggins doesn’t shoot here, but watch Bledsoe turn down an open shot to create an even better open look from the corner.

Bledsoe doesn’t get enough credit in the basketball IQ department because of his style of play and uninspiring assist numbers, but he sees those types of opportunities and will capitalize.

He makes a great read here to turn down the obvious, easier pass to the corner that the Pistons’ Avery Bradley might pick off anyway.

Instead of making that pass to either T.J. Warren or Marquese Chriss, he’s finding the 40 percent career 3-point shooter Middleton.

The best of how well he slides into the Bucks’ lineup is when he runs a two-man game with Antetokounmpo.

Watch Detroit’s Anthony Tolliver have no choice but to stay a step closer to Antetokounmpo than he normally would have to for a roll man, leaving Bledsoe wide open for his signature midrange jumper.

A popular but true point to make is that Player X has never played with as good of a player as Player Y. Bledsoe has never come close to playing with someone as good as Antetokounmpo, and the numbers back up their early success.

In 146 minutes together through Bledsoe’s six games as a Buck, he and Antetokounmpo have put together a 104.4 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and 92.4 defensive rating, the latter of which is the most impressive.

Defensively, Bledsoe is clearly putting in more effort to get back to the reputation he built as one of the league’s best defensive point guards.

Asked to do less in Milwaukee, Bledsoe can be more consistent with his defense, picking up guards at half-court. Here, he picks the pocket of the rookie Smith.

He’s still going to snooze off the ball occasionally, but Bledsoe being a plus-defender makes him that much better of a player than he was in Phoenix.

Combine all those aforementioned elements together, and you get sequences like this one that the Bucks couldn’t have dreamed of happening without him.

You get the effort and the block on the closeout, the effort again to get the loose ball, the transition look with him pushing it and the wherewithal to realize Middleton is trailing.

To put it simply, seeing Bledsoe back on a winning team is fun. Should Suns fans be mad at his lack of effort at times with the team? Absolutely.

The way he went about getting traded was debatable, but Bledsoe has wound up in a great spot to play during the prime of his career. He’s a pivotal piece on a team that has a chance to make the conference finals, and you can agree that’s a much better position than he was in a month ago, no matter how you feel about how he went about it.

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Former Sun Eric Bledsoe giving Bucks new, exciting dimension