The sign of being a star in the NBA is setting a tone, having attention to detail and bringing a level of consistency on a night-to-night basis.
Eric Bledsoe took another step towards establishing himself in this vein as the Phoenix Suns demolished the Denver Nuggets 105-81 Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Bledsoe paced the Suns offense with 30 points on 11-16 shooting in 30 minutes of game-action. On the other end, where he defends the opponents’ best guard regularly, he held Nuggets Emmanuel Mudiay to 13 points on 6-18 from the field.
It’s not only the obvious Bledsoe is doing, as he’s become the clear cut best player on the roster and one of the top point guards across the league. He’s also doing the little things that aren’t as noticeable and they are shining through.
Making sure Phoenix gets smart two-for-one’s at the end of quarters, directing 21-year-old Archie Goodwin where to go with the ball in the half court offense, and yelling at P.J. Tucker for not cutting despite being up 23 in second quarter.
“When you just start to be a starter and you start to make your way in this league, you’re worried about what you can do,” said Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek. “[Bledsoe] is past that stage. He is at the stage where he is looking how our play is developing and how can I get my guys a shot and be open and that’s great. That’s another level that we need from him and, again, I think he is seeing the game a lot better now and as we move on he sees more of that and our guys understand that he sees it.”
The definition of what a star is or isn’t is a complicated topic in NBA terms. Bledsoe has been somewhat overlooked in the past because defense isn’t always valued by your average NBA fan, but even that segment can’t keep skipping over what he’s accomplishing.
Over his last three games, Bledsoe has made 30-44 shots (68%) and is averaging 28 points per game.
“When he comes down and comes at you and pulls up for that jump shot, now these guys are going to have to come pick him up a littler higher and he’s just going to drive by them,” said Hornacek. “So he’s playing great right now.”
Bledsoe is making 64% of his attempts between 15-19 feet and knocking down 44% on above the break threes.
Phoenix Suns fans have been begging for a star since recent Ring of Honor inductee Steve Nash departed the franchise.
It’s starting to look like that void has finally been filled.
While Bledsoe’s individual performance was brilliant, it was the Suns’ team defense that set the tone leading them to 5-4. Phoenix held the Nuggets to 28 points in the first half, the third fewest point allowed before halftime in franchise history. Denver missed 39 of 50 shots and connected on only 2-20 from deep. They were only able to grab 17% of their misses as the Suns did a great job cleaning up on the defensive glass.
Brandon Knight wasn’t able to stack up a second consecutive quality performance coming off tying his career-high of 37 points against the Clippers. Knight started the game 0-7 before finding a little bit of a groove in the second half. He finished with 10 points.
STAT OF THE GAME
Suns forward Jon Leuer made only the 19th start of his career and his first as a Sun playing for the injured Markieff Morris. Morris had played in 171 consecutive games, bringing the sixth-longest streak in the NBA to an end.
HE SAID IT
Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone on their dreadful performance: “There’s no excuses here. They kicked our [expletive] plain and simple. Give them credit: we’re not going to say it’s the second night of a back to back, we have injuries. That’s the NBA.”
This was Eric Bledsoe fourth consecutive 20-point game, tying his career long streak. His 30 points matched the total of Denver’s starting five.
The Suns play the third game of a four-game homestead Monday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s the first of four matchups with their division rivals this season. The Lakers are playing the Pistons the night before to give the Suns a second straight game where they get to play an opponent dealing with a back-to-back.
Tip off at 7:00 p.m. with the pregame show starting at 6:30 on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.