At a certain juncture in the careers of many NBA players they face a point where they have to “put up or shut up” in some cases it is becoming consistent, for some it is turning stats into wins, and for others it is reaching a new level of play entirely. For Eric Bledsoe it is a combination of all three, Eric Bledsoe has never proven to be much of a winner in the NBA, after being traded to the Bucks last year the Bucks were above average, but Bledsoe himself lacked consistency. Bledsoe might not need to reach a new level numbers wise, but night in and night out he needs to match up with this league’s point guards and win the majority of those matchups. Eric Bledsoe will turn 29 in December and hit free agency next summer, if he fails to put up this season, there might not be a big money multi-year offer for him this summer. He will not be judged solely for the success of the team, but if he loses those positional matchups frequently and regresses as a shooter, there will not be many teams lining up on the eve of free agency.
Eric Bledsoe has been a very solid NBA PG the last five seasons, but last season was his first appearance in the playoffs. While it was not his first time in the playoffs it was his first time as a starter, and boy did it not go well. He struggled to score on a level we had not really seen in Milwaukee, his true shooting percentage (which weights 3PT%, 2PT%, and FT%) went down 7% from his regular season mark. His defense which was good but not elite in the regular season, became a weakness in the postseason despite Bledsoe’s physical tools. The intensity we saw in the regular season was not quite there in the playoffs, highlighted by him getting crossed over by Terry Rozier and not really making the effort to recover. Terry Rozier alone could be a paragraph in what Bledsoe needs to change going into next season, if you are player of Bledsoe’s reputation you cannot get clowned for a seven game series by a backup PG still on their rookie contract. Unfortunately for Bucks fans everywhere that is exactly what happened as the Bucks lost in seven largely behind a great effort from Terry Rozier.
Bledsoe has been called an all star talent, but never been to an all star game. This year in a watered down Eastern conference that lacks star power and on a Bucks team that is poised to take that next step, Bledsoe could finally be an all star. If not he might become something of a Mike Conley a perennial all star talent that never actually makes a game. Bledsoe needs a strong showing early on to show that his game has approached another level under his new coach with an offseason as Milwaukee Buck. If Jeff Teague can make an all star game under Coach Bud, I see no reason that Bledsoe cannot do the same. That said Bledsoe needs to show that he is on Jeff Teague’s level consistently, Jeff Teague has been on playoff teams consistently throughout his career and is a more established shooter. If Bledsoe wants to prove that he is a top half of the league starting point guard, guys like Teague are the bar you have to beat.
Like many things in the NBA today, so much of whether or not Bledsoe will “put up” comes down to his jump shooting. Last season Bledsoe set a career high in made threes cashing in 125 times from distance. If he continues to build on that and his percentage creeps up from 35% to 37% we are talking about a fairly substantial change and one that might warrant a defense to play up on him a bit more. With Bledsoe’s strength and athleticism playing up on him can enable him to get downhill on defenders and finish at the rim or dish off for an easy bucket. Last season was his best season at the rim by far where he shot 70% from 0-3 feet, one of the perks of playing with a top 10 player is that they can get you easy looks just by standing away from the basket. If Bledsoe can focus his attempts on these two areas, his efficiency could become borderline elite, next years spacing should be even better for the Bucks drivers if they start Brook Lopez and he continues to shoot the rock at the level he has been.
For Bledsoe the best ability might be availability, last season was the second most minutes he had ever played in the NBA and he only played in 74 games. If he manages to appear in a similar number of games, with a similar workload, puts up numbers on par with last year and doesn’t embarrass himself in the playoffs then he is probably in line for some money this offseason. Those are some big ifs though, staying healthy has plagued Bledsoe’s career and sapped some of his early career athleticism. Although it should be noted that no matter what happens next season, the odds of Bledsoe getting a max are slim. The Bucks will likely monitor his minutes and use healthy doses of Delly in the regular season, in an effort to save up Bledsoe for a big postseason. Hopefully for Bledsoe and the Bucks they do not need him to play a ton of regular season minutes against some of the lesser teams of the league, so that he can rest for when it really matters.
Eric Bledsoe will be a key factor for the Bucks this season, and represents a massive decision for them next offseason when he hits free agency. He needs to be a bit better this season if a team wants to pay a premium for him for his age 30-33 seasons. This represents what will likely be his last chance at big money, as the likelihood of him getting a major deal at 33 is somewhere between slim and none. On a different note we rarely discuss the legacy of players like Eric Bledsoe, who will never make a top 100 all time conversation, but for the sake of his legacy it would be nice to see an all star game and a playoff performance that a fanbase will remember. So I ask you, will Eric Bledsoe “put up” this season?