Eric Bledsoe improves the Bucks dramatically, Monroe was valuable and had a role on this team, but it was shrinking and he was just a tough player to scheme around. Bledsoe is in many ways the opposite, with him being a passable (but relatively low volume) jump shooter people have question his fit. He is an athlete that can compete with the best in the NBA night in and night out. Kidd questioners will (rightfully) not go away with this move, there will still be systematic problems and the Bucks are far from perfect. The question becomes not if he improves the Bucks, but by how much?
I guess the best way to tell this story would be to rewind and explain how we got here. Eric Bledsoe nearly single handedly tweeted himself out of Phoenix, this entire thing seems to be pinned more on Phoenix being inept than Bledsoe being any sort of malcontent. Phoenix shut a healthy Bledsoe down last season, that did not sit well with a lot of people. To rest a guy occasionally is one thing, but to end a 27 year old’s season with two months left without anything resembling an injury is something else. Monroe and this heavily (and weirdly) protected first rounder might seem light for a player of Bledsoe’s caliber, but Phoenix depreciated his value and his injury history (although clear of late) as well as the league’s surplus of elite point guards made the market slim. The national media loves the move for the Bucks, the Bucks seem to have gotten a guy that you can clearly pencil into a top three role on a contender.
So for those unfamiliar what are Bledsoe’s strengths and weaknesses? He is a scorer for sure 55% TS which is a bit above the league average the last few seasons and over 17 points a game. I think playing in the Bucks system would boost his efficiency mainly because Giannis, but also Middleton is likely on par with the best player he has played with for any extent of time previously (Dragic). Bledsoe also brings another creator to this team averaging over 6 assists per game the last 3 seasons he brings a playmaker that the Bucks can use to alleviate the burden currently placed on Giannis and Khris. Perhaps the most impressive facet of Bledsoe’s game is his ability to get to the line, among guys who scored 12 points a game or more he was 12th in free throw rate (Giannis was 8th). Bledsoe is 4th among guards in that group, even if these numbers fall with lower usage the Bucks are getting someone who can create out of nothing and get to the line when the offense slows down in the half court. Bledsoe is a terrific athlete, one that the Bucks have not had from the point guard position since Knight left, although Knight really failed to ever truly leverage his athleticism in game.
Bledsoe also still holds the reputation of a good defender, even though his effort waned a bit in his later Phoenix years, likely due to some combination of bigger offensive burden and being on terrible teams. Which is maybe a sad part of the NBA for fans, guys do quit, it is tough to give it your all night in and night out for a system, coach, and team you do not believe in. Lebron coasts to wins, but when guys on lesser teams coast you end up being one of the worst teams in the league over the last few years. I don’t think Bledsoe will be an attitude issue, but the risk is certainly there. He also lacks the jump shot that would make everyone feel perfect about the acquisition, he isn’t horrible and in fact he has been okay as a catch and shoot guy as recently as last year. He is a fine shooter, but there is a chance his shooting looks better in an offense where he plays with more talented players and better spacing from teammates. Injuries would be the other risk with Bledsoe, he has had meniscus issues in the past and while he has been healthy of late, in the 2015-16 season he missed all but 31 games of the season. The specific way Bledsoe had his meniscus surgeries done has lead some people to suspect he is at risk of reinjuring his knees, but there isn’t much of a precedent for stuff like this. For what it’s worth, Bledsoe seems to have reigned in his play style a bit in his most recent campaign while maintaining a similar level of effectiveness, he just doesn’t try as often for the highlight plays that made him viral in his Clipper days.
So that is Eric Bledsoe in a nutshell, but how does he change Milwaukee? I guess in a sentence, he pushes everyone (besides Giannis) down the pecking order into roles they are more comfortable with. Looking at last night’s guard rotation Delly played 16 minutes, Liggins played 8 minutes, Terry played 7 minutes. Bledsoe could realistically play all 31 of those minutes and eliminate the need for them. I think it might be a bit more logical to use Delly as a backup shooting guard and allow the starters to play less than 40 minutes a night. When Jabari returns though, Delly can be glued to the bench and Mirza can cede some of his minutes to Jabari as well. Dellavedova will be the key guy losing minutes to Bledsoe though, if Kidd elects to start Bledsoe in place of Brogdon (which I think he will at some point in the near future if not immediately) I still think Brogdon will play upwards of 30 minutes a night between backup PG and backup SG. I know some out there believe that Snell should lose his starting spot not Brogdon, but the fit for Snell with the starters makes so much more sense than it does for Snell and the bench. Snell has more versatility on defense, is a low usage guy, and needs creators making my expected starting lineup perfect for him. Brogdon can create a bit for others and will match up better athletically with backup guards instead of starters.
Which leaves us with one thing left to discuss, the key thing for every new Milwaukee Buck,
how does he fit with Giannis? As mentioned above, the shooting leaves a bit to be desired, but he should alleviate the burden Giannis has shouldered early on in this season. He should be able to carry some bench units when Giannis is off the court, something Middleton is capable of, but perhaps not consistent at doing. Now, we should see competent point guard play for 48 minutes a night, less Delly floaters is good for everyone. Bledsoe should help Giannis get more easy looks as the defense collapses on Bledsoe he will be able to find Giannis on cuts. I mean logically if he has done that for lesser talented finishers like Chriss and Len, he should love what Giannis can do in that department. His acquisition should free up some theoretical “death lineups” where Giannis plays center while sharing the court with Bledsoe, Snell, Brogdon, and Middleton. Giannis center lineups will always have amazing spacing for the perimeter players around him because of the gravity Giannis generates. Bledsoe may not be the dynamic shooting threat that perfectly complements Giannis, but he does have experience playing off ball and is a two-way competitor. For those reasons alone, I think the Bucks can make this work for the next two seasons, and then reevaluate when Bledsoe hits free agency.
I think Bledsoe will be a Day 1 upgrade for Milwaukee, propelling them to be a better team than they were on Monday. This raises the ceiling of the team both for the regular season and the playoffs. The Bledsoe era will in all likelihood start Friday in San Antonio, but the schedule eases up after that with a few matchups with some of the worst teams in the league. The Bucks will be expected with Bledsoe not only to play above .500 ball, but to secure home court advantage for the playoffs. Expectations are higher than ever and only time will tell if the Bucks can live up to them.