But for fifteen excruciating minutes, Bucks Twitter was left fretting over an unrevealed detail of the trade: Who and/or what are the Bucks sending to the Phoenix Suns.
“Have the Bucks destroyed their core… Are we saying goodbye to ROY Malcolm Brogdon or tantalizing prospect Thon Maker… Does Jon Horst know what he’s doing?”
I imagine that most Bucks fans shared these thoughts with me.
Finally, we got answers:
Phoenix finalizing deal to send Eric Bledsoe to Milwaukee for Greg Monroe and a first-round draft pick, sources tell @ZachLowe_NBA and me.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 7, 2017
The Bucks shipped Greg Monroe, a 2018 first-round draft pick (with complex protections), and a conditional 2018 second-round draft pick. The general consensus from both Bucks fans and national media was that the Bucks won the trade. For one, Greg Monroe is on a slightly overpriced expiring deal and was expected to leave this summer anyway. Also, the first-round draft pick probably won’t materialize until 2020 when the Bucks are supposed to be Eastern Conference Finals contenders. If this happens, the pick will be in the mid- to high-twenties range. Lastly, the second-round draft pick is only given up if it is pick number 48 or higher.
Still, the downsides loom large. Monroe was a vital role player who showed gradual overall improvement over his Bucks tenure. That first-round draft pick could convey this year (picks 11-16) or next (picks 4-16) if the Bucks continue to sputter with the burden of expectations. Likewise, the second-round draft pick may convey this year. Nothing horrible, but with the Bucks’ luck, Monroe was Sixth Man of the Year waiting to happen and Giannis Antetokounmpo 2.0 is sitting at his signature number 15 pick slot in this year’s draft.
But alas, the fact remains: it’s Eric freaking Bledsoe.
Enough background. The Bucks have never had a point guard quite like Bledsoe. He’s equal parts strong, speedy, and skilled — and it’s a devastating combination.
Strength. He bulldozes opponents on hard drives. He finishes in the paint through heavy contact. He goes over and through screens in one forceful lunge. Bledsoe plays with the vigor and confidence of a man who knows that he can physically oppose his will onto most opponents. He relishes the challenge of being “caught” guarding a forward or center. NBA stalwart Jamal Crawford was right in nicknaming his one-time teammate Mini LeBron.
Speed. Bledsoe is a flash in transition. The Bucks finally have a player who could run at close velocity to the long-leaping Antetokounmpo. But his speed isn’t confined to a fast break. As a ball handler for a simple pick and roll action, Bledsoe can lose his man just by turning the corner of the screen. There’s little hope for a defender who is behind or in-line with Bledsoe when he decides to turn on the engines.
Skill. Handles, check. Basketball IQ, check. Shooting, check. Marques Johnson said it best on a recent broadcast: Bledsoe lets the game come to him. He can use either hand to finesse the ball into the basketball over and under defenders’ swinging arms. He performs crossovers, step-backs, and jab-steps to create open jumpers. He reads offenses to jump well-intentioned passes. Bledsoe’s raw talent is noticeable whenever he steps on the court.
Together, the trio of attributes looks like this:
Skill, Bledsoe notices a hard hedge attempt by the screener’s (I see you Jared Dudley) defender. He stops his momentum on a dime and juts the ball out towards the basket. Speed, Bledsoe shoots past both pick and roll defenders in three quick steps. Strength, well, you see it. Bledsoe rises up and over a soon-to-be shamed Kenneth Faried.
More important than Bledsoe’s abilities, however, is Bledsoe himself. The team culture was staling and stalling in front of us fans. With Bledsoe’s play, the culture is revitalized.
The Bucks needed a big picture change. Game in and game out, the processes and outcomes were always the same: Antetokounmpo goes off, Khris Middleton posts up smaller guys, Coach Jason Kidd makes questionable rotation decisions, the defense scrambles to no avail, the Bucks are forever mediocre, etc. etc. etc. There’s some good and some bad, but everything is just very predictable.
He seizes the starting point guard spot. He defies the logic of needing to surround Antetokounmpo with four great shooters. He takes and makes clutch baskets. But there’s also the off-court impact.
Bledsoe has mojo. He’s going to strut his stuff until someone stops him. Boldness defines him. Put him in a bad situation and he’ll manage it… sometimes not too subtly either:
I Dont wanna be here
— Eric Bledsoe (@EBled2) October 22, 2017
Right now, Bledsoe wants to be in Milwaukee. If his feelings shift, he will speak up. He’ll make conscious and empowered players out of a naïve and timid group. Culture need not be transmitted top-down.
The immediate results of Bledsoe’s impact have been mixed.
Before the trade, the Bucks were 4-6 and on a 4-game losing streak (OKC, CHA, DET, CLE). When Bledsoe got into town, the Bucks went on a 4-game winning streak (SAS, LAL, MEM, DET). Honeymoon phase or not, the team was rejuvenated.
The Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Bledsoe combo is good for Milwaukee. This isn’t Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Our core players have no glaring weaknesses and they’re fun to watch almost always fun to watch (take one more turn around contested early baseline jumper Middleton, please).
Not everything has been positive, however. The Bucks have returned to their own, mediocre-self. Disregarding that 4-game winning streak, the Bucks are 13-11 with Eric Bledsoe. The underperforming Mavericks, Bulls (twice!), and Charlotte have all beaten us. Watching this team as a whole is, at times, turn-off-the-television frustrating.
The way I see it, two things can happen. One, Bledsoe will help stabilize strong and consistent play (this hasn’t happened yet). Two, Bledsoe and his teammates will force a schematic, organizational, or big picture change.
A culture of mediocrity is the patented Bucks culture. The Bucks have too much firepower for this to happen. Bledsoe will not be content treading water. He’ll swim forward, and with luck, take the whole franchise with him.