Bucksketball Podcast

A great debate: Eric Bledsoe

| July 28, 2014

Category: The Off Season

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Could Bledsoe have walked off the floor with the Suns for the final time? (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Could Bledsoe have walked off the floor with the Suns for the final time? (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There’s been a lot of talk regarding Eric Bledsoe’s restricted free agency over the past week. We heard that he was heading back to the Suns eventually. We heard him say the Suns were using his restricted status against him. We heard him debated and pondered across the internet.

As July nears August and basketball news is slim, we couldn’t help but think about Eric Bledsoe on the Bucks. There’s a lot of moving pieces and, at this point, the Bucks would have to move around some pieces to free up the money to offer Bledsoe the sort of contract the Suns seem hesitant to give him. It seems unlikely that he’ll be signing any leases in Milwaukee any time soon.

But KL and I still wondered, on a basic level, is Bledsoe even worth the Bucks clearing out enough money to offer him a maximum contract?

Jeremy: Here’s my thinking: There are only so many guys in the league that have the athleticism Bledsoe has at a guard position. Maybe he isn’t a pure point guard, but his attributes and aggressiveness make him a non-PG in the way that Russell Westbrook isn’t a point guard rather than in the ways Brandon Knight isn’t a point guard. There’s an explosiveness about him that the Bucks haven’t really had from their guard position.

Most importantly, he seems to use his athleticism in a very aggressive way at the defensive end, which we haven’t really seen from Knight at all. He could be the defensive guard that fits perfectly alongside Giannis and the length up front.

KL: I’m leading the parade when it comes to people shouting that Brandon Knight had a bad defensive season. At the same time, though, I think it had a lot to do with scheme and coaching. Larry Drew favored an approach that overemphasized low post defense.

Knight was the biggest victim of this scheme. If last year’s Nets and this year’s Summer Bucks are any indication, Jason Kidd prefers a lot more ball pressure, hard hedges and traps — all of which should play to Knight’s strengths and put him closer to par with Bledsoe on defense.

Of course, Bledsoe **is** a much better defender, but I do expect Knight to close the gap.

On the other end, the gap isn’t quite so large. The pair posted nearly identical per-game totals for minutes, points and assists — and Bledsoe did it with a system and teammates that made his job much easier. Are Bledsoe, Knight and Westbrook all versions of the same hybrid combo guard?

If you were to rank the NBA’s point guards from 1 to 30, where does Bledsoe fit? Is that ranking good enough to justify a max contact?

Jeremy:  I’d place him in the top 10. I think Paul, Westbrook, Parker, Curry and Wall are probably the top five. Then you get into Rondo, Irving, Williams, Conley, Lowry, Lillard, Bledsoe, Dragic territory. Going forward, I’d rather have Bledsoe than all those guy except for Irving. I’m that high on him. I’m all in on this athleticism.

I also contest that Bledsoe and Westbrook are in a different category than Knight, who may be more of a Jason Terry. Knight seems like he’s destined to be a shooter; his struggles from three last season were an aberration to me. Both Westbrook and Bledsoe get to the line at a rate far greater than Knight (Last season – Westbrook: 37%  Bledsoe: 42.6% Knight: 29.6%). Does Knight strike you as the type of guard that takes over a game and forces his will on opponents? I thought he was more of a take what’s given type than a force of nature type.

That’s what I’ve been begging for in a Bucks guard for some time. Someone who makes the defense react to them. That’s what I see in Bledsoe, and he isn’t even close to a finished product. I get that his assist numbers were as pedestrian as Knight’s, but he has only been a primary point guard for one season and even then he played with Dragic quite a bit. He had to play off other players more than Knight had to in his first and third seasons.

I also recognize Bledsoe’s relative lack of minutes (only 5200 in four seasons vs Knight’s nearly 6900 in three seasons) could be seen as a problem, since he’s never proved he could be a full time guy for a whole season, but I like to think that he just has less steps on his knees. Granted, he dealt with a knee injury last season that probably balances that out a bit, but still, I think he has at least seven very productive seasons left in his career.

If Milwaukee could grab him for four prime seasons, I don’t see any salary cost that is prohibitive. Do you not see the same offensive capabilities and potential long term gains as I do?

KL: I completely and wholeheartedly agree that Knight isn’t the type of guard who takes over games. But it would be something of a logical fallacy to deduce that because Knight isn’t a dominant player and because Bledsoe is better than Knight, that Bledsoe is a dominant player.

I like your top-10 guard listing. I would take your top tier and add Mike Conley to create a top-6. And below that, my second tier would have Rondo, Irving, Dragic, and Lowry. Bledsoe would lead the best of the third tier, largely on potential, because as you astutely mentioned, Bledsoe hasn’t made it through a full season yet as a starting point guard. (Why are you helping me so much? Is this like an old debate team trick to argue my side for me to take away the impact of my argument? I never joined a debate team, so if you’re using that strategy and it actually is a strategy, then kudos.)

My biggest gripe about Bledsoe isn’t that he’s a bad player. It’s just that he’s a little guy, and there are a lot of little guys. He is one of those guys who will get close to being an All-Star, but there are a lot of Almost All-Stars. So he’s worth a lot, but I don’t necessarily think he’s worth the max.
In other words, “It’s not about you, Eric Bledsoe. It’s about the salary cap.”

This is how bad teams are made: Very good — but not quite great — players are given max money. Then the threshold is set. Other players from the same team who develop into very good players want the same. If they get it, you’ve got a roster full of Very Good. If not, they leave and there’s a talent vacuum.

Getting Bledsoe would probably be a matter of offering the rookie max or something close to it (like $14.5M annually). Getting to that level of space would require the Bucks to dump salary and throw in assets to sweeten the deals.

Haven’t you gotten tired of the Bucks throwing more money than anyone else at guys who have had half of a good season? I feel like this has happened somewhere in the past.

On the other hand, do you think Bledsoe fits in with the type of game plans that Jason Kidd wants to install. (I actually think he does.) Can we spell out at this point what type of team Kidd wants to have?

Jeremy: I have no formal debate training. I’m just a guy who has been in a lot of arguments over the years.

I guess I never considered Bledsoe “a little guy”, the way you do, but the more I look at it, the more I realize that probably accurately describes him. He’s only 6-foot-1. I know he is incredibly athletic, but with a nickname like “Mini-Lebron” (per basketball reference) combined with his highlights, I guess it’s easy to let the imagination run wild with who he is and what he’s capable of.

That’s probably where this urge to give him all of the dollars is coming from for me. I’ve gotten a bit carried away because this seems like a move the Bucks would never make. You mention throwing money at guys who have had half of a good season, but this feels very different to me than Bobby Simmons or John Salmons.

Neither of those guys were really on a clear upward trajectory the way Bledsoe appears to be and neither of those guys had the combination of youth and athleticism. That combination is what’s intoxicated me so. Historically, it’s hard to find the Bucks buying in on a young player that wasn’t their own. They always did their best to keep guys like Michael Redd and Tim Thomas went they were restricted or unrestricted free agents, but they’ve never landed a young player with real potential.

But just because a guy is young, athletic and productive doesn’t mean he’s necessarily worthy of maximum dollars. Jeff Teague at $8 million? Sure. Bledsoe at nearly twice that? You’re right. That’s not cost effective.

As for the type of team Kidd wants to have and the right kind of players for that team? I think that’s another conversation.

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About the Author ()

Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball. He founded it in January of 2009 because he hated his job. It’s like basketball, but with Bucks instead of basket. I know ... I’m sorry. He might come off as a bit negative, but I'm really not so bad. He just wants the Bucks to succeed, so he points out areas where they are coming up short. Someone has got to do it and he's ornery and opinionated enough to take on that task. He isn't sure if this should be in third person or not. Contact him at Jeremy@Bucksketball.com if you must use e-mail.

Comments (20)

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  1. L says:

    With the knee injury and the type of money he’s looking for I’ll pass. I was the biggest proponent of the Bucks going hard after him during the 2012-13 season and I remained a believer that the Bucks should’ve done whatever they could to get him during the off-season last year, but not so this year.

    • Ron says:

      There is nothing wrong with his knee. Kyrie and Wall are maxed out and both are more injury prone then Bledsoe is. Relax about the knee. Rondo, Westbrook and Rose are risks too. So what…make the deal. Injuries are irrelevant. Fans always throw that in there. There is a risk for anyone getting hurt at that position. That is the chance and payoff you take. Don’t let that stop you. He is only 24 and moving on up. After getting Kendall Marshall I won’t fight too hard on if we should get him or not, because I like our team as is…but if the Bucks think he is worth it, I do too.

      • L says:

        “There is nothing wrong with his knee.”

        And you know this because why?

        It was reported that Bledsoe had some of his meniscus removed during his in-season knee surgery instead of having it repaired. This is a fact!

        Removal of the meniscus in a player this young is a bit unusual, but three things to note; one, is the size of the removal which isn’t reported with 100% clarity. If the size of the meniscus that was removed was small enough than perhaps there’s only a minor risk with him having future knee related issues or injuries. Two, is that depending on the type of damage that occurred to the meniscus they may have needed to take it out instead of being able to repair it like D.Wade. This simply would have meant that Bledsoe didn’t really have much of a decision to make. Three, is that it was a contract year for Bledsoe. Did he choose to have the less invasive surgery so that he could return to the court in a 4-6 week window in order to show the NBA market that his value was still “high” and that he could still be worthy of a lucrative max-type deal? Regardless, the bad news is that the situation ended with him having some amount of his meniscus removed (hopefully not a large amount) and that nonetheless leaves Bledsoe’s effective career length in question.

        On top of this there’s also what you’re getting with signing this kid. Below is a pretty good scout video on Eric Bledsoe as a restricted free agent this off-season.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VohhomZgwMw

    • John Proctor says:

      Honestly i hate the Bucks

  2. Matt says:

    Eric Bledsoe is to basketball as Kyle Randolph is to the NFL. You’re playing him based on potential. Eric Bledsoe is a very good player, but you can’t offer him more than 10 million a year based on half of a season. He is looking like the kind of player that could kill a GM or make them look like a savant and I think that’s what is preventing any offers to him over what the Suns are offering. He could easily become one of the biggest bargains at 12 million or an albatross. I honestly think it is in his best interest to take the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent. I don’t know if he’ll ever be worth a max contract and if that’s what it takes to get him here, I’m against it especially with the eventual contracts we hopefully will be handing out to Giannis and Parker down the road that would be impacted by signing Bledsoe. Bledsoe would be another “win now” move that I don’t want to see made.

    • Ron says:

      Matt no. NO no…no you are not. Open your eyes. You are paying him for talent and what he has shown in limited minutes and the impact that he can have over starter minutes and good players around him. Look at him! He has ball skills. That is what you are paying for. This is not a scrub. The Bucks of all teams need to get and focus on guys who have Elite TALENT and stop being scary and taking role or support players and drafting projects. Focus on what he can do. We have alot of abstract objections from Bucks fans on this guy. Can he play, yes or no? Is he a difference maker yes or no? Is he an impact player who can play hard on both ends yes or no? Don’t worry about the money…Kohl is not here. If he can play and we have Jason Kidd you take him. Period. If it was any other position I would have hesitation but I will NEVER question the bucks going after a guard with Kidd as coach. He should make ANY GUARD better.

  3. ibex27 says:

    How did you forget about D Rose for your top 10 point guards!!??

  4. Swisch says:

    We already have an exciting nucleus of young players with Jabari, Brandon and Giannis. Then there’s a really good second tier with John, Khris and Larry. Then there are possiblities like Damien, Johnny and Nate.

    I like Kendall as possibly the guy who helps bring all of that together. We already know he has a knack for passing the ball to teammates for baskets. I don’t know how he might compare to Mike Conley aside from being left handed; but maybe — like Conley perhaps has done — Kendall continues to develop his shooting and savvy and all-around game over the next couple of seasons and longer.

    Maybe we’ve had enough excitement for one offseason. Maybe we have enough young guys who look promising but still have a ways to go to prove themselves in the league. Maybe we already have a challenge in getting those young guys a fair number of shot attempts this season. Maybe we should save the $50-plus million we would spend on Bledsoe and see what we need for next season.

    Maybe we should just concentrate on signing Scott Suggs (partly joking, mostly serious); trading or amnestying a couple of our vets; and perhaps picking up a veteran (a la Andre Miller) to play a back-up role at point.

    • joe says:

      I am not in favor of overpaying Bledsoe, especially at this early point in our “”rebuilding efforts”" .. His early career record of games played versus games missed does concern me as well.. He is not at the point of his career IMO to demand max money..

      I do believe we already used up our amnesty provision on Drew Gooden ??

      I think Hammond should be, and probably is, concentrating his efforts on getting some assets of some sort for Illysova, Zaza, and perhaps Delfino…

  5. John Proctor says:

    What’s the rush with giving up on Knight so fast? He’s improved every year, and plays the game with a lot of heart. Sure, he’s weak in terms of passing, but the NBA is a position-less league. If 5-on-5 with Knight wins games, then what’s the matter? Knight’s also a high talent, just like Bledsoe, both playing at Kentucky, and he’s not bound to get over-paid anytime soon.

    • joe says:

      I also like that Knight is tall enough and capable to cover 2 guards on defense..

    • Swisch says:

      I think Brandon is a potential all-star. Plus, my impression is that he has a really good attitude/maturity about him. Add the fact that, for now, he’s a bargain at his salary; and that if he does develop into a star, we can give him a nice contract later as a more proven player.

      • bwright says:

        Swisch are you related to Brandon Knight or his agent by any chance? I have never heard anyone call him a potential All-Star. I’m pretty sure the fairest assessment would be something like “Pretty Good” to “Not Bad”. One thing I’ll give you is he’s only 22. Anyone who can score 17ppg at 22 does have potential. He reminds me of Jeff Green, not because of position or playing style, but in terms of ceiling and expectations. Which honestly is pretty good but not All Star caliber.

        • Swisch says:

          I’m really sincere about Brandon being a potential all-star. He has enough talent that if his attitude is excellent, he could just do it.

          I hope our coaches put him in the best position to succeed. I hope we fans give him lots of encouragement. I think a promising young guy like Brandon who gets the right kind of preparation, the right kind of support, the right kind of personal attention, can thrive beyond all expectations.

          It’s not a matter of pampering, which spoils; it’s a matter of taking basically good kids and making a caring commitment to them for the long term. Let’s have high expectations, but also true loyalty. I’d like to see Bucks fans take the lead in individualized support for our players.

          Maybe it’s the idealist in me, but I think some sincere personal interest in our players will help them to achieve excellence as a team and as individuals — with practical successes and intangible satisfactions to be enjoyed all around.

  6. william says:

    I believe Eric Bledsoe is a definite bad move, if you can get him for sub 10 mil then it’d be a worthy risk. However, he plays with wreckless abandon in his game, probably out of the league by 30. If Derrick Rose sustains another knee injury, he’s probably done for. That being said, I think Kendell Marshall is better for this team than Bledsoe would be, yes you would literally have ‘Running Bucks’ with Bledsoe, but Marshall has far superior court vision and passing ability, which is what the Bucks desperately need. The Bucks need someone who can facilitate to their front court, find Brandon Knight when he gets open from screens. I’d say Marshall over Bledsoe, Marshall has the ability to last 15+ years in the NBA given his underwhelming physical play. I expect to see 15 ppg out of Henson this year due to just Marshall being a facilitator.

    • L says:

      Though Marshall must improve his defense; especially, on ball defense if he intends on playing any kind of significant minutes and really grow his career by taking the so-called next developmental step-up in his game.

  7. canadabucks says:

    Was cheering for KL in the debate(obviously us old guys have to stick together, and he shared my POV)and was glad to see he won over Jeremy in the end. No way I give Bledsoe a max contract, PG is too deep of a position.