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.