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NBA PM: Is Eric Bledsoe a Star Player?
Posted By Alex Kennedy On September 5, 2013 @ 4:55 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
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Is Eric Bledsoe a Star Player?
Is Eric Bledsoe a star-level player in the NBA? That question may be answered as early as the 2013-14 season when, for the first time years, Bledsoe will have a team of his own and all eyes will be on the young point guard.
The Phoenix Suns shipped out Jared Dudley and a second-round pick to acquire Bledsoe in a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks earlier this offseason. Now, Bledsoe has the chance to take his game to another level and become the franchise player that the Suns desperately need.
This is the perfect opportunity for Bledsoe since he’ll be playing in an up-tempo system that really fits his strengths and he’ll be handed the reins to the team, which he hasn’t experienced since his days at Parker High School in Alabama.
On the Kentucky Wildcats, Bledsoe was overshadowed by eventual No. 1 overall pick John Wall. Bledsoe played out of position at shooting guard alongside Wall, and he was also behind eventual lottery picks DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson in the pecking order. Bledsoe showed enough glimpses of brilliance to be selected 18th overall in the draft, but teams doubted his point guard abilities almost as much as they loved his athleticism and upside.
During his stint with the Clippers, Bledsoe was playing behind arguably the best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul. Although this cut into the young point guard’s minutes, it was clearly the best thing for his game. He wasn’t ready to be a starter early in his career anyway, and he was essentially going through Point Guard 101 with Paul and Chauncey Billups – two of the best professors around for said course.
Bledsoe grew up watching Paul and Billups and he would often say that it was “a blessing” to be in the same locker room as those guys.
Paul trained with Bledsoe individually last offseason and had his young back-up work at his basketball camp. During the season, he was constantly in Bledsoe’s ear, giving him advice and words of encouragement. Billups was just as helpful for Bledsoe. He would break down film with Bledsoe before nearly every game and served as an extension of the Clippers’ coaching staff. In addition to teaching Bledsoe about being an elite point guard, Paul and Billups were teaching him how to lead a team. Bledsoe admits that both players’ leadership style “rubbed off” on him as a result of their teachings.
The question is: How good will Bledsoe be now that he has an opportunity to put all of those lessons to use and take over his own team in Phoenix?
Last season, Bledsoe averaged just 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals, but he was playing just 20.4 minutes per game. In 12 games as a starter, Bledsoe filled the stat sheet, averaging 14.2 points, 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3. These numbers are very similar to his per-36 averages of 14.9 points, 5.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks.
His efficiency rating for 2012-13 was 17.6, which ranked seventh among Western Conference point guards behind only Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Mike Conley and Ty Lawson.
In Phoenix, where he’ll be asked to do much more and have the ball in his hands more often, his numbers are expected to increase significantly. He’s already being talked about as a candidate for the Most Improved Player award and all eyes will be on him to see how he performs.
Will he realize his full potential, live up to the hype and become an All-Star-caliber player? Suns general manager Ryan McDonough certainly hopes so. While the Suns already have Goran Dragic on a large contract, it’s clear that the organization views Bledsoe as the closest thing they have to a franchise player. He’s the sexy acquisition who plays an exciting brand of basketball and will put butts in the seats.
Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek is excited to work with Bledsoe and will be the one managing his minutes and role alongside Dragic. He hasn’t ruled out playing the two players together, which he believes could work since the two guards complement each other.
“It makes a coach’s life easier, I love both those guys,” Hornacek said of having both Bledsoe and Dragic. “[I want my point guard] to be able to make calls, read plays, see who’s hot and make decisions. Of course I want them to do it without looking back at the bench because I want them to get up and down the court. … Eric and Goran, they should be able to do that.”
Jamal Crawford, who played alongside Bledsoe last season in Los Angeles and raves about his incredible growth, believes that the young point guard is poised for big things.
“He’ll be a star, no question,” Crawford said of Bledsoe. “The guidance and tutelage from Chris and Chauncey and Mo Williams, who was here before, only made him better as a point guard. He’ll definitely be a star. I don’t know when because everybody’s [learning] curve is a little bit different, but there’s no question he’ll be a star. He has the athletic ability and he wants to get better. He has gotten better. A team like that in Phoenix, they’re going to see great results. I think he’ll be exciting to watch too. He was a joy to play with and his growth last year was tremendous. You never want somebody to get hurt, but when Chris went down, Bledsoe stepped in and he did a heck of a job.”
However, thriving as a reserve doesn’t always translate to success as a starter. For proof, look no further than the last player who made a name for himself backing up Paul: Darren Collison.
In New Orleans, Collison looked great when he was spelling Paul and put up numbers similar to Bledsoe’s when he was thrust into the starting lineup for 37 games. It seemed inevitable that Collison would take over a team of his own and have even more success, but that never happened. He struggled as a starter with the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks, and was ultimately replaced in the starting five in favor of George Hill and Mike James. Now he’s back where he started, playing behind Paul (this time in Los Angeles).
There’s no question that Bledsoe has more upside than Collison did and he’s certainly a better athlete, but it’s still a cautionary tale for the young point guard. Some players just aren’t cut out to be stars and carry a team, even if they’ve had some level of success early in their career.
In the coming months, we’ll find out if Bledsoe embraces the challenge and emerges as a star.
Chris Mullin Joins Kings’ Front Office
Chris Mullin has decided to return to an NBA front office. After taking several years away from life as an executive and serving as an analyst for ESPN, Mullin has decided to join the Sacramento Kings as an adviser. Mullin’s last front office job was with the Golden State Warriors, with whom he spent five years as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.
“Chris Mullin is an incredible addition to our organization,” said Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadivé. “I have great respect for his accomplishments and understanding of the game. From day one, we have focused on making the Sacramento Kings a first-class franchise built for the 21st Century. Chris brings the experience, knowledge, and influence to help us achieve our ultimate goal—bringing a championship to the fans and city of Sacramento. As we prepare for the new season and a new era in Kings basketball, I’m really excited about the group of visionary leaders we’ve brought together.”
“It isn’t everyday that a franchise has the opportunity to add an individual of Chris’ caliber and reputation,” said Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro. “His passion for the game, unflagging work ethic and will to win, ever-present characteristics which helped define him as one of the NBA’s premier players for nearly 20 years, will have a contagious effect on our entire organization,” said D’Alessandro.
The Hall of Famer is thrilled to be a part of the Kings’ rebuilding effort.
“I couldn’t be more excited about joining the Kings and playing a part in making this team a winner again,” said Mullin. “I’m especially grateful for the unique opportunity to work in close proximity with a world-class ownership group led by Vivek Ranadivé and the talented group of individuals assembled in our front office.”
Free Agency News and Notes
All of the starting-caliber free agents have been signed, but there are still some rotation players who are on the market. These are notable players who can contribute to a team if given an opportunity, and they can all be had for a veteran’s minimum contract. Here’s the latest on several free agents:
• Sebastian Telfair has received interest from the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers among other teams, according to sources close to the situation. Telfair had previously been in contact with the New York Knicks, but sources say it’s unlikely that he’ll land with the Knicks. New York seems to have moved on and is now looking to add a big man.
• Devin Ebanks has received interest from the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks, according to sources. The Hawks have been in contact with Ebanks for much of the offseason so we’ll see if they ultimately sign him. The Magic have been linked to Ebanks in the past. When Orlando traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in a blockbuster four-team deal last offseason, the Magic were hoping to have Ebanks included via a sign-and-trade, but it didn’t work out. Ebanks continues to weigh his options.
• Hassan Whiteside has received interest from the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Miami HEAT, according to sources. Whiteside is considering all of his options and hasn’t decided which team he’s going to attend training camp with. The big man is currently training at the IMG Basketball Academy in Bradenton, FL.
• It’s no surprise that Shawne Williams inked a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. As soon as Williams started training for his comeback, the Lakers started expressing interest in the forward. Williams’ ties to Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni are a big reason for that. Williams had the best year of his career playing for D’Antoni on the New York Knicks in 2010-11, averaging 7.1 points and hitting 40.1 percent of his three-point attempts.
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