The Milwaukee Bucks are undefeated since Eric Bledsoe joined the team. Their current three-game win streak include victories against the Spurs, the Lakers, and most recently the Grizzlies. Since the trade, the Bucks seemed to have found the confidence they had been missing for the first month of the season.
While we can’t point to Bledsoe as the direct cause for the three most recent wins, he most certainly has had a positive impact on the team. His presence has appeared to have sparked an intensity in Milwaukee. More specifically, Bledsoe has seemingly improved the Bucks offensively and defensively — while also enhancing the overall pacing of the game with the consistent level of energy he plays with.
The most dangerous type of offensive player is one who can create shot opportunities for themselves, while just as easily creating opportunities for teammates. Eric Bledsoe can do just that. He showcased his passing and ability to find the open man in his first game with the Bucks: in 28 minutes, he had 13 points (on 6-15 shooting), 4 rebounds, 7 assists, and one steal. One of those assists included this fast break alley-oop to Giannis Antetokounmpo for the slam:
Bledsoe tosses it UP and Giannis throws it DOWN!!#FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/WHRIfBd9Cg— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 11, 2017
He followed up his first performance with two more games of double digit scoring and a showcase of his athleticism. Bledsoe played 31 minutes against the Lakers, tallying 11 points (4-13 shooting), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. In this game, Bucks fans got the opportunity to watch him work his magic in the paint up close. While content with creating space and taking a jumper, Bledsoe has honed the skill of converting in the paint. His quickness allows him to blow right past defenders, as seen here against Lonzo Ball:
Bledsoe scores his first points at home!!#FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/I2hvS1HXBd— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 12, 2017
Last night against the Grizzlies, Bledsoe had 15 points (4-10 shooting), 7 rebounds, and 4 assists in 26 minutes. Time and time again, he would weave though defenders with ease for a layup. His jumper, on the other hand, is a bit streaky. During the 2016-2017 season, he finished the season with a FG% of 0.434. Here’s the catch: even when Bledsoe isn’t playing his best, he still greatly effects the Bucks’ offensive spacing, and acts as a great distraction for opponents.
Bledsoe is not the single factor behind the increase of defensive intensity of the Bucks — but he’s part of it. Something I found intriguing is how quickly he took a leadership role on the defensive end. In the past, Jason Kidd has spoken about the importance of talking on defense, and Bledsoe did just that. Last night in particular, I observed him and Giannis working out switches, and Bledsoe directing both Tony Snell and Thon Maker to their needed position.
This is an observation many fans have noticed: the newfound enhanced communication on defense has helped tremendously. To state the obvious, talking is the key to awareness on defense, especially when implementing double teams, switches, and general positioning. It started with Bledsoe, and has spread among the rest of the team. In turn, the Bucks defensive scheme has improved, and should continue to.
In a poll from last night, we asked Bucks’ fans where they believe Bledsoe has and will impact the team the most. I was actually surprised to see “defensively” has held on to a slight lead in results. Currently, fans believe his defensive impact is more substantial than his offensive impact in a 55% to 45% split (as of this writing).
Meant to have this as the halftime discussion, but what do you guys think Bledsoe's biggest impact to the team has been/will be? Reply with specifics!— Brew Hoop (@brewhoop) November 14, 2017
The topic of energy can be applied to both of the above categories. One factor that stood out to me on the offensive end of things was that Bledsoe doesn’t hesitate to push the pace, especially in transition. Slowing the pace to allow teammates to get in designed plays obviously allows the defense to get set up as well. When Bledsoe brings up the ball at full speed and drives directly into the lane, the defense scrambles and Bledsoe either converts the bucket or kicks it out to the open man.
While the speed of Bledsoe converts into a scarier offense, his defensive energy and intensity is equally — if not more so — important (hello, poll results). With the pace having been picked up, Kidd’s defensive scheme has been running a lot smoother. With that pacing from the energy and effort that goes into maintaining a level of production. From leaping out-of-bounds ball saves, to on the floor scrambles for a loose ball — Bledsoe brings it. Last night, he shut Mike Conley down and limited a guard who has been averaging 17.1 PPG so far this season to just 7 points on 2-12 shooting.
It’s worth noting how well the team has meshed since the trade, and how quickly they have learned to trust each other. Last night, Kidd was asked postgame how the team is faring so well together in such a short period of time. He replied:
"Trust, communication, and participation by the guys. I think understanding what Bledsoe brings to us tempo-wise on the defensive end is something that we haven't had. So it's nice to see. And then on the offensive end, just being able to share the ball and trust that someone is going to make the right play."
We’ve all acknowledged the physical energy he brings with pacing and intensity, but there is one final factor that is arguably more valuable: positive energy and the desire to do what it takes to win. Bledsoe has repeatedly emphasized how happy he is to be playing for the Bucks. In every interview since his signing, he can’t contain his smile and appears to be all-in on the Bucks — and Milwaukee:
"The people [in Milwaukee] are great! They love me and I love them back!" - @EBled2 pic.twitter.com/lJ3jNssUhq— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 13, 2017
That sort of winning attitude and extra boost of energy is exactly what the team needed. The positivity and enthusiasm Bledsoe brings is contagious among teammates and fans alike. We can only hope the Bucks have found their confidence and continue to find their rhythm and identity as the season progresses. It’s going to be a fun ride.