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Calculated Countdown: 4 Days to Tipoff

Eric Bledsoe took plenty of guff for his early shot clock antics last year. Was it all warranted?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season is rapidly approaching. That means it’s time for the now-annual tradition of our Calculated Countdown series examining a particular stat that corresponds to the number of days until tipoff. Today, that figure focuses on Eric Bledsoe’s penchant for launching early shots.

4 Days to Tipoff

Eric Bledsoe ranked “4th” in terms of frequency of shots that came in the 18-15 range of the shot clock

If I asked you among the Bucks primary rotation, who took the highest percentage of their shots early in the shot clock, who would you say? I’m guessing many would say Eric Bledsoe, whose quick-trigger midrange jumpers drove many a fan nuts last year. Myself, included. So color me surprised when I saw that, even if by a few percentage points, Tony Snell (20.8%), Malcolm Brogdon (20.1%) and Thon Maker (19.9%) all ranked above his 19% of shots taken in the 18-15 range of the shot clock, defined as “early” by

Some folks may also then protest, yes, but that’s not even that early. He takes some “very early” shots, man. Well, thankfully yet again has an answer, defining shots within the 22-19 range precisely that way, as “very early.” While Bledsoe was once more fourth among Bucks primary players (20.6%), he did have the second most attempts among all Milwaukee players over the season in that period, at 2.6 per game. He trailed only Giannis in that category, who we can all imagine skirting down the court only to swallow defenders whole as he punishes the rim before the defense is set. Giannis’ 71.2% effective field goal percentage on 3.2 attempts in this zone over the season illustrate just that.

However, Bledsoe still posts relatively positive numbers even with these oft groan-inducing shots. Here’s a breakdown of how Bledsoe’s numbers break down based on the shot clock.

Bledsoe Shooting by Shot Clock

Shot Clock Time 22-18 (Very Early) 18-15 (Early) 15-7 (Average) 7-4 (Late) 4-0 (Very Late)
Shot Clock Time 22-18 (Very Early) 18-15 (Early) 15-7 (Average) 7-4 (Late) 4-0 (Very Late)
FGA/Game 2.6 2.4 4.9 1.1 1.1
eFG % 60.70% 58.10% 59.80% 57.40% 20.60%

As a baseline, Bledsoe’s overall effective field goal percentage for the year clocked in at 54.0% during his time in Milwaukee. Of course, it’s worth noting that shooting percentages tend to dip as the shot clock dwindles. Offenses sputter out the longer they’re forced to chug along. This isn’t a green light for Bledsoe to commandeer Milwaukee’s offense into a tanker full of midrange bricks, but instead to illustrate that perhaps those shots shouldn’t be as maligned as they seem to be.

With the advent of Bud’s motion offense, it’s also worth mentioning that Bledsoe’s relative success could’ve been a preferable alternative to running through Milwaukee’s *blows dust off ancient scrolls of Naismith’s plays* sets. It would behoove Bledsoe to recognize that short-circuiting the offense immediately not only eliminates the defense’s need to adapt to Giannis’ threat, but gives the defense an exertion-free possession.

Still, there are some positives to glean. Bledsoe’s “very early” shot clock eFG% exceeds Khris Middleton’s (54.8%), on a comparable number of attempts. That’s even with Middleton attempting 27 more threes than Bledsoe too. Let the clock run a little further and Middleton does have the advantage in the “early” section (64.5% eFG). Still, beyond his midrange post-ups, Middleton rarely has tomatoes tossed at his dome for shot selection the way Bledsoe does.

What’s to make of all this then? Is Bledsoe a virus whose shot hoarding butchers the Bucks’ offensive flow? Or is his willingness to fire early an attempt to capitalize an an unsettled defense. The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle, but the reality is that last year, those shots by Bledsoe weren’t necessarily sub-optimal outcomes. Perhaps with Bud’s system in place, that won’t be the case. For now though, Bledsoe may deserve a bit less guff when he gets into that shot stance after simply dribbling upcourt after a rebound.