Eric Bledsoe. You only have to speak his name for Bucks fans to have feelings. None of them the same.
Inside us all a battle wages, a battle of head versus heart. Eric Bledsoe’s game can be uplifting and it can be head-scratching, even in the same quarter.
In one moment, he’s a dynamo blasting past his defender to the basket for an easy lay-in. In another, he’s a defensive whiz, willing the entire team to victory on heady play and pure fire. We convince ourselves he can’t shoot as he passes up open threes but then he hits the big (wobbly) shot to send us into overtime. The next night, he’ll go for a quick two with the team down three and I’ll wonder if I bought a ticket to a time machine.
The inconsistency can be a source of frustration for fans, and the instant reaction is to dream of someone out there, someone better, that championship level floor general who will be the Stockton to Giannis’ mutant Malone.
As the trade deadline nears, we will hear fans clamber for a change. It seems unthinkable with all the winning now, but we are just now letting it sink in that we are good. Wait, not good. We beat Golden State at the Oracle and Denver on a mile high SEGABABA. We’re contenders baby.
Mindsets flip quick in the NBA. Yesterday’s dream coach transforms into the tyrant of the Northwoods. Suddenly Trae Young is for real. With a huge chunk of this team’s core going on the market at year’s end, more experienced GMs than Jon Horst have blinked and succumbed under pressure.
The Bucks will have to decide which of Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, and potentially (most likely) Khris Middleton are core and which is chaff, and when it’s all good the most replaceable piece in the grand scheme of things seems like Bledsoe. Within the framework of the dream of long term contention, he almost seems like the odd man out.
Maybe we can flip him and Ers for Kemba?!?
As Bucks fans we have been here before, and it did not work out the way the dreamers had hoped.
The Jason Kidd era is much maligned by now, but it did have a few shining spots even before Giannis transmuted fully into the hero of legend. The 2014-15 was a high point for the Kidd n’ Hammond era, and the team rode energetic play and a defense that was not yet solved by the league to a decent record.
The team was happy, but the fans wanted more.
It’s not hard to see why the Bucks traded Brandon Knight. While that season was amongst his best, his averages of 17pts and 5asts were merely average for the league and he had limited abilities as a distributor. He managed to lead the Bucks in scoring that season, but truly that was indicative of the woeful times.
On February 19, 2015, the Bucks acquired Michael Carter Williams, Miles Plumlee, and Tyler Ennis for Brandon Knight, Kendall Marshall, and a pick. We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the end of the Kidd era.
The trade blindsided the team and seriously disrupted chemistry. What’s worse, MCW proved to be virtually worthless on the court. All those measurements didn’t give him a lick of basketball IQ, and he averaged 9pts and 3asts in the playoffs as Milwaukee scrubbed out to the Bulls. Now all that’s left of that blockbuster is Tony Snell.
Now the Bucks have chemistry that makes that year look like a fourth grader’s volcano (nice try Jimmy), and I don’t want to mess with it. I don’t envy the task of Jon Horst to make the numbers work, but we look like a contender. It’s November and we’re topping Power Rankings, beating world champions, winning in Denver!
If we’ve learned anything about small markets, it’s that players like Bledsoe are rare and hard to come by. We managed to land our big fish by offering a first rounder as bait, and you can only do that so many times before you get a visit from the ghost of Ted Stepien. His abilities as a scorer and slasher might not appear special with our current abundance, but put Bledsoe on any Bucks squad throughout the 00s and he would lead that team in just about everything.
Bledsoe is averaging 13pts, 6asts and 4.5rbs a game. It could seem like he’s taken a step back, but it’s more like he’s figuring out his role and willingly giving up a bigger slice for a chance at real success. His 20.9 USG% is right where you’d like the third wheel of a big tricycle. He can disappear at times or seem redundant with Brogdon out there, but counting stats don’t pick up his true value.
Bledsoe’s championship level talent is his defense. This was on display throughout the West Coast swing, where he had the unenviable task of guarding Damian Lillard (held to 13pts) and Stephen Curry (10pts). In Denver, Bledsoe took over the final moments with tenacity and awareness, Brook Lopez got us there but Bledsoe willed the team over the finish line by his own damn self.
I will never not love a guard who has the quickness and the motor to pull that off.
He uses that same quickness on offense to generate buckets and fouls, and it’s here that I see the issues with projection. Bledsoe is not old, he is a man in his prime, but unfortunately in this NBA that is just when you start to talk about Old Man Time.
Can Bledsoe’s game survive to the end of another contract? I think his future in this NBA will have to come down to whether he can shoot threes without hesitation. The two man game with Giannis is hamstrung by the fact that both players want to charge at the basket and neither loves being left open. Too often, I see Bledsoe with the same hesitation that is pronounced in Giannis.
Eric gets the message from Bud’s system. He’s taking 4.5 threes a game. He has to work on his telegraphing when he will shoot and when he will charge, and then the rest of the league will get the message too. He doesn’t have to change his game, like everyone on this growing team he has to refine it, and that’s so much smoother when you manage to win at the same time.
We’re gelling. We’re growing together as a team. It always takes longer for point guards because they have an entire system to learn, but Bledsoe has shown such great progress. Our team has improved in every aspect of the game, and trends are looking up. I want to see these fellas play deep into the postseason.
The culture is good. The system is strong. The team is happy. Let’s see if we can make history.