Editor’s note: the article below does not include stats from Sunday’s Bucks-Cavaliers matchup.
Eric Bledsoe is one of the most enigmatic players in the entire NBA. He appears to be equal parts fantastic and baffling; both ingredients leaving your jaw on the floor. One play, he’ll split the defense with some nifty ball-handling and bulldoze a path to the rim for two points like a bowling ball knocking over one measly pin in his way. On the next, he’ll dribble into three defenders before coughing the ball up, sparking a fast break for his opponent.
Whether it’s for better or worse, the Milwaukee Bucks are tied to him for at least the next three years. In early March, the Bucks and Bledsoe agreed to a four-year, $70 million contract extension. Bledsoe will get paid $15.6 million in 2019-20, the first year it kicks in, and the base salary will escalate until it caps in 2022-23 at just under $19.4 million. However, the final season is only partially guaranteed and the Bucks can waive Bledsoe and only pay him $3.9 million. Not a bad deal for Milwaukee.
The Bucks decision to extend Bledsoe was two-fold: First, for what he’s doing in the system currently and, secondly, the regression to the mean that is still to come (more on this in a moment).
According to Cleaning the Glass, Bledsoe’s points per shot attempt (114.4), a number that determines a players total points scored per 100 shot attempts, ranks in the 81st percentile among point guards. That’s a bit lower than the 117.5 points per shot attempt he averaged with the Bucks last season, but higher than three of the four years when he was in Phoenix.
His 54.1 percent effective field goal percentage (84th percentile) is also impressive. However, both his effective field goal percentage and points per shot attempt are being solely propped up by his incredible productivity around the rim. Bledsoe is taking (45 percent of his shots) and making (69 percent) more shots around the hoop than just about any other point guard in the NBA.
Unfortunately, he’s having one of the worst seasons of his career from just about everywhere else.
Bledsoe is connecting on only 35 percent of all mid-range attempts, a number that ranks in the abysmal 16th percentile for his position His three-point shooting isn’t much better, as he’s in the 21st percentile by only making 32 percent. Bledsoe has never been the most accurate outside shooter, but these numbers are low even for him. He shot 36 percent from downtown last year with the Bucks and was connecting on 34 percent of his threes during his last full year in Phoenix in 2016-17 according to Cleaning the Glass.
The way Bledsoe has reached these shooting numbers is bizarre.
In years past, he’s been somewhat reliable in the catch-and-shoot variety. After improving his three-point percentage on catch-and-shoots for three straight years and maxing out at 39 percent in 2017-18, he’s fallen off a cliff. He’s only connecting on a nasty 28.9 percent, the lowest of his career since the NBA began tracking the stat in 2013-14.
The reverse is true with his pull-up J. Bledsoe’s pull-up three-point percentage had been dipping for three straight years and bottomed out at 26.5 percent last season. However, that number has shot up to 36.3 percent in 2018-19.
As you can see in both video clips, the defense simply doesn’t respect Bledsoe’s outside shot. The Cavaliers’ defender hardly bothers to close out and the Spurs’ defender goes completely under the screen. This type of defense is normal for Bledsoe. It’s also a reason why 4.6 of his 4.8 three-point attempts per game are either open (closest defender within 4-6 feet) or wide open (closest defender within 6+ feet).
The opportunities to shoot from the outside in Mike Budenholzer’s five-out offense will always be there. Budenholzer stresses the importance of the three-point shot and
encourages demands his players shoot when open.
Similar to Khris Middleton, Bledsoe has been asked to make a huge change in his shot profile. After taking 40 percent of his shots from the mid-range in 2016-17, that number has plummeted to 19 percent this season according to Cleaning the Glass. A lot of those shots have gone to the rim where he’s excelled. However, a large portion have also transitioned to behind the arc. As we’ve seen, this change in approach may take some time to get used to.
It may seem backward, but the poor outside shooting he’s displayed this season has also given the Bucks hope for the future. If Bledsoe can get his three-point percentage up just a couple of points to where he’s been his whole career, his offensive effectiveness will only improve.
After shooting 40.8 percent from downtown in February, it looked as though he had re-discovered his three-point stroke. Unfortunately, he’s hit a wall again. Bledsoe is having his second-worst month of the season with regard to his three-point shooting, as he’s only making 27.5 percent of his attempts in March.
Despite not being able to hit the broad side of a barn, Bledsoe continues to display confidence by launching his outside shot at every opportunity. It’s this bravado that Bledsoe needs in order to break out of his year-long slump. Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot.