HANG TIME WEST – He learned a lot about patience. There’s that. Eric Bledsoe was a point guard on the team that had the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul, and so it seemed like forever to get his chance away from the Clippers and the commanding CP3 presence.
When the opportunity did come, though, and especially when Bledsoe instantly capitalized, he realized what else he learned. How to rely on more than elite athleticism. How to run an offense. How to slow the game down in his mind to find openings in the defense. Even, as it turned out in addressing a shortcoming from the Los Angeles days, how to be more consistent.
The strange-but-true contradiction is that Bledsoe is already a dependable starter with the Suns specifically because he had never really been a starter before. There were the 25 chances as a rookie, before Paul arrived to tilt the balance of power in the Western Conference and certainly in L.A., but all of 13 the next two seasons while working backup shifts. Having to wait matters.
“It definitely helps me out now because a lot of guys who get to start real early, it’ll take them a while,” Bledsoe said. “Some of them will blossom in a certain time. But for me, I think I was in a better situation learning.”
The result is Bledsoe at the forefront of the Suns going from a wave of preseason predictions as the worst team in the Western Conference amid major reconstruction to the actual of the 9-9 record. He is breaking down defenses to get to the rim and average a team-leading 18.8 points along with 5.8 assists while shooting 49 percent in 33.4 minutes, after 19.6 minutes as a Clipper. That’s impressive.
The Suns say he is better at this stage than they expected. That’s telling.
“I think so,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “The one big thing is the scoring…. When we first got him, we saw that he can really see the floor well. Like every young player, he’s going to have times when he looks brilliant out there and then other times maybe he misses guys or forces something. But overall, I think he’s probably better than what we anticipated. It’s always hard to expect a guy that is a bench guy on another team all of the sudden to come in and average 20 points and six or seven assists, whatever he’s doing. So that’s obviously a surprise that he’s doing that well.”
It helped that Bledsoe was able to cushion himself for the departure from Los Angeles. Enjoying his time with the Clippers but wanting to play more, he knew his out-bound ticket was being prepared as soon as management had the certainty of Paul re-signing. It’s just that Bledsoe didn’t see Phoenix coming. He kept hearing Orlando and Boston as destinations, and then it turned out he was headed for the Suns with the unique plan of starting him alongside another point guard, Goran Dragic.
That has been part of the unexpectedly good start, that Bledsoe not only charged out of the blocks like someone with years of experience in the new role but that he and Dragic have worked well together. They don’t force defenses to defend the three, but this works for now, with Phoenix still full of options moving forward and obviously not needing to cement any lineup.
This is Bledsoe proving what he always thought possible.
“Most definitely,” he said. “People really didn’t know that I can play the point. They thought I was a two-guard who wanted to shoot the ball every time. Now, you can just tell I’ll do everything to win the game. Rebound, passing, everything. It definitely came out.”