Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Eric Bledsoe brings us to the halfway point of our summer rankings. And as far as ranking him goes, he’s quite a conundrum. He’s been a borderline superstar while on the court. But his ability to stay on the court has been his greatest challenge.
“Mini LeBron” enters the 2016-17 season healthy and ready to establish himself as an All-Star and the Phoenix Suns as the surprise team of the year. Whether he can do so will depend mostly on the number of games he plays.
Last season, Bledsoe averaged 20.4 points, 6.1 assists and 4.0 boards per game. He had a 20.0 player efficiency rating. Here are the players who averaged 20 points, six dimes, four boards and had a PER over 20:
Of the six other players who did it, five were in the All-Star Game and the other, Damian Lillard, was the biggest slight of the festivities. There’s no question that when Bledsoe is healthy, he’s capable of playing at an All-Star level.
There aren’t many point guards this side of Derrick Rose who have had as many struggles with injuries as Bledsoe has, though. He missed 51 games last season, 38 in 2013-14, and 41 in 2011-12. In the alternate years, though, he’s played 81 in 2010-11, 76 in 2012-13 and 81 in 2014-15. So, if that pattern continues, he should be just fine this year. His most recent injury was a torn meniscus, which isn’t the sort that is likely to recur. So there is a decent chance that he stays healthy.
But if he misses half the season again, he has to take a serious tumble in the rankings because you have to be on the court to have an impact.
Bledsoe is a very effective pick-and-roll point guard. He averaged 7.9 points per game and 0.97 points per possession, according to NBA.com. No one was better than him on the both counts, not even Stephen Curry.
What is interesting about him is that he’s one of the rare shooters who is more effective off the bounce than off the pass.
On catch-and-shoots, he was 36.1 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from deep. On pull-ups, he was 43.2 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from deep. And he attempted and made more shots from deep when he was creating his own shot.
This is the inverse of Brandon Knight, who came in at No. 69 on my list. That, plus the fact that Bledsoe is the better passer of the two, is why he should be the primary ball-handler of the two.
Defensively, Bledsoe is a beast. Between his tremendous athleticism and freakish 6’7.5″ wingspan, he can bother almost any point guard in the NBA.
He ranked just 11th among point guards last year in Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM), but he was playing that whole time with a sore knee–the one that ended up needing that meniscus surgery. In 2014-15, he finished third, behind Ricky Rubio and Stephen Curry in DRPM at 1.85.
According to his defensive dashboard, opponents shot 1.5 points below their season averages against him. And considering the Suns were 25th in the league in Defensive Rating, that’s probably not because he was getting a lot of help from his teammates. In fact, the Suns’ defensive rating with him on the court was 103.5 and with him on the bench, it was 108.3.
Referencing the 20/6/4 list above, there were five point guards on it: Bledsoe, Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and Lillard. Considering Bledsoe’s merits also on the defensive end, it’s not unreasonable to include him in the conversation for top-five point guards in the league, provided he can stay healthy.