Bled­soe off to good start with Bucks

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - SPORTS - Gary D’Amato Colum­nist

An hour af­ter his Bucks team­mates had show­ered and left the prac­tice fa­cil­ity Tues­day, Eric Bled­soe was still holed up in a room with as­sis­tant coach Sean Sweeney, watch­ing film.

The team has won three con­sec­u­tive games since trad­ing cen­ter Greg Mon­roe and two pro­tected draft picks to Phoenix for Bled­soe, who couldn’t wait to get out of the Val­ley of the Sun, even if it meant deal­ing with Wis­con­sin win­ters.

“Yeah, I know about that,” he said. “I have to blow the dust off some of my coats.”

Just as Bled­soe hasn’t got­ten ac­cli­mated to the weather, he’s on a steep learn­ing curve with his new team. It’s a tes­ta­ment to his tal­ent that un­til Tues­day he hadn’t prac­ticed with the Bucks, not count­ing game-day shoot-arounds, and al­ready had made an im­pact on

both ends of the floor.

He has yet to learn the in­tri­ca­cies of the Bucks’ de­fense, where Khris Mid­dle­ton and Tony Snell like to get the ball, where Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo will show up – which is li­able to be any­where – when he pen­e­trates

“As much as it has looked as if he’s been here for a cou­ple years,” coach Ja­son Kidd said, “it’s go­ing to take time.”

The early re­turns are what have you so ex­cited about the Bled­soe-Bucks mar­riage. The team gave up some low­post scor­ing and re­bound­ing from Mon­roe, but the trade made so much sense on so many lev­els.

Bled­soe is quick enough to stay with the league’s faster point guards and is a will­ing de­fender, which makes him an au­to­matic up­grade to the Bucks’ pick-and-roll de­fense, long their Achilles’ heel. On the of­fen­sive end, he can cre­ate his own shot, pen­e­trate and dish and get to the rim.

This is no knock on Mal­colm Brog­don, a solid point guard, or the less phys­i­cally gifted Matthew Delleve­dova, who sells out ev­ery minute he’s on the floor, but Bled­soe can do things they can­not do.

“He’s dy­namic,” said Ja­son Terry. “He’s one of the most dy­namic point guards in the game. Why haven’t you heard of him? Be­cause he’s been in a los­ing sit­u­a­tion. No­body talks about Phoenix.”

Bled­soe pub­licly aired his frus­tra­tion with the Suns on Oct. 22, af­ter they lost their first three games by a com­bined 92 points. “I Don’t wanna be here” he posted on Twit­ter. But it wasn’t just frus­tra­tion over los­ing a few games. Phoenix shut him down for the fi­nal 14 games last year in what was termed a “man­age­ment de­ci­sion,” though Bled­soe had been play­ing – and play­ing well – through knee sore­ness.

Tanks a lot.

What­ever. Bled­soe, who signed a five-year, $70 mil­lion deal with the Suns in 2014, is glad he landed in Mil­wau­kee.

“It means a lot to get that fresh start,” he said.

The Bucks are just as happy. Terry said when Bled­soe joined the team last week in San An­to­nio, he saw play­ers look­ing over to the side­line dur­ing prac­tice, “Like, we gotta make sure we im­press our new team­mate.”

Though Bled­soe makes the Bucks a bet­ter team, he doesn’t solve all their prob­lems. They rank dead last in the NBA in re­bounds per game and they have too many lulls on de­fense, de­spite Kidd’s al­most ob­ses­sive harp­ing on it. John Hen­son and Thon Maker are no match for the league’s top cen­ters on a nightly ba­sis.

But the team will play faster with Bled­soe on the court, he’ll cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for his team­mates on the of­fen­sive end and he’ll be able to stay in front of op­pos­ing point guards.

“It’s not just Gian­nis out there run­ning ahead,” Terry said. “Now you’ve got this speedy, mus­cu­lar bull run­ning up and down the court, throw­ing al­ley­oops, fin­ish­ing in the lane. That’s some­thing we didn’t have.

“More im­por­tantly what he gives us is de­fen­sive sta­bil­ity. Guard­ing the point guard po­si­tion in this league is prob­a­bly the tough­est thing to do be­cause of the tal­ent level. He matches up with any­one in the league.”

Time will tell if Bled­soe is the miss­ing piece that will push the Bucks to the next level. So far, you’ve got to like the signs.

JEFF HANISCH/USA TODAY SPORTS

Eric Bled­soe (left) brings a strong de­fen­sive pres­ence to the Bucks' point guard po­si­tion.

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