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