Bucks Lead

Breaking Down the Importance of Eric Bledsoe

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Eight Down, Eight to Go

By now, you know the story. The Milwaukee Bucks have advanced to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2001. Outside of one outlier loss to the Celtics, they’ve been dominant. Before we jump into our main topic of Eric Bledsoe, here are a few facts to reiterate just how impressive the Bucks have been in the playoffs:

 

  • The Bucks have played nine games and won eight, giving them the best record of any team in this postseason.
  • In those eight wins, seven were by double digits.
  • Of those seven double-digit wins, five were by 21 points or more.
  • All this is good for an average margin of victory in the eight wins of precisely 20.0 points per game (I know, I had to check my math a half-dozen times because I couldn’t believe it).
  • They have not lost a game on the road.
  • Oh, and outside a few short stretches of playing time for him to get his legs back in the most recent rout of the C’s, they did all this without Malcolm Brogdon.

Ultimately, Milwaukee made Detroit and Boston look as if they didn’t belong in the same league, let alone a threat to stop this Bucks train from rolling into the ECF. Sure Kyrie Irving played his worst basketball in years, and Detroit was with a hobbled Blake Griffen. Also, how was Boston going to be able to beat us when the refs were clearly on our side (I say with much sarcasm). Either way, we’re on to the next step of this journey and awaiting the winner of a tough 7-game series between Toronto and Philadelphia.

 

But today I want to focus in and examine one particular player on the Bucks – our enigmatic starting point guard.

Eric Bledsoe – A Case Study

First, I offer up a few questions I end up asking myself out loud each game as if the man was able to hear me – Why don’t you drive to the rack on every possession Eric? Why Eric, why are you settling and jacking up contested three-pointers? What’s wrong with your free throw stroke? Who was that pass to ERIC???

I’ll admit it, during Friday’s pivotal Game 3 in Boston; I was a nervous wreck and became a little irrational with my takes on EB. Here’s a little snippet from a group text with a few of my buddies back in Wisconsin during the 2nd half –

Me: “I don’t want to see another minute of Bledsoe”

Rational Friend #1: “We need him, man”

Me: “We need him to get the (expletive) out of our way”

(A few minutes later…)

Me: “Eric Bledsoe sucks, we’re going to lose”

Rational Friend #2 “No we’re not”

Am I proud of myself for having such a strong, knee-jerk reaction? No. But in my defense, he was having a terrible night on the offensive end. I’m talking – nine total points, missing all four free throw attempts, and grabbing one rebound.

Of course “Rational Friends #1 and #2” were both right all along. We did not blow the game, and we do NEED Eric Bledsoe to win a championship this year. But I wasn’t the only hater:

Setting Aside the Noise

It serves no purpose to justify Bledsoe’s importance with clichés like “the guy has heart, he brings the intensity every night. Effort doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.” Sure, there’s truth to that, but I need something more tangible. What else can you give me?

“He’s a leader, a tough veteran player who brings exp…” STOP…. again, while those anecdotes may be real, can we find some statistical proof that this man is essential to the Bucks’ success?

Well, let’s look at some actual numbers as opposed to the previous arguments, which are only as valid as you believe them to be. Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t lie.

Bledsoe’s Stats at First Glance

First the overview of the more common stats you’ll find in any typical box score. For the current 2018-19 season (remember, it’s his first full season as a Buck and his first year playing under Coach Budenholzer), Bledsoe averaged 15.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. He started at point guard in 78 games for a team that won 60 games. His assist-to-turnover ratio was the best of his career at 2.6. His previous best was 1.9. That’s a nice little jump for a point guard who has never been a huge “assist guy.” This stat also coincides with the fact that his turnover ratio was also the best of his career.

While these numbers are not that remarkable, this is some pretty good stuff considering Bledsoe’s role. He’s a point guard who concedes a lot of the ball-handling duties because he plays with a magical unicorn named Giannis Antetokounmpo. Traditional point guards set the offense, call out all the plays, and have the ball in their hands more than anyone else. For long stretches during Milwaukee’s games, Bledsoe doesn’t need to do that. Giannis and his Stretch Armstrong wingspan can run the point, as can others.

Bledsoe Knows His Role

The numbers above begin to tell the story of a guy who takes pretty good care of the ball. He also understands that on many nights, he doesn’t need to take on a significant burden of having to carry this juggernaut of an offense on his shoulders. Stuffing a stat sheet doesn’t mean he’s doing what’s best to help his team win on most occasions. He needs to play to his strengths, and the rest will take care of itself. This clip is a little bit older, but my brain still can’t grasp how he got this pass off to our favorite one-trick-pony Jason Terry:

Digging a Little Deeper

The great fact about Eric Bledsoe is that he is capable of offensive brilliance in spurts. Primarily when he drives to the hoop. Diving into some more specifics – he shot over 62% on his shots from within ten feet of the basket. For someone who is 6’1’’, a lot of those are contested shots against taller players that he finds a way to finish. In fact (seriously, this is true), his 58.2% shooting on 2pt FG’s this season was the best in the NBA amongst all qualifying backcourt players! Meaning he shot the highest percentage on two-point field goal tries in the league when compared to not only all point guards but shooting guards as well.

The only players in the association ahead of Bledsoe play center or power forward and typically shoot their 2pt FG’s from close range and on dunks. Naturally, the “bigs” dominate the top 20. Eric Bledsoe was the first guard to appear at #22 overall and tied with some dude named LeBron James, who apparently plays small forward for the L.A. Lakers? This LeBron character (who I can only assume, based on his name, was recruited over to the states from the French National Team) shot precisely the same percentage on his two-point shots as Bledsoe: 58.2. So there you have it, I just found a way to compare Eric Freakin’ Bledsoe in the same breath as LeBron James. I guess my work here is done.

But seriously, it’d be nice to see him take more advantage of this facet of his game. I mean check out just two highlights just from this past series. I want to see more of this:

Advanced Stats

Alright, I’m feeling better about those offensive numbers! Now let’s quickly examine a few advanced stats that can help paint a complete picture. There are a TON of advanced stats out there that aim to measure a player’s total effectiveness on both ends of the floor. I’m not going to bore my casual fans out there with lengthy explanations of how the stat “nerds” (or as I call them, “heroes”) come up with these numbers. I’m just going to tell you where Bledsoe ranks in a couple of these areas. However, feel free to Google more detailed breakdowns at your leisure.

*Writers note- for this final segment, I’m coining the made-up term “true starting point guard.” Meaning we aren’t counting James Harden as a point guard as some sites list him when his “true starting point guard” is Chris Paul. The same goes for guys like Marcus Smart. The “true starting point guard” for the Celtics is, of course, Kyrie Irving. It is merely the opinion of the writer that this reflects a more accurate comparison.

Amongst “true starting point guards” in the NBA this year that averaged at least 26 minutes per game and played in at least 50 games, Bledsoe finished behind only Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, and Ricky Rubio in “DRPM.” This stat essentially measures a players overall defensive efficiency for their respective teams.

He was 7th in “Real Plus/Minus,” which accounts for the difference in points scored while that player is on the court. These rankings put him ahead of All-Stars such as Ben Simmons, Kemba Walker, and Russell Westbrook to name a few. I could keep going, but he generally places within the top-10 point guards in all the major advanced stat categories that, at least in part, factor in defensive effectiveness. For instance, this type of defensive efficiency:

What the Bucks Need From EB Moving Forward

Now that he’s past his kryptonite, aka the Boston Celtics, we need Bledsoe to play his game. After researching the “stats behind the stats,” hopefully we have a better understanding of our guy. He doesn’t need to score 30, and he doesn’t need to have 15 assists. He needs to play the way he has all season. No matter what is happening on the other end of the court, we should expect EB to keep up his stellar defense no matter what. Also, we need him to continue to be smart with the basketball and keep wasted possessions to a minimum. Bledsoe should drive to the rim more often because he’s damn good at it. Oh yeah, and he needs to make his free throws.

The Bench Mob

Yes, we have a great group of guards on the bench who can help keep him fresh. George Hill has been amazing. If Brogdon can get back to being at least almost 100%, it makes this team exponentially better. That is a scary thought for whoever we play next. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out to Pat Connaughton, who’s had some big moments already this postseason. After watching the first two rounds come and go, it’s quite evident that we have crazy depth all over the floor.

But Eric Bledsoe is our starting point guard of the present and future, and (setting aside Giannis) is just as crucial to our continued success as any other player on the team.

B.I.B – Believe in Bledsoe

He’s still going to have moments where I scratch my head and ask him “why, dude?” With my foolish fake notion that he can hear me, I say this – just do you, Eric. We are going to win a championship, maybe in a few weeks, or possibly within the next few years. Either way, you’re a massive part of how we’re going to get there. Take it to the rack and knock down those free throws my man!

Fear the Deer! We’re just getting warmed up!

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About Dan Parker

Born and raised in the greater Milwaukee area. Graduated from UW-Parkside with a B.S. in Sports and Fitness Management. Avid Wisconsin sports fan, currently residing just outside of Detroit.

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