Eric Bledsoe, a guard in Phoenix, has been one of the biggest NBA revelations through the season’s first two weeks. After toiling with the Clippers as Chris Paul’s understudy for three seasons, LA dealt Bledsoe to Phoenix in July a 3-team deal that netted Jared Dudley and JJ Redick. It’s very early, but it seems like the Clippers didn’t get nearly enough in the deal. Bledsoe, who turns 24 in December, played with Kentucky for a season (4th on the team in scoring) before jumping to the pros. He was largely known as a defensive hound with superior athletic ability. A smaller version of Russell Westbrook? Monta Ellis with a conscience?
In year four, Bledsoe has exploded: 20.9 ppg in 34 minutes a night, 52 percent field goals, 7.6 trips to the line per game (81% FTs) and 7.3 apg. Yes, he’s struggling with his turnovers (4.3), but something to consider: new team, new role, new responsibilities. If you’re a PER guy, Bledsoe is 11th in the NBA, and 3rd among guards, ahead of Tony Parker (25th), James Harden (29th) and Dwyane Wade (62nd) to name a few. (Yes, small sample size.)
It’s difficult to say where Bledsoe ranks among NBA guards right now – is he a point guard or shooting guard? – but soon, NBA GMs will have to make a decision, because Bledsoe’s going to get paid in July. Before diving into his situation, there’s this: In the last 16 months, here are just a handful of NBA contracts that have been handed out to young NBA guards:
Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans
4 years, $58 mllion, July, 2012
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
4 years, $48 million, October 2012
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
4 years, $44 million, October 2012
Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
4 years, $41 million, October 2012 (traded to New Orleans in July 2012)
Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
4 years, $32 million, July 2013
John Wall, Washington Wizards
5 years, $80 million, July 2013
Bledsoe and the Suns couldn’t agree on an extension – smart move on his part – so he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. From the Arizona Republic:
Bledsoe will be a restricted free agent in July, giving the Suns an ability to match any offer sheet he might sign with another team. The Suns also maintain their cap space for a trade or free agency signing before matching to sign Bledsoe. They also could do a sign-and-trade in July if they are opposed to the market price … only three players — Al Jefferson, Caron Butler and James Harden — agreed to an extension in the past decade before playing for a team that had just traded for them.
Here’s an interesting comparison: Derrick Favors of Utah also was a reserve for three seasons, then the team let Al Jefferson go, and inked Favors to a 4-year, $49 million deal.
If Bledsoe’s early numbers hold up, his many suitors could include the Lakers (big cap space), Bobcats (is Kemba Walker their future starting PG?), and Celtics (Rondo’s only got one more year left on his deal). But how will teams pay Bledsoe – closer to what Jeff Teague got, or closer to what Eric Gordon got?
The best move for Bledsoe may actually be to stay – assuming the Suns match – because Phoenix has so many upcoming 1st round draft picks. The new regime in Phoenix inherited Goran Dragic … but traded for Bledsoe. They don’t yet know what they have in Alex Len, but Markieff Morris seems to be playing out of his mind. If LeBron and Melo go nowhere, and the Lakers are shutout of big stars, they’re going to have to make a play for Bledsoe, right?