As this goes to press, Lonzo Ball just had another Flea Market Westbrook game, going for 10 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists, continuing to be a player who even on a good day is mediocre at best.
But then, Ball had two of the best games of his career against Phoenix and Milwaukee. The common thread between those two matchups? Eric Bledsoe, traded from the Suns to the Bucks in the interim.
Ball torched Phoenix for 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists in only his second career game as a pro. He followed that up with his first career triple-double on Veterans’ Day, going for 19 points, 12 boards, and 13 assists.
His third-best game as a pro, he scored 13 points.
Which in turn invites, nay, demands the question be asked:
Is Eric Bledsoe even any good? Or does making Lonzo Ball look like Russell Westbrook stand as evidence that he sucks?
For that, we are going to need some context. For that, there’s Basketball Reference.
It’s Not His Offense
Bledsoe was terrible overall in three games in Phoenix. For one thing, small sample size. For another, he hated playing there and tweeted his way into a trade.
Oh, and he did torch Ball for 28 points in the first meeting , so it’s not like he was outplayed; he’d have to wait for the rematch to get completely clowned (11 points on 4-of-12, missing all six of his threes, and grabbing only two each of boards and dimes. Saving grace: Milwaukee won that game.)
Overall in Milwaukee, Bledsoe’s posted a 19.7 PER, .098 WS/48, and a decisive plus-1.6 offensive BPM. So the dude can still score.
Oh, and he’s also shooting the ball better (45.2 percent, better than his career 44.4, even as he continues to make you cringe when he attempts a three-pointer, shooting only 31.0 percent.)
You Can Win With Him
Milwaukee before Bledsoe made his first appearance after the trade: 4-6.
Milwaukee since: 9-4.
I mean, that’s not “checkmate” exactly…but it speaks to Bledsoe’s role in improving the Bucks’ overall depth. His numbers are right on his career averages, and he’s spent his career as a solid contributor if not an All-Star.
A Serious Examination of Bledsoe’s Defense
Bledsoe has always been a roughly league-average defender; his career Defensive Rating is right around 107, broadly where the league’s been in terms of offensive output (and they’re Newtonian Third Law counterparts, equal and opposite reactions.)
He has just about as many Defensive Win Shares (12.1) as offensive (11.9), and his defensive BPM sits at plus-0.7 career (against plus-1.1 offensively.)
But still. He made Lonzo Freaking Ball look like Magic Johnson out there.
And indeed, when you take a holistic look at his season, he’s got 0.5 DWS in 483 minutes; for his career, that’s 12.1 in 11,792 minutes.
Stretch 0.5 DWS in 483 minutes out to 11,792 minutes and you’d expect him to have 12.2 DWS.
Box Plus/Minus has been less kind to him (minus-0.6 in Milwaukee, minus-1.0 overall this season, a career-worst), but you take the stats in total for just such reasons.
Per 100 possessions, his defensive rebounding is down slightly but his steals are up. It’s all broadly exactly what you’d expect Eric Bledsoe to give you.
So when you put it all together, Bledsoe is a solid starter-quality if not All-Star-caliber NBA point guard. Which is precisely what he has been for his entire career. Good, but not great.
So in the spirit of measuring apples to apples and answering the question we ask around here, yes, you can look past those two embarrassments against the Lakers (and maybe get him in the film room for the rubber match on March 30 in hopes that he’ll redeem himself); they’re not indicative of falling ability.
Which means this one is Confirmed. Eric Bledsoe is the same good player he’s always been.