The Eastern Conference just got a hell of a lot more interesting following the trade news that broke Tuesday morning. The Phoenix Suns sent Eric Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Greg Monroe along with a protected 2018 first-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick. The details regarding the specifics of the uniquely protected pick can be found here along with other details from the trade.
The dynamic for an already dangerous Milwaukee Bucks team has now shifted. The Bucks didn’t have to trade away any of their starting five in order to receive Bledsoe, which is a huge win in that regard. There were rumors that either Malcolm Brogdon or Thon Maker could likely be in the mix, but the Bucks managed to keep their core intact while adding a top-50 player in the NBA with Bledsoe. This does create a tiny issue regarding who will now get the starting nod at point guard. I would guess the Bucks roll out a lineup of Bledsoe, Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker to start. Tony Snell would likely be the first man to come off the bench now, but he should still see consistent minutes as he has transformed his game into a legit “3-and-D” player after being traded by the Chicago Bulls last season. Their bench doesn’t run too deep and the return of Jabari Parker (likely in February) will change the roster again. For now, the Bucks have one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
How Bledsoe fits
So where does Eric Bledsoe fit in with all of this? Likely as the starting point guard, moving Brogdon over to the “two” spot. Bledsoe has always been the point guard for whichever Suns team he’s played for and I wouldn’t expect that to change here. We’ve seen this before with Bledsoe, playing alongside another point guard. The surprise Suns team of 2013-14 that won 20-plus more games than expected, ran with Bledsoe at point and Goran Dragic at the two. Dragic is a natural point guard and has played (and continues to play) primarily point guard except for that one season in Phoenix, but it worked tremendously. Bledsoe and Dragic both have similar playing styles in a lot of ways and their chemistry matched on court. If Bledsoe and Brogdon can mirror that same chemistry, we could see a similar end-product.
Bledsoe’s strengths are in his athletic talents and ability to attack the rim. He’s a solid all-around shooter but he was given the nickname “Mini-LeBron” for a reason. He’s shifty, he knows when to attack and finish through contact. Physically, players like Bledsoe don’t come around too often. Injuries have derailed him before, but he appears to be in NBA shape for whenever he suits up for his first game as a Buck.
Similar to what Bledsoe and Dragic had, Bledsoe and Brogdon have mimicking play styles in many ways. They are both willing passers and great on-ball defenders with deceptive speed. Brogdon prefers the outside shot more than Bledsoe while Bledsoe prefers to attack. Which is perfect. Bledsoe is a notoriously mediocre outside shooter and Brogdon has been borderline elite from deep to start this season. On the flip side, Bledsoe’s free throw rate (which is the number of free throw attempts a player takes per field goal attempt) last season was .443 compared to Brogdon’s .183 this season. Bledsoe attacking the lane will hopefully help pull Milwaukee up from shooting the 26th most free throws per game in the NBA this season. Bledsoe can get to the rim at will while Brogdon can hover the perimeter which is a give-and-take that works in this league. The two being able to play off of each others weaknesses is indispensable. Brogdon is 6-foot-5 and played a ton of two guard last season. He knows how to play the position and he has the size and quickness to defend almost any guard. It’s not often a backcourt will feature two players who can play both sides of the ball at a high level, but that’s exactly what Milwaukee has now.
What I’m most excited about with Bledsoe now in Milwaukee, is the pick-and-roll connection between him and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo is one of the most dangerous roll men in the NBA. He doesn’t pop out for threes, but cuts to the basket with a devastating force that no one wants to be a part of. If Giannis is coming downhill and you’re in front of him, the only thing on your mind is how to avoid being plastered all over the bedroom of young Bucks fans everywhere. Antetokounmpo is in the 91.7 percentile among roll men this season, averaging an insane 1.47 points per possession on 78.6 percent shooting. To compliment that, Bledsoe was in the 87.8 percentile as the ball handler on pick-and-rolls last season with an effective field goal percentage of 47.4 percent. This is Antetokounmpo’s team – and soon, it’ll be his league – but he should benefit the most from Bledsoe, who posted an assist percentage of 31.1 last season (A metric that estimates the percentage of field goals made by a team that a particular player assisted on while he was in the game). For comparison Ricky Rubio – one the league’s most effective passers – has an assist percentage of 32.0 this season.
The Bucks now have three players who succeed when the ball is in their hands (Bledsoe, Brogdon, Antetokounmpo), which could pose some potential problems as far as keeping the ball moving, but Bledsoe has been in a situation similar to this one before and he found a way to thrive. He hasn’t played except for the first three games of the season and there will surely be some growing pains early. Once Bledsoe gets back into proper form and the team has a chance to work things out (a benefit to this trade happening so early in the season), their ceiling will become clear. We should know just exactly how good this team will be before we even reach the All-Star break.
The young Bucks have a core that they can ride with for years to come (not to mention a future superstar, if he isn’t already considered one) and the addition of Bledsoe will shake up the top of the East. The Bucks have started off 4-6, losing their last four straight to the Thunder, Hornets, Pistons and Cavaliers. They’re still incredibly young and missing one of their best players so there is no cause for concern as of right now, especially with Bledsoe coming in.
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