When trading for Bledsoe last summer, McDonough and company knew they were getting an offensive player that thrived in the open court first and foremost. Often overlooked about Bledsoe’s progress over the past few years, though, was his development as a pick-and-roll scorer. That improvement’s been obvious with the Suns, as a staple of Hornacek’s offense are simple high ball-screens for his point guard – to initiate sets or as a last-gasp option with the shot-clock winding down.
The highlights are impressive, but statistics tell the story better. Bledsoe has taken 35 shots within 8-feet of the basket this season and made 24 of them, ranking 12th among guards in attempts from that distance and second in accuracy with a blistering rate of 68.6%.
Bledsoe’s natural gifts make him one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, and though his steal rate is down to 2.7% in Phoenix from 3.6% with the Clippers, his overall defensive effectiveness remains. He’s prone to losing his man on the weak-side in help position and could stand to make a more consistent effort navigating through screens, but Bledsoe is among a small handful of true disruptors – on the ball and in passing lanes.
Bledsoe’s approach on the fast-break is absolutely textbook. He makes a concerted effort to stall at the top of the key, drawing defenders toward him and allowing trailing teammates to come open for easy jumpers. This is exactly the type of instinct some doubted Bledsoe would ever develop; that it’s come so soon into his time as a full-time starter at point guard is a sign of more great things to come. And of course, Bledsoe’s athletic dynamism is of utmost importance here, too. He commonly creates transition chances seemingly from nowhere, pulling down a defensive rebound or taking a quick outlet pass and flying down the floor with the ball. Combined with his newfound playmaking knack, it’s a deadly amalgam.
But fast-breaks only come so often. Bledsoe’s growth extends to the halfcourt, too, where he’s shown the ability to consistently find shooters in the weak-side corner. That’s a skill limited to just certain types of ballhandlers, and though Bledsoe certainly has the physical makeup, there were concerns coming into the season that he’d never develop the mental acuity to make such plays. But he’s completely quelled them at this point in the season, frequently exhibiting pace control and manipulation of the defense that belies his experience level.
Just how good has Bledsoe been as a passer in 2013-2014? Though he ranks 10th in assists per game at 7.5, only John Wall’s dimes are more valuable. According to NBA.com’s player tracking data, Phoenix averages 2.44 points per Bledsoe assist, the second best mark in the league among the top 20 players in assists per game. The numbers behind the numbers support the eye-test, basically, and it all points to Bledsoe being one of basketball’s best playmakers.