Whether it’s to enhance the tank for a top pick in one of the best drafts in a decade, or if it’s due to lingering knee soreness (hyperextension), the Phoenix Suns front office has reportedly decided to shut own Eric Bledsoe for the remainder of the season.
This was first reported by local radio host John Gambadoro.
Suns have shut Eric Bledsoe down for the year— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) March 16, 2017
Coach Earl Watson did not reveal the ‘for the year’ part in postgame interviews, but did speak around it.
“Bled’s been great, he’s had a great season,” Watson said. “He played at a high level. He’s been dominant all year. There’s still a lot of room for him to grow. He knows that. He’s excited about continuing to be professional and support his teammates, continue to practice, continue to develop.”
That sure sounds like a month-long sit-down.
Later, the Republic’s beat reporter Doug Haller was able to get confirmation on the Suns shutting Bledsoe down.
Confirmed the Suns are shutting down PG Eric Bledsoe for the season. He's been playing through knee soreness.— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) March 16, 2017
Bledsoe himself tweeted a single emoji.
— Eric Bledsoe (@EBled2) March 16, 2017
Bledsoe was posting career highs in many categories this season: points (21.1 per game), assists (6.3), free throws (5.4), free throw attempts (6.9), free throw percentage (84.7%), offensive rating (112), OBPM (3.7) and BPM (3.3).
In both traditional and advanced analysis, Bledsoe ranks as a top-10 point guard in the NBA on the cusp of of being even higher.
He is one of only five players in the entire NBA averaging at least 21 points, 6 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game (LBJ, Russ, Lowry, Steph) this season and has been in that kind of lofty, well-rounded comp for years now.
But the 22-46 Suns need to set themselves up for the future. And that includes getting the best possible draft pick in June.
Now, the Suns have sat all of Tyson Chandler, Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, while trading P.J. Tucker to Toronto.
Speaking of Knight, Gambo has some news on that front as well.
Suns asked Brandon Knight to play tonight he told them he had back spasms— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) March 16, 2017
If you believe that Brandon Knight has back spasms I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) March 16, 2017
Knight clearly has zero capacity to deal with unexpected changes to his role.
- He responded to being demoted from the starting lineup before the season by playing as one of the very worst players in the entire 450-man association.
- He responded to getting an unexpected start in Bledsoe’s place before the All-Star break with an abysmal 3 points, 0 assists, 0 rebounds, 0 steals and 2 turnovers for a whopping -37 on the scoreboard (not a typo) in 20 minutes. Off the bench in the SAME GAME against largely the same lineups, rookie Tyler Ulis posted 13 points, 6 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal and 1 turnover for a +6 on the scoreboard in 28 minutes.
- Knight’s next two games before the All-Star Break were back to coming off the bench, and he posted very respectable 11 points, 3 assists in 20 minutes for a +4.5 on average across the two games.
- Knight has not played since.
Hopefully, Knight will have some time to digest the news and realize that the very best thing for his career is to play hard these last 16 games and rebuild his reputation as a high-level combo guard he was as recently as 18 months ago.
In November 2015, Knight started in a dual point guard role alongside Eric Bledsoe and posted career highs of 21.9 points (on 40% three-point shooting), 5.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds for a Suns team angling for a playoff bid. Remember that? Even after that, in various states of health and roster composition, he never posted worse than 17.3/4.8 in any month of games.
Until this year, Knight’s biggest problem in Phoenix was health. He severely hurt his ankle in the spring of 2015, missing most of his first half-season in the valley. Then he pulled his groin soon after Christmas in season two and was hobbled the rest of the 2015-16 season as the Suns plummeted.
This year, his problem has been twofold: the unexpected emergence of Devin Booker causing his demotion to the second unit; and his inability to overcome that disappointment.
Knight can't get out of his own head. How else do you explain his inability to recognize and seize opportunity when it presents itself?
Playing so poorly all season caused a monthly reduction in minutes: from 24 per game in November to 20 in December to 18 in January to 17 in February to 0 since the Break.
The Suns tried but couldn’t even give him away at the trade deadline, and still owe him almost $15 million per year over the next THREE years.
Now Knight has his chance.
Play well, and some other team will want to give him a better role and a better chance to be a starter again.
Play awful, or feign injury, and he just might find himself riding the bench for the Suns in the best years of his life behind Booker, Ulis and either Bledsoe or 2017DraftPick.
Your move, Brandon.