The 50th season of basketball for the Phoenix Suns is setting up to be one filled with Run-N-Gun type pace, and with the youth all throughout this roster, it should be fun to see how their offense develops. However, even though he’s not a “young” player, Eric Bledsoe, who will be 28 this upcoming season, is entering a career point where the elite point guards begin to take bigger steps mentally, realizing their floor general potential.
Even though Bledsoe will see a lot more off-ball duty as the Suns try to figure out what they can achieve with Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis as primary initiators more often, head coach Earl Watson has noticed a slight change in his veteran guards approach to the game itself.
“Bled is at the point in his career, where's he turning 28. That's when point guards start to prime into their role," Watson said. “And you can kind of tell, seeing him play this year compared to previous seasons. You can tell he does things with more purpose. Meaning I'm gonna run a play this way and get off of him (Watson demonstrating as we talk). .. More like a misdirection to get what he truly wants. He's seeing things move before it moves.”
Bledsoe, who did not finish in the top 100 in assist-to-turnover ratio last season, compared to Ulis, who finished 16th at 2.9, has always been a score-first type. That’s where he flourishes. Case in point after multiple 40-point performances in January.
With lineups likely to experiment with Bledsoe at not only point guard alongside Booker and probably Josh Jackson but a number of playmakers being implemented onto the roster via the draft allow for an aggressive scoring type like Bledsoe to capitalize off of using less energy. Jackson and Ulis will help further create a pass-happy, swing-heavy offense, I believe. Dribble-drive handoffs (DHO) will be a staple it seems, and Bledsoe should be able to have more space to operate playing at an even quicker tempo.
Booker, who has been alongside Bledsoe and seen him take incremental steps towards becoming an elite guard throughout his first two seasons as a pro, also notices Watson’s observations. The game is coming slower to him, allowing for much fewer turnovers, which will be prioritized by him and Ulis in each main unit if they want to take a successful team jump.
"He gets better every year. Despite the injuries that he's had, he's come back stronger every time. I feel like the game is slowing down for him,” Booker said. “I've watched him his whole career, being a Kentucky alum, but the game has slowed down. Obviously, he can still play at a high pace, but he can read the floor better, get players involved a lot better."
Ulis receives high praise from John Calipari
When I spoke with University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari Friday morning about former Wildcats in Phoenix (Booker, Bledsoe, Ulis, and Brandon Knight), he told me how much he was vouching for Ulis to scouts as a first-round prospect.
And with Ulis’ natural playmaking ability, it’s no surprise how much synergy he was able to gain with Alan Williams in the second unit so early on. Ulis ended up lasting until the No. 34 pick, which McDonough even mentioned after drafting him they were surprised he was even on the board there in the first place.
"I tried to get some teams in the first round, I told them they're crazy,” Calipari said. “Here's a kid that can start for you, and if your team ever gets good enough to where he's your second unit point guard, everyone will want to be on your second unit. They're going to want to play with him. The fans are going to love him. I told these teams and they passed on him, and now they know they made a mistake."
Calipari admitted to me that in Ulis’ sophomore season, he basically handed over the reigns of the offense to his point guard. He had full trust in his team leader from Chicago to put them in the best position to win games.
Ulis’ college coach believes he will be a starter in this league, and his unique creation ability for others will allow him that opportunity here soon enough.
"He could start in this league, but if you want to win 60-65 games, you want to get in those big numbers,” Calipari said. “If he's your second unit point guard, you're going to have your team wanting to play with him and you'll eventually have to put him in that starting lineup. Everybody wants to play with him, and the reason is he makes the game easier for everybody. And then they look at him defensively, and he won't back up."