The Clippers have been one of the top teams in the league this year, and their excellent bench is a big reason for that. While Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are their primary playmakers, the second unit does quite a bit of work, too. Jamal Crawford‘s offense off the bench is immensely important, while Matt Barnes has continued to play well on both sides of the ball. Lamar Odom started out rough, but is beginning to look more and more like the player he was with the Lakers for so many years.
Their most intriguing bench player, however, is third year guard Eric Bledsoe.
Bledsoe is an athletic freak, rivaled only by Russell Westbrook among guards in that department. He’s already had a few monster dunks this year, and when you watch him play, you get the feeling that there’s no limit to what he might be able to do.
There’s just one problem: the Clippers already have the best point guard in the league. Yes, Bledsoe is stuck as the Clippers backup point guard, and as long as he stays in L.A., that will likely continue to be the case. As good of a player as he is, and as much potential as he has, Bledsoe is not the kind of top flight player that Chris Paul is, and it would be surprising if he ever managed to get to that level. Just as he was trapped behind John Wall on the depth chart at Kentucky, Bledsoe once again finds himself playing second fiddle to a point guard who is more skilled at his job than he is.
So, what’s the end game here? How does Bledsoe solve this problem? For now, the right move is to do nothing. Bledsoe has carved out a nice little niche for himself on this Clippers team, establishing himself as part of the best second unit in the NBA. After a 2011-12 season in which Bledsoe was injured most of the way, and struggled to crack the rotation once he finally became healthy, Bledsoe has managed to re-establish himself as one of the more talented young players in the game.
For now, Bledsoe is in the right spot. The Clippers are one of the best teams in the NBA, and they look like a very strong candidate to win the title this season. Bledsoe could definitely become a big part of that. Coming off the bench in the post-season, he can set up wide-open threes for Crawford, and do his best Westbrook impression as he drives to the basket for an easy two.
For this season, Bledsoe is in the perfect situation. it’s the upcoming seasons that will cause a problem. Bledsoe has too much raw talent to be a backup forever. He’s already good enough to start for a fair chunk of teams in this league, and he’s only going to get better, Think of a team like the Sacramento Kings; they’ve tried everyone in sight to find their answer at the point. Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, and Isaiah Thomas have all played minutes at the 1 for them, and none of them have stuck. Imagine if they had a confident, powerful guard like Bledsoe running the show. He’d be able to drive past defenders to the hoop, and run the pick and roll with DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings would instantly become better with a player of Bledsoe’s caliber running the point.
And they won’t be the only ones calling. Consider the Miami Heat. Sure, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are okay, and they might be good for one or two great plays in a game, but neither one has done much to prove they are a legitimate starting point guard, and they have both been made to look better than they really are thanks to the success of Miami’s big three. Chalmers’ inability to get assists doesn’t seem as important when Lebron is averaging seven a game, but the fact still remains that the Heat lack a legitimate ball distributor at the point guard position. Reeling in Bledsoe would remedy that issue immediately.
Bledsoe is in a good spot with the Clippers right now, but the odds of him staying with them long term are fairly slim. The rest of the league knows how good he is, and when he becomes eligible for free agency, a lot of teams are going to come calling. Much like the Thunder were forced to do with James Harden, the Clippers will likely find themselves being forced to give up their elite bench player because too many teams are going to want him as a starter. If Bledsoe can play a significant role in the leading the Clippers to a title, it would be a big moment for him, and would prepare him for his future challenges, where he will likely be asked to carry teams, rather than simply contribute in limited minutes. Luckily, his game looks strong enough that he should be more than up to the task.
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