After missing more than 30 games from surgery to remove a piece of his torn meniscus, Eric Bledsoe was a bit of a question mark for the rest of the season. Even if he did return, it would be right before the playoffs for a team that was barely struggling to stay afloat in the stormy waters of the Western Conference playoff race thanks to life raft Goran Dragic. The team had adapted to playing without him and although Bledsoe’s absence prevented the Phoenix Suns from reaching their full potential this season, even if he did return it could threaten the team’s new chemistry.
In addition to those questions, there was a more obvious and unnerving question to be asked: Would Bledsoe be the same after knee surgery? It was his second meniscus injury in just a couple of years, after all. And forget about the complications of multiple knee surgeries; what about the problem that comes with any employee missing two and a half months of work? Would rust be a major factor? Or would Bledsoe really be able to go all Charlie’s Angels 2 on the league like he said he would?
Thankfully, the answers to those questions have been the best-case scenario so far for Suns supporters. Though Phoenix lost its first game with Bledsoe back in the lineup and struggled mightily against the Boston Celtics in his first start, the Suns have started to find their way with a healthy Bledsoe. The Sanderellas have gone 4-2 since Bledsoe’s return, with one loss coming on the road to a good Brooklyn Nets team and the other coming to an admittedly bad Cleveland Cavaliers team, though it was Bledsoe’s first game back as we already mentioned.
In his first six games back, Bledsoe is averaging 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 29.3 minutes per game. He’s only shooting 40 percent from the floor and 20 percent from 3-point range, but his production has been pretty steady despite being out of shape for almost three months and more importantly, he looks like he’s fully healthy.
The Suns have also been doing a (somewhat) better job of limiting their opponents’ scoring. Though Phoenix is still 22nd in the league in points allowed (102.7 per game), the Suns have held their opposition to 99.3 points since Bledsoe’s return. Shaking off the rust from his shot will come with time, but at the very least the boost his perimeter defense provides is already readily apparent.
Even better, Bledsoe’s best game so far came in his most recent one against the Detroit Pistons. In a team-high 38 minutes Bledsoe dropped 23 points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals. He did commit five turnovers, but he also shot 50 percent from the floor and finished +13 for the game. But the most impressive and encouraging sign was that Bledsoe completely took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 of his 23 points in the period that mattered most in a tight game.
With a win over the Pistons and the Memphis Grizzlies going 1-1 in their last two games, the Suns trail the Grizz by one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. If Bledsoe can continue to shake off the cobwebs and give this surprising team the boost it needs, it’s still very possible for the Suns to sneak into the postseason. Phoenix’s upcoming three-game road trip against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards will tell us a lot about whether or not Bledsoe and the Suns are ready to take the next step.