Strike one was losing Josh McRoberts at the hand of the Miami Heat.
Strike two was failing to pry Gordon Hayward away from the hands of the Utah Jazz.
Strike three, though, has yet to come.
Since the Charlotte Hornets lost the Gordon Hayward sweepstakes, the free-agency “buzz” (bad joke) in Charlotte has been all-but-gone. Marvin Williams and Brian Roberts, two respected veterans, were added to the roster, but two minor additions to the Hornets’ bench is far from the big splash Michael Jordan wanted to make this summer.
Luckily, the opportunity hasn’t faded yet.
But with all of the stars, and a handful of impact players already committed for the next few seasons, who is left to target?
How about Eric Bledsoe?
After three seasons as a backup, two of them for Chris Paul, the 23-year-old point guard finally broke out last year. Although he wasn’t a free agent, he was a hot name during last year’s offseason, and garnered interest of numerous clubs around the league before finally ending up on the Phoenix Suns. In Arizona, Bledsoe and fellow point guard Goran Dragic would become one of the most intriguing–and one of the most effective–backcourt pairings in the NBA.
Bledsoe has always been a gifted athlete and was nationally recognized as early as his high school years; he was the third-ranked point guard in his senior year, only behind John Wall and Abdul Gaddy, and was ranked 23rd overall. He was a very effective college player at Kentucky, averaging 11.3 points per game while playing alongside Wall in the Wildcats’ backcourt, and mostly played off-guard.
At the NBA level, Bledsoe had seen a career-high 22.7 minutes per game in his rookie year, then 11.6 and 20.4 in the next two seasons, respectively. The talent was obviously there, but there just weren’t enough minutes for Bledsoe to showcase it.
Once he was sent off to Phoenix, that all changed, and Bledsoe got an opportunity to start and to be a featured as a main scoring option on a very young team. He and Dragic were able to propel the Suns to just one game short of the last playoff spot in the deep West, far-exceeding expectations for the club heading into the season.
Team success aside, Bledsoe’s season individually was still very impressive–despite only appearing in 43 games. When the year came to and end, he sported averages of 17.7 points and 5.4 assists while hitting almost 36 percent of his 3-point attempts. Defensively, he certainly had an impact playing the passing lanes, racking up 1.6 steals per contest.
He is very undersized to play the 2 guard, standing at just 6-foot-1, but his strength and leaping ability make up for it, and he has shown to be an effective partner for point guards of all shapes and sizes.
For the Hornets, Bledsoe would give them the extra scoring punch in their backcourt that they have been so-desperately searching for. He can get to the rim at will, and can hit the outside shot (on some nights).
A duo of he and Kemba Walker would be laughably small, but Walker’s isolation, mid-range pull-up play style would compliment Bledsoe’s off-ball, attack-the-rim style well.
Defensively, the tandem would be a nightmare for their opponents. Bledsoe’s defensive potential is off the chart, but he isn’t disciplined and he gambles far too frequently.
Steve Clifford would surely be able to whip EB into shape on that end of the floor, and he could easily become one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. When paired with Walker, a pesky defender in his own right, opposing backcourts would have to be on their toes for the full 48 minutes, making sure that their passes aren’t even slightly askew, at the risk of them getting picked off by one of the members of the aforementioned pair.
Bledsoe thrived in Phoenix’s up-tempo offensive style, which is nothing like the slow and methodical approach the Hornets take, but having a transition threat like Bledsoe would only help diversify an offense that at times can be predictable and ineffective. His ball-handling and passing abilities make him a fantastic option to lead a fast break, and his strength around the rim and ability to finish through contact are invaluable skills for that type of player.
Surprisingly, his name hasn’t been floated around in rumors nearly as much as some of the other big-name free agents, but still, at this point, Bledsoe is the best player on the market. It remains unclear as to whether or not the Suns plan on matching a max offer for Bledsoe should he find a suitor in the market, but with Isaiah Thomas recently inking a deal with Phoenix, Bledsoe is certainly expendable–at least, more so than he was at the beginning of the summer.
The Hornets were prepared to offer the max for Hayward, and with the East getting better and better as each day passes, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Charlotte decided to throw everything they have at another star–like Bledsoe–to solidify a second consecutive playoff berth.
The Hornets get one more strike before they’re out, and Eric Bledsoe should be the guy they take that gamble on.