Let’s take a look at Eric Bledsoe’s offensive role on the Milwaukee Bucks and how it is helping the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs.
Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer has received a significant amount of criticism for the lack of adjustments over the first two games of the playoffs against the Miami Heat. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today wrote an article earlier this week lamenting that Budenholzer is unwilling to play Giannis Antetokounmpo more than 36 minutes per game.
But in reality, the criticism of Budenholzer’s refusal to make adjustments has been brewing for two years. One glaring example of Budenholzer’s refusal to make adjustments is how he has decided to use Eric Bledsoe offensively.
Head coach Budenholzer has used Eric Bledsoe as a floor spacer over the past two seasons because he decided to make Giannis Antetokounmpo the primary ball-handler/ playmaker.
For example, Bledsoe stood at the top of the key as Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez tried to execute a pick and roll on the right-wing during a home game against Boston. Antetokounmpo went over the Lopez screen where both Daniel Theis and Jaylen Brown met him.
Theis’ decision to pay attention to Antetokounmpo propelled Lopez to pop to the 3-point line because he knew Theis and Brown wouldn’t be able to get close to him in time to contest a 3-pointer. Consequently, once he got behind the arc, Antetokounmpo turned around and passed him the ball for the wide-open 3-pointer.
The role spacer has been the catalyst behind Bledsoe attempting 4.8 three’s per game during the 2018-19 season, 38.8 percent of his total field attempts. Sadly, 3-point shooting wasn’t Bledsoe’s strong suit as he shot 33.7 percent from behind the arc on 2.9 attempts before the 2018-19 season.
Bledsoe’s shooting struggles continued as he shot 32.9 percent from behind the arc during the 2018-19 season. 97.9 percent of those field goals were uncontested attempts.
Despite Bledsoe’s shooting struggles, Budenholzer decided to leave him on the court with Antetokounmpo for 22.8 minutes per game, 69.5 percent of Antetokounmpo’s playing time. Consequently, Milwaukee dealt with the presence of a help defender when Bledsoe was on the court with Antetokounmpo.
Budenholzer’s decision made the game harder for Antetokounmpo as Bledsoe’s defender was free to become a help defender. The help defender could cover for a teammate who rotated over to double team Antetokounmpo or decided to rotate over himself to be a part of an Antetokounmpo double team.
Eric Bledsoe has been bad for the Bucks and good for the Miami Heat
Bledsoe’s subpar shooting has played a vital role in the number of contested shots Antetokounmpo has taken. He averaged 11.2 per game during the 2018-19 season, 64.7 percent of his total field goal attempts.
He converted 64.3 percent of those attempts generating 14.4 points per game, 52 percent of scoring output. Bledsoe’s shooting struggles worsened as he shot 23.6 from behind the arc on 4.8 attempts per game during the 2019 playoffs. Therefore, defenders have decided to guard him as 95.8 percent of his threes were uncontested attempts.
Bledsoe’s playoff struggles once again impacted the quality of shots Antetokounmpo has taken as he is averaging 10.5 per game during the 2019 playoffs, 60 percent of his total field goal attempts. He converted 53.3 percent of those attempts generating 11.2 points per game, 43.9 percent of scoring output.
Budenholzer refused to make any significant changes this season as Bledsoe attempted 3.5 threes per game, 30.6 percent of his total field goal attempts. Unfortunately, the results didn’t change as he converted 34.4 percent of the attempts. 97.1 percent of his shots were categorized as open field goals.
Bledsoe’s struggles in consecutive seasons didn’t dissuade Budenholzer from playing Bledsoe and Antetokounmpo together as they were on the court for 20.4 minutes per game, 67.1 percent of Antetokounmpo’s playing time.
Therefore, Bledsoe’s defender was once again free to become a help defender. The presence of a help defender contributed to Antetokounmpo attempting 10.3 contested shots per game, 52.3 percent of his total field goal attempts. He converted 64.1 percent of those attempts generating 13.2 points per game, 44.7 percent of scoring output.
The Miami Heat took advantage of Budenholzer’s unwillingness to stagger Bledsoe and Antetokounmpo. Goran Dragic left Bledsoe unguarded on multiple occasions to help Antetokounmpo over 23.4 minutes in Game 2. For example, Bledsoe stood on the right wing during the first offensive possessions allowing Dragic to stand around the free throw.
Dragic’s positioning allowed him to go for a steal as Antetokounmpo was attacking the basket. Although Dragic was unsuccessful, he disrupted Antetokounmpo’s timing causing him to miss the field goal.
Miami’s strategy contributed to Antetokounmpo attempting 11 contested shots per game, 61.1 percent of his total field goal attempts. He converted 63.6 percent of those attempts generating 14 points per game, 48.3 percent of scoring output.
Antetokounmpo’s statistics contributed to the team shooting 37.8 percent from the field on 37 attempts with them on the court. Their field goal percentage helped them generate 48 points.
Antetokounmpo had an easier time getting open looks in Game 1 as Bledsoe was out with a right hamstring injury allowing George Hill to start. Hill shot a career-high 46 percent from behind the arc during the regular season on 3.0 attempts.
Hill has continued his success behind the arc in the playoffs converting 41.2 percent of the field goals on 2.4 attempts per game. Therefore, Miami decided to stay closer to him in Game 1 as only 66.6 percent of his threes were uncontested.
It contributed to Antetokounmpo only attempting 6 contested shots per game, 50 percent of his total field goal attempts. He converted 50 percent of those attempts generating 6 points per game, 33.3 percent of scoring output.
Antetokounmpo’s statistics contributed to the team shooting 46.5 percent from the field on 43 attempts with them on the court. Their field goal percentage helped them generate 56 points.
In conclusion, Budenholzer’s decision to continue using Bledsoe as a floor spacer should continue to allow the Miami Heat to send extra defenders at Antetokounmpo.