BLEDSOE GAINING VALUABLE EXPERIENCE
Getting practice time with the starting unit will only accelerate the growth of dynamic young point guard Eric Bledsoe.
Through two years of his young career Eric Bledsoe has been more point athlete than point guard. A 6-foot-1, 195-pound marvel of sorts, there’s a sense the 22-year-old is prepared to take on a larger responsibility as a floor leader, not simply a timely energizer.
“You know he’s so athletic, but he’s taking a little more control of the offense, kind of being a little more vocal which is good to see,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “And it’s just because he understands things a little bit better and he’s a year older. I expect him to use his great athleticism and continually grow as a player especially with all the experience we have around.”
Six days into camp, Bledsoe has played mostly with the starting unit, filling in for superstar Chris Paul while Paul rehabilitates his surgically repaired right thumb.
Paul believes the experience of getting repetitions with the starting unit will only accelerate Bledsoe’s development. “He has to communicate a little bit more [playing with the starters]. And he shows his growth because out there now it’s his team, so he has to run the team and it should be that way.”
After spending nearly the first two months of the lockout-shortened season recovering from surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, Bledsoe quickly authored his first piece of Clipper lore with a dynamic performance in the 2012 postseason.
He helped turn Game 1 versus Memphis on its heels with five points, swarming defense, and a brilliant save along the sideline in the fourth quarter. He held Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley to 25% shooting and a -19.4 plus-minus rating in 63 minutes when the two were on the floor together. And scored a career-high matching 23 points in Game 1 against San Antonio in Round 2.
“E-Bled [Bledsoe] is unbelievably talented,” Paul added. “A lot of times you might forget about E-Bled because he’s so good, and how effective he is.”
Bledsoe said this summer was an opportunity to grow individually and helped him go into the new season with confidence. “Especially coming off last season, I think I showed a little of what I can do, so they [the coaching staff] expect more out of me this upcoming season. I’ve just got to be real confident, running the team with the veteran guys that we have. And everybody can play, so it’s just a matter of running the team as best as I can.”
So far, running the team has not been a problem for the sometimes understated former first round draft pick. He seems comfortable choosing his spots as a scorer while continuing to use his athleticism to get his teammates shots. During one intrasquad scrimmage at practice he drove past his man, ball-faked to his right and threw a pass around the back of another defender to Willie Green for a corner 3-pointer.
“I just come out and play my game and really just get comfortable going into this season,” said Bledsoe, who had his fourth-year option picked up by the Clippers in September. “As you can see from my first year to my second year I got better. Going into my third year I hope to be a lot better than the last two years.”
There are still moments when he tries to do too much, but perhaps that’s part of transforming into a more confident point guard. He said he has no problem directing traffic on the floor, even if that means telling someone like 18-year veteran Grant Hill where to move.
Asked if he is intimidated by the task, Bledsoe said, “Not really. At the end of the day, a point guard’s got to do his job.”
Of course, doing his job won’t curtail his strengths.
“He has great instincts on the defensive end for steals, he rebounds the ball well at both ends.” Del Negro said. “We just want to put him out there, wind him up, and let him go.”