Dragic, Bledsoe Walking Similar Career Paths

Barry Gossage/NBAE

Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic appear to be polar opposites. The former is a man of few words, brought up in the rural neighborhoods of Birmingham, Alabama, where football reigns supreme. The latter is an outgoing European, raised in southern Europe’s soccer-insane culture.

Yet it’s been basketball that has brought out almost poetic similarities between the two playmakers. Both are speedsters who love to push the ball. They’re opportunistic thieves on the defensive end.

They’ve also walked career paths that essentially mirror one another’s, with only one to two year’s difference showing between them. Dragic spent his first two years backing up Steve Nash when he was arguably the best point guard in the league. Bledsoe did the same for Chris Paul.

Now both guards have transitioned from key backups to go-to cogs in the Suns’ offense, an adjustment Head Coach Jeff Hornacek appreciates.

“It happens all the time, I think,” he said. “Guys work hard to get to that spot. When they get their chance, they’re ready to prove it. It’s a different mindset.”

Dragic remembers only too well when he tried to embrace the move from NBA sub to Suns starter a year ago. He admits he’s better prepared for the responsibility this season after trying to play through the adjustment in 2012-13.

The effort paid off. Dragic excelled as the Suns’ main threat after the All-Star break, averaging 16.1 points, 9.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

“Last year was the first time I started all [season],” Dragic said. “When you’re in that position [of possibly starting], you want to improve your game and try to practice hard and try to make the first five.”

Since then Dragic has further blossomed as a go-to scorer, serving as the leader of EuroBasket 2013 host Slovenia. His performance (15.8 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 steals per game) earned him All Tournament Team honors.

“It’s a million times different now [than last year],” Dragic said. “I’m more prepared.”

Bledsoe is trying to make a similar leap this season. The challenge is constant, a matter of choosing between what he can do, what he should do and what he wants to do, all under a much larger microscope of accountability compared to his backup days in Los Angeles.

“You’ve got to control the game more, control the tempo, try to get the best shot possible, especially as a point guard,” Bledsoe said. “As a reserve, you’re just coming off [the bench], trying to make plays instantly.”

"You’ve got to control the game more, control the tempo, try to get the best shot possible, especially as a point guard. As a reserve, you’re just coming off [the bench], trying to make plays instantly."

— Eric Bledsoe

Hornacek, however, doesn’t want Dragic or Bledsoe to be too careful in an effort to play mistake-free in their new roles. One of the reasons he and Suns management have turned the former super subs into starters was a confidence in their respective potential.

“It’s a big adjustment for them,” Hornacek said. “Those are the guys that will compete. You see it from Goran and Eric. Obviously Goran’s already done it [last season], but Eric should be able to step into that role.”

Bledsoe has started the process, but sheepishly admitted to a reality check in the preseason. In the first three preseason games – all Suns wins – the third-year guard hoisted double-digit shot attempts. In the last two losses? Six and eight shots, respectively.

“My friend and I, we were talking [after the Clippers game], and we were talking to a couple coaches and whatnot, they told me they didn’t think I was aggressive enough,” Bledsoe said. “I only took six shots [that game]. As a leader, me and Goran, we’re some of the best guards on the team. We’ve got to look to be more aggressive.”

“We want him to become a great player,” Hornacek said of Bledsoe. “We want all our guys to improve and hopefully get to that level. Obviously he was behind Chris Paul. There’s limited minutes there that you’re going to play. But we think he’s got great potential and his abilities have shown that he could be one of those guys for the future.”