You probably read that sentence and went “well yeah, obviously he’s really good at basketball if he’s SLAM’s 44th-best player in the NBA heading into 2016.” And you’re right to have that reaction, as it is obvious that Bledsoe is one of the best basketball players alive if you’ve watched him play, well, ever.
But for reasons outside of his control, people seem to forget that when Bledsoe is on his game (hell, even when he’s not fully on), he’s one of the most electric players in the NBA. There are a few reasons for this—one being that he’s been a second fiddle for so long. At Kentucky, he was the “other” guard to John Wall. With the Clippers, he was the “other” guard to Chris Paul. During his first year in Phoenix, he was the “other” guard to Goran Dragic.
Then in 2014, he took the reigns of the offense from Dragic (who was traded to Miami) and started to establish himself as the guy in Phoenix. But December 26, 2015 happened, and Bledsoe only appeared in 31 games due to a torn meniscus in his left knee. That’s the unfair lasting image of Bledsoe from last season, a dude who slipped awkwardly against Philadelphia and sat there holding his injured knee.
This is unfortunate because Bledsoe was awesome prior to his injury. It kind of slid under the radar because the Suns weren’t especially good in 2015-16, but Bledsoe was quietly churning out averages of 20.4 points, 6.1 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. He even had a game with at least 4 rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, making him the first guard to do that since Dwyane Wade in 2009.
His injury also kind of led the Suns down a slippery slope. Prior to Bledsoe getting hurt, the team went 12-19. That’s not great, but it’s better than the 11-39 mark the team had after its star guard went down (which doesn’t include the aforementioned game against Philly, which Phoenix lost).
So now Bledsoe is back, he’s healthy, and the Suns are in a position to be a fun team this year due to a full year of a Bledsoe/Brandon Knight backcourt, year two of Devin Booker, and a young but fun 1-2 punch in the front court of Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss.
And of course, Bledsoe is at the heart of all of this. He is the team’s engine, an explosive guard who is perpetually improving as a shooter (prior to going down he was hitting just above 37 percent of his attempts from three) and is able to impact the game on both sides of the ball.
Will there be rust to work off? Of course, and he’s come back from meniscus injuries and performed really well in the past, so he knows what’s ahead of him.
But there’s a long history of super athletic dudes coming back from knee injuries and needing a few weeks (if not a few months or an entire season) to return to top form. Maybe he won’t be able to blow by guys as easily as usual, and maybe some of his highlight-reel dunks won’t look as effortless as we’ve seen in the past.
Still, watching Bledsoe lead the young Suns is going to be a whole hell of a lot of fun, because Eric Bledsoe is really good at basketball.
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.
Follow the entire #SLAMTop50 countdown.