Starting point guard Eric Bledsoe couldn’t do anything but smile after his corner three spun in and out in the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves. A make that would have been only his fourth three of the season. His next attempt was not much better as Bledsoe launched from the corner once again. This time his shot hit the top of the backboard. No smile from Bledsoe, instead, he slouched his shoulders and bowed his head as he walked back on defense. However, with all his slumps and struggles, there are still justifications as to why Eric Bledsoe should keep starting.
Why Eric Bledsoe Should Keep Starting
1. Terance Mann and Luke Kennard provide juice off the bench
Terance Mann and Luke Kennard are both off to stellar starts for the Los Angeles Clippers. Mann is currently fourth on the team in terms of net rating with +8.1 while Kennard ranks third with a +10.0 rating. This comes as no surprise since the duo exhibited this type of production last season when the Clippers needed a boost. The most prominent instance occurred when the Clippers trailed by 22 to the Atlanta Hawks on their home floor. The team looked lethargic and it appeared they were about to lose a game they should win.
But the game flipped when Ty Lue yanked the starters in favor of a bench-dominant lineup that featured Mann and Kennard. Kennard knocked down shots, Mann made plays, and the Clippers rallied to steal the game back.
“Something was born that night,” Nicolas Batum said after the game. Since that game, Mann and Kennard have accelerated their growth as players.
The bench unit with the two guards provides the Clippers with a shot in the arm, especially if the Clippers get off to a sluggish start. Additionally, the playstyles between Mann and Kennard complement each other. Mann’s downhill driving and Kennard’s sharpshooting provide the unit with multiple options to attack offensively.
Keeping their chemistry and spark off the bench gives Ty Lue an extra trick up his sleeve when the team needs it, and there does not appear to be a substantial reason to ruin it.
2. Putting pressure on the defense
The best offensive players have short memories. Even when Bledsoe is not shooting well, he still attacks the gaps and provides pressure on the rim. Why is this important? Continuing to be aggressive and going downhill forces the opposition to work on defense. As a result, the on-ball defender has to exhibit effort to slide his feet. Then, if the defender gets beat, help-side defenders have to rotate which creates openings for others on offense.
“Him attacking the basket really put a lot of pressure on their defense,” Ty Lue stated in his post-game availability. Not only does it put pressure on the defense, but it forces the opposition into foul trouble. Bledsoe went to the line five times last night, a result of his aggressiveness towards the basket.
3. Alleviating Paul George’s workload
Paul George is having one of the best seasons of his career. But without his fellow forward, Kawhi Leonard, he is taking on additional duties to fill Leonard’s void. As a result, George is playing 35 minutes a game and has a career-high usage rate of 33.5%.
Bledsoe’s presence in the starting lineup gives George another option, not named Reggie Jackson, to handle the ball. There have also been multiple instances in which Bledsoe acts as a playmaker out of the pick and roll as a short roller. This season, when Bledsoe sets a screen for George, he does a good job of slipping to become available and operate in the paint. Bledsoe’s productive playmaking in the short roll was on display mainly against the Golden State Warriors but made another appearance against the Timberwolves.
In addition, Bledsoe also acts as an additional defender to cover primary ball-handlers. Another load that George can concede for his teammate. While Bledsoe and Jackson are not the tallest backcourt, they boast ridiculous wingspans of 6″8′ and 7″0′ that compensate for their lack of height.
4. Contributing in non-scoring ways
Bledsoe’s defense is one of the reasons why Lue may want to keep him in the lineup. But that is not the only thing he can contribute. In their 104-84 win against the Timberwolves, Bledsoe’s defense and ability to track down loose balls were critical in the team’s comeback.
“I don’t think people are understanding how hard it is for someone to come into a new system… We all love having Bled out there on the floor with us. I don’t care about his shooting. He does stuff that box scores don’t show,” George stated, showing his appreciation for Bledsoe.
Stars need players to do the dirty work and be the glue that holds the team together. Bledsoe is an example of how Lawrence Frank and the front office molded the team around Leonard and George. Players like Batum, Bledsoe, Mann, Justise Winslow, and Serge Ibaka who don’t have the sexiest stats, are part of the Clipper culture. A culture that covets hard-working, tenacious, and selfless attitudes that contribute to winning. The front office sees this in Bledsoe, which is why they acquired him in the first place.
Ty Lue should keep Bledsoe as a starter
While it is still early in the season to make snap judgments, Bledsoe should remain the starter. Mann and Kennard have been great this season and both made cases to start. But losing the extra juice off the bench may not be worth it for Lue to contemplate tinkering with. Additionally, George needs all the help he can get so that he can optimize his workload and not be worn down when the postseason arrives. Bledsoe offers temporary relief for George in the starting lineup.
The Clippers are currently 5-4 and have a long way to go, but again, it is still early. We may even be witnessing the start of a rhythm and only time will tell how good this unit will be after more reps.
Here’s to hoping it all works out in the long run.
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