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Unicorns, Dragons, Mermaids and Eric Bledsoe as an NBA Point Guard

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Eric Bledsoe has rocketed up a lot of people’s draft boards with his performance at the end of this year. His projected draft positions vary, but with the Pacers most likely picking in the 10th spot, he is someone they will have to take a look at. He certainly has some positive attributes, but I have seen nothing to indicate he can really be a full-time point guard in the NBA. The major argument in favor of his ability to transition to the point in the NBA, is guys like Russell Westbrook and Rodney Stuckey. These are guys who played primarily off the ball in college and have become, or seemed poised to become, capable professional point guards. For comparison, I put together the college statistics of several players who seem to fit this mold.

Name Ast/40 Ast/FGA Ast/Pos Ast/TO PPR
Russell Westbrook 6.5 0.43 0.35 1.74 1.08
Rodney Stuckey 6.6 0.32 0.26 1.63 0.79
Nate Robinson 5.8 0.39 0.33 2.24 3.08
Jrue Holiday 5.4 0.52 0.42 1.72 1.07
Stephen Curry (So.) 3.5 0.16 0.15 1.12 -2.04
Stephen Curry (Jr.) 6.6 0.28 0.24 1.50 -0.11
Jeff Teague 4.4 0.30 0.22 1.06 -3.07
Eric Bledsoe 3.6 0.34 0.25 0.96 -3.69
  • The statistics I included represent the largest indicators of success in the traditional “facilitator” or “floor general” role as point guard. From my perspective Ast/FGA and Ast/Pos would be representations of a player’s willingness to share the ball. Ast/40, Ast/TO, and Pure Point Rating would be representations of a player’s success at creating scoring opportunities for his teammates, and getting the ball to his teammates in an efficient way, within those scoring opportunities.
  • It is worth noting that the players on this list represent a variety of playing situations, some similar to Bledsoe, some dissimilar.
  • In terms of situation, I would start by grouping Westbrook and Holiday together. Both played out of position at the 2-guard spot because they were paired with a terrific point guard (Darren Collison). However, from the 2-guard spot neither was expected to provide much in the way of perimeter scoring. They were both primarily defenders, and secondary penetrators and distributors.
  • Stuckey, Teague and Stephen Curry (So. year) all seemed to have come from similar situations. Each played the 2-guard because it was a better fit with their natural skill set. In college they were primarily scorers, providing this from the perimeter, as well as slashing to the basket. Teague and Stuckey have been asked to transition to the point in the pros because of the limitations of their physical profiles. Curry made this same transition, but made it from his sophmore to junior years.
  • Stephen Curry’s senior year seems to be a unique case here. In this situation he was asked to be his team’s primary facilitator as well as it’s primary scorer.
  • The player who’s college situation seems to most closely resemble Bledsoe is Nate Robinson’s. I have to admit, I was absolutely shocked at how impressive Robinson’s numbers were. They seem to have almost no connection to the prodigious NBA chucker who we have all come to know, and cringe at. Like Bledsoe, Robinson shared his collegiate backcourt with some incredible talents. Bledsoe played the 2 this year to make room for John Wall. Robinson shared a backcourt with Brandon Roy and Will Conroy. Bledsoe and Robinson were each asked to defend and provide perimeter scoring. They did not spend nearly as much time running their team’s offense as their backcourt teammates.
  • The clear (at least to me) result of these numbers, is that from a statistical standpoint,  Bledsoe does not belong with these other players. His willingness to pass is comparable, but the effectiveness of his passing doesn’t even come close. It is also worth noting that he is the only one in the group that had more turnovers than assists in his last year in college. I am not saying there isn’t room for growth, but if we are going to compare him to these other players we need to acknowledge how much farther away his starting point is from their’s.

After lining up the stats between Bledsoe, and the players he is most often compared to, it is clear there are some significant differences. Next I set out to find some players whose statistics more closely resembled Bledsoe’s. Going back to the 2000/2001 season, these are the players whose numbers seem the most similar to me:

Name Year Ast/40 Ast/FGA Ast/Pos Ast/TO PPR
Eric Bledsoe 09-10 3.6 0.34 0.25 0.96 -3.69
Ronnie Price 04-05 3.2 0.16 0.14 0.99 -2.84
Von Wafer 04-05 2.5 0.17 0.16 0.98 -2.28
Maurice Ager 05-06 2.9 0.17 0.15 0.97 -2.70
Kirk Snyder 03-04 4.3 0.24 0.19 0.98 -3.87
Wes Matthews 05-06 2.9 0.31 0.24 0.98 -3.20
Marcus Banks 01-02 3.7 0.28 0.20 0.95 -3.67
Shannon Brown 04-05 3.1 0.20 0.16 0.95 -2.70
O.J. Mayo 07-08 3.6 0.20 0.18 0.93 -3.71
  • I included O.J. Mayo, specifically, so I can’t be accused of saying that Eric Bledsoe doesn’t have the potential to be a tremendous player. What I think is clear from the statistical comparison is he hasn’t demonstrated the potential to be an effective NBA point guard. The players whose numbers he most closely resembles would be Wesley Matthews and Marcus Banks. Matthews has found a place on the Jazz and has been an effective contributer at the 2-guard. Banks has been buried on a variety of NBA benches since entering the league. One isn’t playing minutes at the point, the other isn’t playing at all.

I have also heard a lot of comparisons to Rajon Rondo. I am assuming these comparisons are based on similar physical profiles and the fact that both players attended Kentucky. I am assuming this because they have very little in common statistically:

Name Pts/40 Reb/40 Ast/40 Stl/40 eFG% PER 3ptA/FGA Ast/FGA Ast/POS Ast/TO PPR
Rajon Rondo 14.4 7.9 6.3 2.6 51% 22.1 0.22 0.55 0.44 2.11 2.96
Eric Bledsoe 14.9 4.1 3.6 1.9 54% 14.4 0.41 0.34 0.25 0.96 -3.69
  • They scored at similar rates, however in completely different ways. Almost half of Bledsoe’s shots this year were 3PTs; Rondo scored almost exclusively at the rim and at the free throw line. While Bledsoe is certainly a better shooter than Rondo; I don’t believe he is in Rondo’s league in terms of defense or offensive facilitation.

Every year as the draft approaches, amatuers and professionals alike start comparing college players to established stars. Too many, myself included, fall into the trap of basing their comparisons on visual observations. I saw a game earlier this year where Bledsoe torched Indiana to the tune of 23 pts. on 8-10 shooting. I did not see the game a month later where he shot 2-7 with 5 turnovers in a loss to South Carolina (Kentucky’s first loss of the season). The great thing about statistics is that they can show me what I didn’t see. I can combine my visual observations with the data from everything my eyes missed. My eyes might tell me he plays like Russell Westbrook. The numbers tell me he produces like Shannon Brown.

For clarity’s sake, let me recap, and say that I don’t argue with Eric Bledsoe’s potential; I just see a different sort of potential than most have predicted. Where others see Russell Westbrook or Rajon Rondo as his ceiling; I see Bobby Jackson or Leandro Barbosa. To me he is a slasher/scorer. A guy who comes off the bench and wreaks havoc for 15-20 minutes a game. He is not a guy I would trust with a set offense. He is not a guy I trust to make the right decision with the ball in his hand in the last minute of a game. I think the reason I find poking holes in his draft bubble so important, is the nightmare of Larry Bird being fooled into thinking this is the Pacer’s point guard of the future. He has all the potential to be a solid contributer in this league, but I think the chances of him being an effective NBA point guard are about as great as the chances of me hitting a unicorn with my Bentley on the way home from work.

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