A deep dive into how Eric Bledsoe's style of play switched up going from a role player off the bench to one of the faces of a franchise.
One of the toughest aspects of being an NBA player is the adjustment from being a role player off the bench to taking a leading role in a starting lineup.
This is a process Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe has gone through and as expected his game has undergone some changes. It's isn't possible for a player to perform the same way in 20 minutes a night as he would in 32. The majority of the alterations in Eric's game were to be able to withstand that 12-minute increase and larger nightly burden.
"I'm a little bit more patient than I was coming off the bench," said Bledsoe after Wednesday's shootaround. "I had to do everything in one stretch and now I can pick my spots."
The first and most obvious modification for Bledsoe was his shot selection. According to basketball-reference.com the former Kentucky star's average shot distance this season is 12.7 compared to 10.7 in 2012-2013.
This chart breaks down the difference in the location of Bledsoe's shots:
The biggest difference showcased is the 9% drop in shots in the restricted area and 16% increase in above the break threes.
In addition to changing where he's attempting shots, Bledsoe's game has become more risk averse.
Coming into this season what made him such a unique player was the potential for the spectacular on a regular basis, but that has gone away as he's grown into, for lack a better term, a more "traditional" (hate saying that) piece. This is exemplified by the drop in dunks, steals, blocks and offensive rebounds.
"Some of that is we don't want him to crash the boards," stated Phoenix head coach Jeff Hornacek. "He's got to be one of our defensive guys back there. We say every once in a while if you see a wide open one go for it, but you got to be a little more selective. Same thing defensively, him scrambling around looking for steals, sometimes the gamble pays off, sometimes it doesn't. I think early in the season he was just gambling for all kinds of steals and got us into trouble. Recently since he's come back, he's been very smart about when to go for something and when not to, and he's made some big plays that way."
This is exemplified through the numbers shown here:
The fall off in these categories doesn't mean the energy he exerted is going to waste. Bledsoe has started to concentrate in other areas of greater importance.
"That's something that naturally happened," said Bledsoe referring to how his style of play has evolved. "Those dropped, but other things picked up. I pretty much just go out there and play every game like it's my last."
And the two categories where Bledsoe has put more of his focus are drawing fouls and hitting the defensive boards.
Bledsoe's free throw rate is the highest on Suns out of any player that gets regular rotation minutes helping them rank 11th in the league for free throw attempts per field goal attempts according to basketball-reference.com.
On the other hand, Phoenix is a below average defensive rebounding team (22nd in NBA) despite Rajon Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams and Russell Westbrook being the only point guard with a higher defensive rebounding % than Bledsoe.
Bledsoe's contributions in these areas are of much greater value to the Suns than him using up energy chasing steals, offensive rebounds and blocks.
Finally, one of the biggest adjustments for a player going through a transition like Bledsoe is how to pace yourself through games and from an even bigger perspective a season.
Using the SportVU data we can glean from a small sample size Bledsoe grasps he couldn't go as hard as he did with his increased responsibilities this season (even though that contradicts quote from him above I'm guessing he doesn't want to say he isn't going 100% full blast all the time).
In the 35 games Bledsoe has played in 13-14, according to the SportVU data his average speed is 4.0 miles per hour and he travels 3.24 miles per 48 minutes.
In the 20 games available from last year's SportVU data, (Clippers didn't have the technology and they only played 20 games in arenas with it) his average speed was 4.2 miles per hour and he traveled 3.33 miles per 48 minutes.
While that might not seem significant, if the pattern shows to hold through a larger sample size it exemplifies Bledsoe understands how to fine-tune his game to be more successful in the long term with a heavier workload.
Bledsoe's willingness to put aside the highlight reel plays to be a more solid contributor may not be as much fun to watch for fans, but is essential to the success of the Suns team.