Each year, young Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe appears more mature and ready to lead a team. This year, he's added a confident, happy demeanor and deeper answers to simple questions about the upcoming season.
The focus of Media Day for the Phoenix Suns was Markieff Morris and his trade demands during the summer. While Morris spent his day refusing to talk about the past and giving occasional one word answers, Eric Bledsoe was upbeat, relaxed and precise on what he’s looking to do this season.
Bledsoe is coming off of what has to be the strangest basketball season of his career. Before that season, leaving the Los Angeles Clippers to be more than Chris Paul’s backup, Bledsoe took a team that looked destined for the top 3 in the draft in 2013 and supercharged their season with All-Star level play before a serious injury in the middle of the season.
After not even a full season of testing the dynamic with Goran Dragic, the Suns added Isaiah Thomas into the backcourt in 2014, further cramping the true point guard of the team. As everyone knows, that didn’t work out and now Dragic and Thomas are no longer with the team.
For the first time in his NBA career, Bledsoe is starting fresh and is the clear "guy" at point guard. No more contract negotiations to start off the summer either. He’s coming into camp clean and ready to lead this team.
"Leading off on a bad note last year, just to get back, [and] get that chemistry," Bledsoe said on Monday. "Going into another season, trying to lead this team. Taking the steps towards that."
Instead of a ball-dominant scoring backup who would even spend major time with him on the floor, Bledsoe now has veteran point guard Ronnie Price to look to as a veteran in the locker room.
"Ronnie, definitely [has] been a big impact on me this summer," Bledsoe said.
While Bledsoe’s backcourt partner is another point guard this season, Brandon Knight has the skills more suited off the ball that will benefit Bledsoe. That's quite the opposite of last year when it was mostly what was going wrong with his backcourt partner. Not only that, but the two are getting along and working with each other to get better this early in the season.
"Brandon as well, we’ve been challenging each other throughout the whole time we have been here," Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe joked that they were keeping score on wins and losses during scrimmages (T.J. Warren was the winner, but Bledsoe joked that he was on his team).
Speaking of improvement, the 25-year-old was aware of what he needed to improve on, saying he was already watching film and looking to improve his turnovers and his aggression.
That acceptance of his flaws is another step forward for him as a leader, and Bledsoe took another one of those steps when he was not shy to back up Morris when asked about him.
"He’s like my brother," Bledsoe said. "Everybody on the team loves playing with him. He loves his brothers. I respect him 100%."
For a team like the Suns with all of their athletes, they should be a better defensive team than they were last year and Bledsoe feels they are going to be just that.
"We got a team full of versatile guys on the team that can play really scrappy. We got a great defensive team," Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe was even taking offensive questions from the media and turning them towards defense.
"Sometimes we get stagnant on offense, but you know, that happens. We are kind of sort of a young team. At the end of the day, it can’t dictate what we do on the defensive end."
Bledsoe did nothing but say the right things on Monday and it was noticeable how much more relaxed and happy he looked. He was here at the start of the major rebuild for the Suns with head coach Jeff Hornacek and general manager Ryan McDonough, so it’s fitting for this to be his team.
With more of a clear understanding of his role and where he’s at both as a player and a leader, it appears that Bledsoe knows what the next step is in the rebuild.
"I definitely want to start fresh this season and take steps in the right direction to win a championship, not only making the playoffs," Bledsoe said.
Watch the press conference for yourself, thanks to great editing by Evan Wendt.