Eric Bledsoe made his debut with the Milwaukee Bucks last weekend, after being traded from the Phoenix Suns for Greg “Moose” Monroe. Licences: Standard non-commercial use.
With Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt, the Bucks have a legitimate No. 2 scoring option at guard to complement Giannis Antetokounmpo, three wins under their belt already and are poised to take the next to step to become contenders in the East. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It was good national story spin for the Bucks last week when the trade of Bledsoe for Greg Monroe (and two draft picks) went down. And why not? It’s nice to see the NBA media paying attention to the pro basketball team from Milwaukee.
But the trade didn’t sit quite right during the week, like that feeling you had after trying the “secret sake” at Jerry’s Sushi Hut on ’80s Flashback Night. The feeling didn’t go away after watching Bledsoe’s first two games with the Bucks over the weekend. Maybe it was the Lakers game on Saturday, a rough night for the Bucks starting guards and Khris Middleton. They shot 7 for 28 on the night, Bledsoe going 0 for 6 from 3-point-land and 4 of 12 for the game). In the mix of misses were a bunch of “bad” shots — bad form for the Bucks, usually a very good shot selection team. Malcolm Brogdon, who gave up his starting point guard job in the Bledsoe trade, played smart off the bench and Giannis was Giannis the MVP with 33 pts and 15 rebounds.
But the Lakers game was one game, a sloppy win on the 2nd night of a back-to-back (only 12 more of those left boys) against a young team. Monday against Memphis, the Bucks and their coach showed that not much had changed in Milwaukee from the week before. When Kidd went to his bench in the 3rd quarter, the offense stalled, scoring just 7 points in six minutes. Still, the Bucks built an 80-72 lead with 3:02 left in the quarter, but were outscored 22-9 over the next 7:23 to fall behind by five, 89-94. The shots weren’t falling, the Grizzlies had control of the game, and Bucks coach Jason Kidd had managed to rest Antetokounmpo for only a quick breather before the quarter change.
These were precisely the minutes that were Monroe’s. The Moose came off the bench to provide a steady supply of easy offense in the post, good rebounding and slick passing to open teammates as the Bucks played inside-out, a rare thing in the NBA these days, but as effective as ever. After the trade, one idea was that some of these minutes would go to Bledsoe, who could lead the offense while Kidd rested Giannis a few minutes. But Kidd has yet to play Bledsoe without Giannis in the game. Bledsoe sat on the bench through the entire Memphis run, watching his new teammates fall apart in his Milwaukee debut.
Enter Bledsoe and starters Tony Snell and Khris Middleton after a Bucks timeout inside of 8 minutes to go. The Bucks suddenly went on a 14-3 run, then closed out the game with solid defense. Bledsoe was everything advertised — the quickest man on the court. He drew fouls, eventually fouling Mario Chalmers out of the game. He grabbed rebounds (4), he turned the ball over (1), he had a nice assist to John Henson (1), the Bucks center by default. He caught the Grizzlies sleeping by bolting to the hoop for a layup while they were setting up on D. The Grizz promptly called time out, victims of an 11-2 Bucks run in the space of 2:41. Bledsoe had capped it with a show of speed, quickness, basketball savvy and ability to get to the hoop and finish. And he showed, to anyone who cared — why the Bucks made the trade.
If the Lakers game was one game, so too was the Memphis game.
It wasn’t too long ago, just a few months, that the Phoenix Suns shut Bledsoe down for the final month of their 2016-17 schedule, reporting that “Bled” had been playing through knee soreness. It was his left knee, the one surgically repaired in Dec. of 2015, the third major knee surgery of his career. A meniscus tear in his right knee, the other knee, was surgically repaired in Oct. 2011, and then the cartilage removed altogether in 2014.
Three major knee surgeries in four years and a sore knee last season. But you wouldn’t know it from the coverage of this trade — no mention in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel coverage by Matt Velazquez, nor many other places. The story in The Sporting News was the only one that focused on Bledsoe’s injury history, deciding that Kidd was taking a risk to win now, without risking too much. Bledsoe’s tweeted request to be anywhere but Phoenix can be viewed as a form of self-preservation. What player wants to grind away what’s left of their knees and career on a team just now adopting Philly’s “trust the process” motto?
Suddenly he’s a Buck, and being a Buck is great for Bledsoe. Milwaukee wants to win now, make the playoffs and win in the playoffs, all the while touting 22-year-old Giannis as the first or (depending how you describe Lebron) second coming of Wilt Chamberlain meets Michael Jordan. The superstar needs a quick point guard who can help him destroy NBA defenses. It’ll be a good match.
It’s not so bad either for the Suns, who cleared out Bledsoe’s $15 million salary next season to stay about $12-$15 million under the salary cap while they develop as many as three 1st Round draft picks. One of those could be the Bucks pick, but the Suns will only get the pick next season if it’s in the range of 11th to 16th. Based on team expectations and the unique way the pick is protected, the Bucks probably won’t convey the pick to Phoenix until 2020. Phoenix also gets the Bucks 2018 2nd round pick if 48th or lower.
Added bonus for Suns fans: They get to do the MOOOOOSE call for a few months if Monroe plays in Phoenix (looks like he might not).
Greg Monroe and P.J. Tucker grapple during the Bucks playoffs series last April against the Toronto Raptors. License: Standard non-commercial use.
The Bucks in this trade lost their most reliable scorer off the bench, Monroe, whose inspired play last March when his playing time increased helped drive the Bucks strong finish. The Bucks run to the playoffs featured an 18 wins – 6 losses streak where Monroe played 25.5 mins per game, the most he had all season, and scored 13.9 pts per game on 55.3% shooting, and hauled in 6.8 rebs and dished 3 assists per game.
Monroe’s production went up in the playoffs to 15.5 pts and 8.8 rebs per game through the first 4 games, the message wasn’t lost on coach Kidd. He had all but benched current starting-center-by-default Henson — until the fateful and still controversial game 6, when Kidd pulled Monroe for Henson after Moose was hit with a 2nd foul in the first half. The Raptors didn’t look back until the 4th quarter when the Bucks were dominating the game and it looked like a Game 7 in Toronto was inevitable. It wasn’t.
So naturally, when the 2017-18 season opened with Matthew Dellavedova — who lost the starting point guard job to Brogdon — and Henson getting more playing time than Monroe, there were rumblings all over town about “same old Kidd, still can’t manage a game”; and the Bucks were “playing the bad contracts they’re stuck with”. No coach in their right mind would play “Delly” the minutes Kidd gives him, and why was Kidd bothering people with Henson after benching him last year? Where was Monroe?
Giannis was making headlines, scoring 208 points in the first six and the Bucks had a 4-2 record, not bad for a bunch of guys who weren’t really playing well. But something wasn’t right in the Bucks camp, possibly very wrong as they lost four straight with Moose on the sidelines with a calf muscle injury. The Bucks looked like a team that would again have to fight to get into the playoffs, not the East contender they imagined themselves to be.
And then the trade went down. Coach Kidd hadn’t lost his mind after all — he didn’t want to be stuck playing Delly and Henson. Maybe one, but not both. He decided to roll the dice on Henson being able to play his best basketball; and I guess this means that Kidd really has been on the lookout for a better point guard all this time. And here is Bledsoe, a super-quick, attacking point guard who rebounds, too. The simple math looks something like this:
Bledsoe + Henson + Brogdon > Monroe + Brogdon + Delly
… and if not, Monroe’s $17.9 million contract was expiring at the end of this season anyway, and there was no evidence to say that Kidd was ever going to stop tinkering with Moose’s minutes and match-ups. In making the trade, Kidd eliminated a personal negative the fans were ready to gnaw on like a hambone, potentially a savage mess for the coach, the players, everyone involved.
In case of some unforeseen calamity or if Bledsoe’s knees don’t hold up, the Bucks still have Brogdon and Delly and the pit bull defense of super-sub DeAndre Liggins, plus a few million dollars created by the trade to find a big man to help out during the playoff push, if it comes to that (and it should). They’ve got $3.44 million to be exact, a rather big deal for the Bucks, whose noses were right up to the luxury tax line before they made the trade.
And let’s not forget that the Bucks expect the return of their injured 20.1 points per game forward, Jabari Parker, in February.
Luxury taxes and Jabari Parker
The Bucks in this trade lost the expiring $17.9 million contract of Monroe, which was expected to come in handy next summer when the Bucks hoped to resign Parker. Bledsoe’s $15 million contract next season will eat all but $2.9 million of the Monroe clearance, leaving their player payroll at $105 million. See Bucks contracts here.
The current luxury tax gate, where teams pay $2 for each dollar spent on the “over” side of the gate, is at $119.266 million. Assuming a 3 to 5% increase in the salary cap next season, the luxury tax gate would move to $123-$125 million (estimated). The Bucks have $105 million committed to the 11 players currently under contract for 2018-19, which includes Bledsoe and the $3.9 million to be paid to Larry Sanders and Spencer Hawes.
The math says this leaves $18-$20 million to pay Parker and two new players to make the required 14-man roster. Supposedly Parker turned down an offer from the Bucks to play for more than that, but sources also said Parker recently held up a bank in Saginaw, Mich., and was believed to be holed up at Michael Redd‘s house in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Redd is said to be an expert X-Box baller.
What really happened is that Parker talked to NBA.com writer Steve Aschburner (who used to work in Milwaukee for the old Sentinel) and Aschurner wrote an in-depth update on Parker last week. It’s another fine article from Aschburner, featuring interviews with Parker, Paul George, Andrew Wiggins and knee surgery rehab expert Derrick Rose.
When Aschburner asked Parker about whether the Bucks coaches had given him any work “to draw him close” to the team to prepare for his return, Parker had this to say:
In other words, the Bucks offered less, probably much less than the going rate — the maximum $148 million contract signed by Parker’s “top 3 pick” 2014 draft-mates, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Parker, of course, turned them down.
And what Kidd wanted more than anything was not Parker but one of those “real point guards” basketball nuts in Milwaukee have heard so much about ever since the previous owners’ Bucks traded Sam Cassell to Minnesota in 2003. So the Bucks jumped to it when Bledsoe became available, and now they have more than just a point guard — they’ve got a guy who can beat Parker in any sanctioned knee surgery scar showdown.
Now that Kidd has Bledsoe and Giannis, the Bucks would sooner trade Parker than hand him anything resembling $148 for five years. Yes, Parker is on the trading block, more likely than not, and it’s a safe bet that every Buck not named Giannis Antetokounmpo, Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker or Eric Bledsoe are right there with him.
Shouldn’t have had that “secret sake” at Jerry’s Sushi Hut.
Bledsoe vs. the Bucks guards,
… or the start of a very long stat analysis of Bledsoe and the Bucks 2016-17 guards that will be in the next post down, but below is a chart made at basketball-reference.com which illustrates some major topics to be addressed during what I’m sure will be an amazing journey into the Valley of Sensory Deprivation by NBA statistical analysis. (ed. note)
“Dynamic” was the word of the week at Bucks headquarters when describing Bledsoe. The new Bucks GM, Jon Horst, used it a couple of times in announcing the deal, and NBA-TV analysts Greg Anthony and Dennis Scott both picked up on it. Scott even added “dynamism” to the vocabulary.
Dynamic is defined by “constant change, activity or progress” Dynamic is a good thing, and Bledsoe’s numbers reflect a player who is active in all facets of the game, has a nose for the ball, likes contact, beats defenders off the dribble, gets to the rim and the free throw line, and moves the ball around better than the average NBA point guard.
There’s no question about whether or not Bledsoe is an instant upgrade to the Bucks backcourt. He can create his own shots and draw fouls by getting into the D past the first defender, something the Bucks guards struggle to do almost every game.
- Bledsoe goes to the free throw line more often than all three of the Bucks guard starters from last season COMBINED.
- He was nearly a 20-5-5 player in Phoenix during his four+ seasons there, averaging 18.8 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebs.
- He turns the ball over a lot – 4th in the NBA among starting point guards last season.
Here’s that chart: “Per 36 minutes” stats for Bledsoe and former starting point guards Brogdon and Dellavedova, plus starting shooting guard Tony Snell.
Per 36 Minutes Table
BIER = Basketball Impact and Efficiency Rating (also means “beer” in German).
Also Note: “Turnovers in basketball games” though not found in any dictionary definition of “dynamic” may be considered part of its noun variation, “dynamism”, which, thanks to Dennis Scott, was included with Bledsoe in “the big trade.”
- Sporting News was the only media about the trade interested in Bledsoe’s injury history: http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/news/nba-trade-rumors-eric-bledsoe-news-bucks-suns-giannis-antetokounmpo-jason-kidd-coach/e4bgwqo5bf4o10g44n7o94ckj
- ESPN and NBA.com on Bledsoe’s past injuries: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18920619/phoenix-suns-shut-pg-eric-bledsoe-remainder-season –
- NBA.com news on the trade: http://www.nba.com/article/2017/11/07/report-milwaukee-bucks-nearing-deal-eric-bledsoe-phoenix-suns#/
- NBA contract numbers: https://www.basketball-reference.com/contracts/PHO.html
- for the Bucks: contracts/MIL.html
- NBA.com – Steve Aschburner’s really really good feature on Jabari Parker: http://www.nba.com/article/2017/11/08/milwaukee-bucks-jabari-parker-finds-bright-side-rehabbing-acl-injury#/
- Deadspin on Bledsoe’s tweet: “One of the best athlete tweets ever” – https://deadspin.com/well-thats-probably-it-for-eric-bledsoe-in-phoenix-1819774495
- Gamebooks at NBA.com, Bucks-Lakers, Bucks Memphis, Bucks-Cavs
- Basketball-reference.com for all basic stats, tables, per 36 stats, player info linker, etc.