LOS ANGELES – The most exciting point guard in Los Angeles will start Friday’s Lakers-Clippers game on the bench. And I’m not talking about Steve Nash and his leg contusion. I’m talking about Eric Bledsoe, the Clippers’ backup point guard.
In a city where stars are often made via Twitter trends and must-see YouTube clips, Bledsoe is on his way to becoming a household name.
Chris Paul, who had a front row seat for Bledsoe’s 13 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes of run in the Clippers’ home opener on Wednesday, chalks it up to confidence.
“To see how much Bled has grown,” Paul said. “To see where his confidence went just from last year to this year, he knows nobody can mess with him . . . .”
The Clippers knew they had something special when they acquired Bledsoe's draft rights from Oklahoma City in 2010. When the New Orleans Hornets engaged the Clippers in trade talks for Paul last year, Bledsoe’s name was high on the Hornets’ wish list but then-Clippers general manager Neil Olshey viewed his inclusion as a deal-breaker.
Watching Bledsoe now, is it any wonder Olshey refused to include him the deal for Paul?
On a revamped Clippers bench headlined by a pair of former Sixth Man of the Year winners (Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford) and a seven-time all-star (Grant Hill), Bledsoe may be the most important role player. The fleet-footed 22-year-old point guard pushes the pace when he relieves Paul and adds a slashing, probing dimension to the backcourt when he is paired with Paul, as he often will be this season.
“I love it because then I can attack from the wings,” Paul said. “I can get into the gaps and I can let Bled attack a few times and at times the defense may miss me.”
Bledsoe is counting on defenses missing him as well, as they focus on the higher profile players on the Clippers’ roster.
“We’re going to be scary if everybody focuses their scouting report on C.P., Blake and D.J.,” Bledsoe said. “We’re going to be scary this season.”
Bledsoe’s speed and athleticism has led teammate Crawford to call him “mini LeBron.” Though they’re two very different body-types, like LeBron, Bledsoe is most effective when he gets to the paint, finishing at the rim or kicking out to an open teammate. The Clippers put tremendous pressure on opposing defenses when Bledsoe is on the floor. According to 82games.com, Bledsoe took 33 percent of his shots in close last season (connecting on 50 percent of them), compared to just 19 percent for Paul.
Against the Lakers in a preseason game last week, Bledsoe started for Paul and finished with 22 points, 11 assists and 9 steals in a Clippers victory. In the team’s opening preseason game against Denver, he had 25 points, 6 assists and 5 steals starting in place of Paul.
Lines like that make it clear that Bledsoe is more than capable of starting in this league but for now, coming off the bench, changing speeds and points of attack, is when he's most valuable to the Clippers.
Waiting to get on the floor, Bledsoe says he uses the first 8 or 9 minutes of a game to scout the opposition and study his all-star teammate.
“I really just pay attention to the game and see how they’re playing Chris,” Bledsoe said. “So I know what to do when I get into the game as far as picking up the pace and slowing it down and picking my spots. I really base a lot of that off how they’re playing Chris.”
Paul laughs when he hears the speedy Bledsoe talk about slowing the pace down. Bledsoe has worked with Paul so much over the past year that he is beginning to see some of his moves in Bledsoe’s game, which is great for the young point guard but will soon become a nightmare for opposing teams this season.
“I told Bled I’m going to start copyrighting all my stuff,” Paul said. “Bled’s starting to slow down and cut back and play to the speed that I do. That’s the thing that makes him so talented. I can’t play at the speed that he plays at but he can play at the speed that I play at. He can do it all. It’s crazy.”