In a draft class that appears completely devoid of quality point guard prospects (just oneJohn Wall
-currently ranks in the top 25 of our latest mock draft), NBA teams with playmaking issues are frantically searching for players to fall in love with.
The latest name to emerge is that of Kentucky freshman Eric Bledsoe
, who currently sees most of his minutes playing off the ball, but clearly shows excellent potential thanks to his rare athletic gifts.
A late bloomer who was not an considered an elite college recruit (partially due to academic concerns) until late in his high school career, Bledsoe was initially (and very briefly) committed to play at Ole Miss, but eventually found his way to Kentucky after the hiring of John Calipari.
The intrigue around Bledsoe mainly revolves around his outstanding physical profile, as despite showing average size at just 6-1, he sports a nice frame, an excellent wingspan, and terrific athleticism. He has a great first step, is extremely quick off his feet, and shows excellent end to end speed operating in the open court.
Playing around 30 minutes per game, Bledsoe typically serves as his teams fourth or fifth option offensively, putting up pedestrian scoring numbers, and not doing so in a particularly efficient manner at that. He shoots just 46.5% from 2-point range, is incredibly turnover prone, and does not get to the free throw line at a very good rate.
On the positive side, Bledsoe is knocking down 3-pointers at an excellent 44% clip, although the sample size leaves something be desired considering that hes made just 24 of them on the season in 19 games, or one every for 24 minutes of action he sees. Digging deeper into the film at our disposal leads us to become a bit less optimistic about his outstanding 3-point percentages, seeing that Bledsoe sports a flat-footed and fairly slow-looking release on his shot, struggling badly when forced to take contested jumpers or shoot off the dribble.
Playing alongside the likes of John Wall
, DeMarcus Cousin and Patrick Patterson
clearly has its perks, as hes getting quite a few wide open looks with his feet set every game, only some of which he elects to take. Its safe to say that Bledsoe must continue to work on expanding his shooting range, mechanics and overall consistency, particularly pulling up in the mid-range area, where NBA point guards tend to operate the most.
As a slasher is where Bledsoe shows the most potential as an NBA prospect down the road, as he has superb quickness getting by his defender, and is able to create his own shot either left or right almost equally as effectively. Hes absolutely lethal in transition, doing an excellent job of using his speed to push the ball up the floor in the open court, where he can finish himself or find an open teammate running with him. Most of his assists indeed come in transition, as Bledsoe does a good job penetrating unbalanced defenses and making simple reads in drive and dish situations, not appearing to be a selfish player in the least bit.
Where Bledsoe tends to struggle far more is in the half-court, as his skill-level clearly hasnt caught up to his physical tools at this point in time. He shows many of the same issues that most young, ultra athletic American guards do early in their career, as hes no longer able to get by solely on his athleticism and pure talent the way he did in high school and AAU.
Just an average ball-handler at this juncture, Bledsoe has a tendency to dribble the air out of the ball when the tempo of the game slows down, only being able to play at one speed (full throttle) and often causing Kentuckys half-court offense to look extremely stagnant. He does not show the temperament of a true point guard at this point in time, looking much more comfortable playing alongside his teammate John Wall
and not having the burden of steering the ship on his shoulders.
Bledsoe struggles to create his own shot in half-court situations, dribbling the ball with his head down and running into brick walls excessively, one of the main reasons he ranks amongst the most turnover prone players in all of college basketball.
Palming violations, traveling calls, offensive fouls-- 31% of Bledsoes possessions conclude with a turnover, a strong indication of how far away he currently is from being a finished product.
Despite being far more explosive than almost all of the matchups hes gone up against, Bledsoe currently struggles to get to the basket and convert at a high rate. He does not get to the free throw very much at allaveraging one attempt for every 10 minutes he plays in fact--often electing to throw up a floater from 8-10 feet out rather than initiate contact and finish strong around the rim. His percentages around the basket (41.5%) are fairly poor, and his inability to create separation from his defender and elevate from mid-range for a pull-up jumper only exacerbates this issue even more.
Defensively, Bledsoe has outstanding tools to get the job done, as his length, lateral quickness and terrific recovery speed give him a chance to contest pretty much any shot his matchup will attempt. Hes a tough, competitive guy who puts a good effort in, but tends to lose his focus from time to time, biting on pump-fakes, gambling for steals, and relaxing his stance operating off the ball. This is nothing out of the ordinary considering his youth, but is something he will need to improve on with added experience.
Despite the fact that hes getting mentions from respected outlets such as ESPN.com as being a potential lottery pick already this year, its difficult to see a scenario like that actually come to fruition once teams actually dig deeper into his overall profile.
Bledsoe looks much further off from being able to contribute to an NBA team than most draft prospect point guards we typically evaluate, as he has a huge amount of holes in his game that can only be fixed by garnering experience through extensive playing time.
While there is no question that Bledsoes upside is extremely high, it will be likely very difficult for him to improve on his many weaknesses and make the transition to being a legit NBA point guard if he leaves college too quickly.