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PHOENIX Suns

Oct. 26, 2015
Oct. 26, 2015

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Oct. 26, 2015

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PHOENIX Suns

By B.G.

MODEST PROPOSAL

This is an article from the Oct. 26, 2015 issue

TRUST IN AN ERIC BLEDSOE BREAKOUT

WEST 8

The story of Eric Bledsoe's career to date would be titled Stifled Potential. The 2010 first-round pick spent two of his first three seasons stuck behind Chris Paul on the Clippers. While a July 2013 trade to Phoenix opened up a starting role and more responsibilities, he still had to share the ball and the acclaim with fellow lead guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas.

Meanwhile, right knee surgery in January 2014, a protracted contract negotiation that summer and an ever-changing roster around him further complicated his standing with the Suns. Was Bledsoe their guy, or not? That question was finally answered last February, when GM Ryan McDonough traded both Dragic and Thomas.

The 6'1" Bledsoe is among the league leaders in explosiveness and fury. That is evident in his on-ball defense and in his downhill attacking style, which keeps defenses under constant pressure. Even though he's not wired as a pass-first distributor, he's a capable playmaker.

There are still looming questions. Bledsoe, 25, isn't a knockdown shooter, his body must hold up under the strain of big minutes and his taxing style of play, and he must strike the right balance with backcourt partner Brandon Knight. None of those concerns is fatal, though, in large part because Bledsoe will enter the season as his team's clear No. 1 option for the first time in his career. The light is finally green, and there's no longer anybody standing in his way.

ENEMY LINES

A rival scout sizes up Phoenix

They're fighting for the seventh or eighth seed at best, and they'll finish 10th or 11th at worst. Same range as the last few years. It's one step forward, one step back.... If Tyson Chandler, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are your main guys—and that's who's getting the big money—how does that trio fit together? Both Bledsoe and Knight need the ball, and Chandler [at 33] is way older than they are. Are they trying to win right now? They're not good enough. Are they trying to win in the future? Chandler won't be an impact player down the line.... The one big positive is that all three guys can hold their own defensively, with Bledsoe being a stud on that end. Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker can defend too. If you put those five guys on the floor, they won't give up a lot of easy points.... Hanging over their whole team is whether Bledsoe and Knight can play together. Bledsoe can defend twos, but he likes the ball in his hands to start the offense. Knight definitely sees himself as a one. I don't think Knight will ever become a top 10 point guard. He's the definition of decent.... Bledsoe's getting to the point where he's older [25] than most people think. You can go under pick-and-rolls against him until he proves to you he can beat you with his jump shot, and that takes away from his off-the-dribble game. He would be a monster if he could really shoot it.... Morris is very good offensively. He's got a nastiness to his game, which is a little Draymond Green--like. His trade demand adds another level of questions to the team. When someone goes public like that, you know it's even worse behind the scenes.

PROJECTED LINEUP

2014--15 stats

COACH JEFF HORNACEK

(3rd season with Suns)

2014--15 RECORD 39--43

(3rd in Pacific)

PG BRANDON KNIGHT

13.4 PPG; 4.5 APG; 35.7 FG%; 31.3 3FG%

SG ERIC BLEDSOE

17.0 PPG; 6.1 APG; 5.2 RPG; 44.7 FG%

SF P.J. TUCKER

9.1 PPG; 6.4 RPG; 43.8 FG%; 34.5 3FG%

PF MARKIEFF MORRIS

15.3 PPG; 6.2 RPG; 46.5 FG%; 31.8 3FG%

C TYSON CHANDLER*

10.3 PG; 11.5 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 66.6 FG%

BENCH

SF T.J. WARREN

6.1 PPG; 2.1 RPG; 0.6 APG; 52.8 FG%

PF MIRZA TELETOVIC*

8.5 PPG; 4.9 RPG; 38.2 FG%; 32.1 3FG%

C ALEX LEN

6.3 PPG; 6.6 RPG; 1.5 BPG; 50.7 FG%

*NEW ACQUISITION

TELLING NUMBER

3

Players last season who matched Eric Bledsoe's stat line of 17.0 points, 6.1 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game: James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED