Oh Captain, My Captain: Bledsoe’s All-Star Argument

The Suns need a Star. The presumption is that Devin Booker will be one in a couple of years. However, Eric Bledsoe is playing like one right now.

Dec 4, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) passes in the air as Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) defends during the second quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 4, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) passes in the air as Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) defends during the second quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns have not had an All-Star game representative since Steve Nash was selected for the 2012 game in Orlando. A streak of three years thus far (the longest streak in franchise history) is a stretch of non-participation that also unfortunately couples with the team’s lack of playoff success.

While there is little chance of Eric Bledsoe matching the insane individual statistical output of Russell Westbrook and James Harden this season, he is having a good year in his own right (very consistent with his statistics of the past three seasons) and a recent stretch of five games that should get him league-wide notice, and at least consideration to play with the Western Conference All-Stars on February 19, if continued on.

Bledsoe is a model of consistency on this Suns team. Throughout his Phoenix Suns career he has been able to keep up a level of expectation where the Suns brass, coaching staff, and fans alike know what he will produce week-in and week-out. In his four seasons with the Suns, his points average has only wavered within 3.1pts, rebounds with 1.2, assists within .6, steals within .5, and blocks within .3. His FG% too has only moved within 3.4% over that stretch.

This season, Bledsoe is averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. In the NBA today, he is one of only five players with a line of at least 19/5/5, a list that includes LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Giannis Antetokounmpo – four players that are certain to be All-Stars next month.

His numbers are so good, he is putting up this stat line with the Suns for the first time in 24 years.

With Whom do these Stats Compare in Suns History?

Charles Barkley #34 of the Phoenix Suns shoots the ball against the Miami Heat on January 30, 1996 at Miami Arena in Miami, Florida. Credit: NBA Photos

Charles Barkley #34 of the Phoenix Suns shoots the ball against the Miami Heat on January 30, 1996 at Miami Arena in Miami, Florida. Credit: NBA Photos

Throughout Phoenix Suns history very few players have recorded that level of statistical success. In fact, only four Suns players have ever carried that particular stat line throughout an entire season. Most recently was 24 years ago with Charles Barkley in 1992-93, his MVP year:

Year Name Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks All-Star
1968-69 Gail Goodrich 23.8 5.4 6.4 N/A N/A Yes
1975-76 Alvan Adams 19.0 9.1 5.6 1.5 1.5 Yes
1991-92 Jeff Hornacek 20.1 5.0 5.1 2.0 .4 Yes
1992-93 Charles Barkley 25.6 12.2 5.1 1.6 1.0 Yes
2016-17 Eric Bledsoe 20.1 5.0 5.8 1.5 .5 ?

(I threw in steals and blocks just for good measure.)

A few other players have come close in Suns history to the 19/5/5 plateau, as displayed below. These players met or exceeded the qualification in at least one category, and then were at most within 1 integer in the category(s) they fell short in:

Year Name Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks All-Star
2015-16 Eric Bledsoe 20.4 4.0 6.1 2.0 .6 No
2005-06 Steve Nash 18.8 4.2 10.5 .8 .2 Yes
1994-95 Charles Barkley 23.0 11.1 4.1 1.6 .7 Yes
1993-94 Charles Barkley 21.6 11.2 4.6 1.6 .6 Yes
1988-89 Kevin Johnson 20.4 12.2 4.2 1.7 .3 No
1981-82 Dennis Johnson 19.5 5.1 4.6 1.3 .7 Yes
1978-79 Walter Davis 23.6 4.7 4.3 1.9 .3 Yes
1976-77 Alvan Adams 18.0 9.1 4.5 1.3 1.2 No
1974-75 Charlie Scott 24.3 4.0 4.5 1.6 .3 Yes
1973-74 Charlie Scott 25.4 4.3 5.2 1.9 .4 Yes
1972-73 Charlie Scott 25.3 4.2 6.1 N/A N/A Yes
1970-71 Connie Hawkins 20.9 9.1 4.5 N/A N/A Yes
1969-70 Connie Hawkins 24.6 10.4 4.8 N/A N/A Yes
1969-70 Gail Goodrich 20.0 4.2 7.5 N/A N/A No
1968-69 Dick Van Arsdale 21.0 6.9 4.8 N/A N/A Yes

As illustrated, not only is Eric Bledsoe having a season that is reminiscent of some of the best players in franchise history, but he is having the type of season that no other Sun has had and not been an All-Star.

Veritably, of those players that have come close to the 19/5/5 season, only four have not been All-Stars – 2015-16 Eric Bledsoe being one of them.

Furthermore, in every season except for 2015-16 when one of the close to 19/5/5 players did not make the All-Star team, at least one other player on the roster did:

1969-70 – Connie Hawkins and Dick Van Arsdale; 1976-77 – Paul Westpaul; 1988-89 – Tom Chambers.

And Then He is Hot Right Now

Dec 6, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) looks to pass against Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) and center Rudy Gobert (27) in the second quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Bledsoe is also on a recent tear that is beginning to stand out. Over the past five games, Bledsoe has turned his assists average way up, but so too is nearly everything else across the board.

Date Opponent Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
12/29 Toronto 22 5 10 3 2
12/31 Utah 19 8 8 0 0
01/02 Clippers 22 8 9 3 0
01/03 Miami 17 4 7 2 1
01/05 Dallas 26 0 7 1 0
Averages 21.2 5.0 8.2 1.8 .6

It is hard to figure out exactly why Bledsoe hasn’t been averaging more assists all season, as statistically he does make the players around him better. Most of them shoot a better percentage coming off of a pass from Bledsoe as compared to their overall shooting percentage.

Name Minutes per Game Total passes from Bledsoe FG% off pass from Bledsoe General FG% Better or worse from Bledsoe/%
Leandro Barbosa 13.4 50 33.3% 46.5 – 13.2
Dragan Bender 12.3 31 44.4% 38.7 + 5.7
Devin Booker 33.3 699 42.4% 40.6 + 1.8
Tyson Chandler 27.3 243 70.0% 68.5 + 1.5
Marquese Chriss 17.4 234 47.2% 42.9 + 4.3
Jared Dudley 22.7 252 41.7% 49.1 – 7.4
Brandon Knight 22.7 163 41.7% 40.0 + 1.7
Alex Len 21.9 137 45.7% 49.8 – 4.1
PJ Tucker 27.3 253 53.6% 39.7 + 13.9
Tyler Ulis 9.2 25 40.0% 40.5 – .5
TJ Warren 29.1 222 47.7% 44.0 +3.7
Alan Williams 7.9 6 0.0% 56.3

Of his eight  teammates who average the most minutes on the roster, every one of them except for Alex Len and Jared Dudley (the latter who seems to have completely fallen out of the team’s rotation) has a better FG% on passes from Eric Bledsoe than their overall FG%.

Whatever has changed over the last five games, an uptick in assists for the next month could really put him on the All-Star map. Even if his scoring and rebounding stays the same as compared to his current seasonal average, but his assists average ticks back up to at least 6.1 where it had been the last two years, or into the mid-6’s or up to 7 over the next month, that would make any argument against an All-Star selection nearly inert.

In the end, it is also too bad for Bledsoe’s sake that he is not on a winning team. That alone very well might be the only catalyst he would need to be in the broader conversation as an All-Star every season.

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