On the day Eric Bledsoe was expected to return to the Suns' team facilities, the Suns traded him to the Bucks in exchange for Greg Monroe and a protected first-round pick. His trip to the hair salon last month eventually gets him out of town and there is a lot to unpack from this move.
Let's first take a look at what the Bucks may choose to do with Bledsoe and where he gets his minutes.
On the surface, the Bucks have a few different options. First, they could just bring Bledsoe off the bench as a sixth man. This would allow him to do some of the things he did with the Suns and it wouldn’t mess with how the offense flows through Giannis Antetokounmpo. Plus, Malcolm Brogdon’s ability to space the floor will still add a lot of value to how they can score more efficiently. If the Bucks do opt to do that, Bledsoe will still likely close games over someone like Tony Snell, or even over John Henson as the Bucks play Giannis at the five more. Bledsoe in the second unit would also help because that's where they have struggled. Most importantly, the Bucks second unit has been killed all year with a -22.2 net rating when Khris Middleton is off the court and -15.8 without Giannis — they’re +11.0 in their 239 minutes with GA and Middleton.
While Bledsoe and Brogdon are “point guards” in the programs, it’s not like they can’t play next to each other. Bledsoe was playing next to Tyler Ulis in his brief time with the team this year and we’ve seen him in a number of two-PG lineups, as well. Brogdon also logged 259 minutes next to Matthew Dellavedova last year and 707 minutes next to Jason Terry — if you want to call Terry a point guard. This would probably be the best case scenario for Bledsoe's stats, but the worst case for Brogdon.
If the Bucks do choose to go with Bledsoe in the first unit, that likely means Tony Snell would lose a lot of playing time. He’s actually been awesome so far this year with his 72.8 true shooting percentage (TS%), and he’s coming off a 60.3 TS% from last season, too. Much like Otto Porter, Snell is just really good in the role he has been given, so it’ll be tough to just scrap that because he really needs to play off Giannis, Middleton and Brogdon.
The Bucks could also bring Malcolm Brogdon off the bench. Let’s just make this one simple. Don’t do that.
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Let’s dig a little deeper on Bledsoe.
One of the biggest adjustments Bledsoe will have is playing off the ball. On his 16 field goal makes this season, he was unassisted on every single one of them, and he was among the highest players last year at 79.3 percent unassisted — Russell Westbrook was at 81.2 percent last year. The Bucks also don’t run much pick-and-roll because of their personnel and rank just 26th in PNR ball-handler possessions (plus passes) while Bledsoe ranked 13th in the NBA for PNR ball handler possessions per game last year. Plus, he is actually really good in that set and comes in at 83rd percentile last year (Synergy), so it could take a while before he becomes comfortable with his new teammates. Plus, Matt Dellavedova was their highest ranked Buck for PNR ball handler possessions per game at 49th last year. So, again it was more about the personnel and maybe Bledsoe can get on track with his best play.
When playing with a play-maker as good as Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s always important for a player to hit his jumpers. Bledsoe was a below average shooter last year, making just 35.1 percent of his 721 jumpers last season. That is down fro the 40.0 percent he made in 2015-16. Although, he was unassisted on 73.9 percent of his jumpers last year, which is really, really high. Maybe he can be a better shooter because he won't have to shoot off the dribble as much. Plus, he has a lot of contested shots much like DeMar DeRozan.
As mentioned above, Bledsoe may not need much help to be productive. When he wasn’t next to Devin Booker last year, he had a 47.9 effective field goal percentage (eFG%), so there’s very little difference from his 48.6 eFG% with him. If you put him out there with guys like Thon Maker, Mirza Teletovic and even Matt Dellavedova, the extra spacing may help him, too. We'll see if Bledsoe is open to coming off the bench, of course.
It's not just offense that'll be different for Bledsoe. The style of play is much different overall, especially on the defensive end. The Bucks have some long defensive possessions, ranking second in the NBA for time per defensive possession. The Suns were on the other end of the spectrum as the second-fastest defensive possessions at 13.7 seconds per possession on defense, so Bledsoe will have to learn to defend next to his teammates (per Inpredictable).
A lot of casual NBA fans may say Bledsoe is a good defender, but really the stats aren’t as kind. Could it be due to the aforementioned quicker possessions on defense? Absolutely. However, Bledsoe came in at just 12th percentile on defense last year (Synergy), including 13th percentile on PNR ball handler defense, 25th percentile on spot-up, and being below average on isolation. Again, the Suns up-tempo system was going to be cruel to defensive metrics, but it’s not like Bledsoe was even decent in that setting.
While we’re on the subject of pace, the Suns are sixth in the NBA for fastest time per offensive possession while the Bucks are 11th (via Inpredictable). Considering how Bledsoe plays, the Bucks will probably be a little faster overall.
If you don’t care about stats and just want to know what to do for fantasy, fast forward to here:
OK, so let’s put a bow on Bledsoe’s fantasy value. His owners have to view this is as a win because it was starting to feel like it was going to be a long time before a deal got done. On the other hand, he’s not exactly in an ideal situation because he’s not even close to being the best offensive weapon or distributor. And hey, at least Bledsoe isn’t going to get shut down like he did for the last month last season. If we’re drafting today, Bledsoe would probably be something like a sixth-round pick in season-long leagues.
Even if Malcolm Brogdon does continue to start, we have to call him a fantasy loser. Bledsoe is consistently in the upper 20s for usage rate, so Brogdon isn’t likely to do as much as a scorer. Brogdon’s usage rate was starting to climb to 19.8 this year, which is fairly impressive given his 33.1 minutes per game and logging a whopping 230 of his 265 minutes next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Plus, Giannis has a 5.6 net rating with Brogdon and a -7.4 net rating without him. Again, Brogdon really shouldn’t be coming off the bench, and he was doing a little bit of everything. He’s still a hold in 12-team leagues, but owners in shallower formats will probably have to keep him on a shorter leash. He's been a top-60ish player in nine-category leagues this year, so expect that number to be closer to 100 now.
Khris Middleton probably takes a slight hit here. He has a 26.6 usage rate this season, which shatters his previous career high of 23.2. On the other hand, Middleton is tied for sixth in the NBA for minutes per game, and he’s not just a scorer this year with averages of 19.0 points, 5.9 boards, 4.9 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.3 treys. Hey, maybe he can up his efficiency this year, which is actually way down so far. He’s still probably more of a top 40-60 guy now.
Giannis is Giannis. He’s still in the mix for fantasy top player, and there's very little reason to be worried about any drop at all.
Really the biggest fantasy winner of this trade is John Henson and it's not even close. Monroe went down five games ago and Henson has been productive since. In those four games, Henson averaged 5.3 points, 9.0 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.8 blocks. Yeah, he’s an awful foul shooter, but he has to be picked up in all roto-style leagues for how he can rack up the blocks. Thon Maker is also a slight winner here, but he still needs to play better. Giannis is probably going to play some five, so don’t assume Maker gets minutes in the mid-20s.
As great as Tony Snell has been this year, he’s probably a drop in even very deep leagues. That Matthew Dellavedova deal isn’t looking so hot right now, too. Guys like Mirza Teletovic will also likely lose some minutes.
So what happens when Jabari Parker (knee) comes back? Well, the Bucks are going to be really careful with him and he may not even be back until February. Plus, the Bucks will limit him a lot, so he may not be full speed until St. Patrick’s Day or later.
Let’s move to the Suns. We can talk about how they got back almost nothing in this deal, but we won’t do that.
Greg Monroe moves to a better position overall, but it’s not exactly a dream situation for him. He did just get traded to a team that rested Tyson Chandler and Bledsoe for the last month of the 2016-17 season, so that could be a concern. Plus, the Suns could still buy him out. If you want to add him because you need a big man, it’s not a terrible idea. However, I wouldn’t drop someone I’m going to miss.
Mike James and Tyler Ulis are the clear winners here. Now that Bledsoe is gone and the Suns didn’t get a point guard back, they should have a clear runway for playing time the rest of the way. Although, the Suns probably aren’t done in the trade market. I’d still rather own James to this point, but Ulis is still probably worth owning in 10-team leagues. By the way, the Suns have to open up a roster spot in a month to convert James’ two-way deal, so you’d think someone has to get bought out.
As for the other Phoenix centers, there has to be a good chance that Chandler or Monroe are bought out. Chandler is probably the more likely of the two, so it’s tough add him if you have to drop a player with value. Len should still be locked in for his role in the 20s. He’s really the only frontcourt player doing damage, so just hold him and hope for the best. The Suns may also keep Alan Williams (knee) out for a while.
And we’re reached the Marquese Chriss portion of the column. Coach Jay Triano has said he doesn’t want to go small and the Suns aren’t really using Chriss at center, so he’s not really affected here. You could say the same for Dragan Bender. Although, some bad news came for the Suns power forwards with Triano using a lot of Jared Dudley in the second and fourth quarters against the Nets on Monday. Plus, Triano actually went to a two-SF lineup with Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren late in the game, which he said he really didn't want to do last month. Yeah, the matchup was a factor and Triano said the Suns were outworked early. If that continues, it’s probably time to drop Chriss in shallower leagues. The Suns are back on a three-game losing streak, so they’ll eventually have to play Chriss more once they’re out of it.
Simply put, this deal doesn’t really affect T.J. Warren, Devin Booker, Josh Jackson or Troy Daniels. Booker has been great in the last five games and maybe he can start to turn in some efficient stat lines. Tony Buckets is really good, by the way.