The Eric Bledsoe negotiations continue. I posed the question last week whether the Rockets should be in pursuit of the free agent guard. It’s time to look deeper into the numbers. To begin, Bledsoe’s greatest selling point may be that while he isn’t anywhere near elite offensively, he has developed a reputation as a true “two-way” player, someone able to provide significantly above average production on both ends of the floor. Let’s dig in to Bledsoe’s defensive numbers.
The obvious point of comparison here would be Patrick Beverley, the man Bledsoe would be signed to replace in the starting lineup, if acquired. As is the case with any statistical exploration, take these numbers with a grain of salt as any player’s individual production is inherently linked within the ecosystem of defensive schemes and interactions in which he exists. Houston ranked 13th in the league last season in defensive efficiency; Phoenix was 15th.
Bledsoe’s man scored on 38.5% of his opportunities against him. That figure was 39% for Beverley.
In isolation, Bledsoe’s man scored on 45.9% of his tries; Beverley’s man scored just 25.8% of the time, good for 18th in the entire league. (Bledsoe ranked 208th).
When his man was the pick and roll ball handler, Bledsoe’s man scored on 39.8% of his tries; Beverley’s man scored on 37.9% of his opportunities.
In the post, Bledsoe’s man scored on 64.3% of his opportunities. Beverley’s man scored on 50% of his tries. (Keep in mind that in sharing the backcourt with point guard Goran Dragic, Bledsoe also often guarded the opposing shooting guard, depending upon the matchup).
When his man was the roll man in the pick and roll, Bledsoe’s man scored on 40% of his tries; Beverley’s man scored on 63.6% of his tries. (While this is a high rate of accuracy, the actual numbers were just 7 for 11).
When his man spotted up, Bledsoe’s man scored on 30.6% of his tries; Beverley’s man scored on 43.9%.
When coming off of a screen, Bledsoe’s man scored on 38.9% of his tries, while Beverley’s man scored on 39.6% of his tries.
And lastly, off the hand-off, Bledsoe’s man scored on 30.6% of his tries, while Beverley’s man scored on 39.5% of his tries.
Reviewing the above results, aside from isolation, the two players’ defensive production is rather comparable. As a side note, while Bledsoe’s man shot 40% against him in isolation, Beverley’s man shot just 26.7% from the floor when isolated. That’s decadent.
What does all of this mean? First, Patrick Beverley is a very bad man, especially when presented with an individual matchup sans a pick. These numbers seem to confirm the observation many readers had previously noted that Beverley’s biggest (or more actually, sole) weakness is pick and roll coverage. He often gets over-aggressive and can get lost against complex schemes.
This raises the statement: why pay Bledsoe all that money when Beverley is already putting up similar, slightly better defensive production? Because if we’ve concluded Beverley is elite (maybe the best in the league?), what does it say about Bledsoe that his numbers are just as good? Further, what does it say about Bledsoe that his defensive production is on par with Beverley but he provides offense as well? (On the flip side, how much weight do we want to give to the isolation disparity?)
How much can these numbers be trusted? For various reasons, I’ve refrained from including RAPM in this analysis. These figures from Synergy are as close a thing to isolating metrics as are publicly available. But as previously stated, the dust of team performance still remains. Beverley had Dwight Howard behind him while Bledsoe had Plumlee and the freaking Morris twins. On the other hand, Beverley was often concerned with containing Harden’s man as well, while Bledsoe shared the court with a similarly committed partner in Goran Dragic. But then on the other hand, Phoenix has a coaching staff, while Houston didn’t seem to ever even practice. But back on the other hand, Beverley’s entire focus was on the defensive end whereas Bledsoe was relied upon to shoulder a significant chunk of the offense.
Lastly, how significant is that isolation disparity as a factor of the overall production? What does it tell us? It means if they are facing an opponent one-on-one, Eric Bledsoe’s man is far, far, far likelier to score against him than Pat Beverley’s. But if their men are still scoring at nearly the exact same rate (38.5% for Bledsoe, 39% for Beverley; 39.9% from the field for Bledsoe, 40.7% for Beverley), does that matter? A good team like, say, all of the Western Conference, can scheme to get a guy a screen so he isn’t on an island. But it must be of some comfort to know that if a particular player is guarding a player in isolation, that opposing player will not score, as is the case with Beverley.
A final note: Damian Lillard’s performance against Beverley in the playoffs is not an accurate indicator of Beverley’s abilities, so please don’t use that in this discussion. There is a drastic difference between being medically cleared to play and being at sufficient performance level, much less peak performance level. Being medically cleared to play basketball just means that the doctors have determined that if you play, you aren’t at risk of further injuring yourself. At that point, it is up to you and your coaches to determine whether you can withstand the pain and whether your performance is not detrimental to the team. This is a far cry from being in proper condition to compete against the best athletes of the world.
In the next installment, we’ll look at what Bledsoe provides offensively.