Over the course of the Clippers last nine games—after a nice 22-point effort in the team’s opener—the team did not hear much out of Eric Bledsoe, the point guard brought in to bolster the team’s depth in the backcourt. He was among the worst starters in the NBA, shooting 27.4% from the field in that span, and 17.2% from the 3-point line, averaging just 7.3 points. That was far too quiet for a guy who has averaged 13.9 points in his career.
So coach Ty Lue pushed Bledsoe to make himself more known, nudged him to be a louder presence.
“I’m just naturally a quiet guy, but at the same time I can talk a little bit as you can see,” Bledsoe said. “But I got great teammates. T-Lue kind of messes with me a lot in practice trying to get me to talk. It’s all fun. Yesterday he said, ‘Bled you ain’t gotta say nothing to me, but I am going to come mess with you.’”
The messing worked, as Bledsoe—the target of social-media outrage among Clippers fans as he has held his starting job through his struggles—finally had a breakthrough night, scoring 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting in a win over the Heat that saw L.A> rally from a 17-point deficit.
Lue Says Bledsoe ‘Getting More Comfortable’
Even if he was still starting, Bledsoe had been pretty much out of the Clippers’ closing lineup in recent weeks because of his struggles shooting the ball, replaced by Terance Mann. But while calls for his ouster grew louder, Lue stayed the course.
Here’s how Lue explained his decision to stick with Bledsoe, who is with his third team in four years:
When you come from different situations, when you come to a new situation, it takes some time to adapt. I knew Bledsoe is a great player, he wouldn’t be where he is today if he wasn’t. So, just trying to figure out his way, understand what his role is and what he needs—we told him, but still, when you come to a new team, it’s just something totally different.
The last couple games, he’s getting more and more comfortable. I’m getting more and more comfortable with him and what he likes, what I can do with him and how I can use him as well. I’m never going to give up on a player no matter what the situation is. Everyone’s not going to play up to their standards every single night. I’m just happy for Bled because, like I said, we know he is a great player and he is going to be a producer for us all season.
Bledsoe Replaced Popular Patrick Beverley
Bledsoe was the big prize the Clippers acquired for Patrick Beverley in a deal with Memphis. Bledsoe had been brought in by the Grizzlies in early August as part of a three-team trade with the Hornets, and was flipped to the Clippers nine days later. Memphis later moved Beverley on to Minnesota.
Replacing a popular and outspoken guy like Beverley, who became known as the heart and soul of the remade Clippers, was never going to be easy for Bledsoe, but his early struggles made it that much more difficult. His teammate, though, had his back.
“They just told me to just play my game,” Bledsoe said. “Go out there, play my game, don’t worry about my mistakes that come with it. It’s been pretty fun through the struggles and tonight, so just gotta keep it going.”
He will have to keep it going in tandem with starting point guard Reggie Jackson. One of the problems for Bledsoe early on is that he has played shooting guard a lot alongside Jackson. That dynamic is still being worked out, even as the Clippers are on this hot streak.
“I’m just a basketball player,” Bledsoe said. “You can put me at the 5, I am going to make it work. You put on the court I am going to do what I can do to help this team pull out a win. No matter what position I’m in—you can see, Reggie needs the ball. He’s been phenomenal with the ball in his hands. At the same time, I am going to be the best teammate I can be, when I am on the floor, encouraging him to be aggressive.”