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The full optimization of Eric Bledsoe

Among the vast improvements that have fueled the Milwaukee Bucks’ soaring start to the season, Eric Bledsoe‘s exceptional play has revitalized his fit within the Bucks’ current foundation.

While they haven’t been free from experiencing the occasional stumble here and there, the Milwaukee Bucks continue to fly high as one of the more commanding teams in all of the NBA.

The message sent from the Bucks’ glittering start over the course of the season’s first month and change has rang loud and clear in each and every deep dive that has focused on all components of their style of play. Simply put, everything has pointed back to new Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer and the systemic overhaul his presence has spurred since he came to the organization over six months ago.

It’s that same infrastructure that has led to the Bucks’ high-profile addition from just over a year ago, that being veteran point guard Eric Bledsoe, flourishing in a complementary role that has both played to his athletic gifts and has led to him unlocking new elements in his game.

It was a fair question to ask just what could be expected from the former Kentucky Wildcat when the Bucks were in the midst of reshaping their roster over the offseason.

After all, Bledsoe’s blunderous performance throughout the Bucks’ first round playoff run managed to sour what was an otherwise fine welcome to Milwaukee for him, at least on an individual level.

Combining those lingering harsh feelings with the always looming concerns over the snug fit Bledsoe poses whenever playing alongside Antetokounmpo meant there was no question Bledsoe had plenty to prove, which was only further amplified by him entering the final season of his current contract.

Thanks to the culture reset ushered in with the arrival of Coach Bud, Bledsoe’s play has been elevated to new efficient heights, both in terms of his scoring and the aspects of his distribution of the ball.

Through his 17 appearances on the season, Bledsoe is averaging 15.2 points on .508/.364/.700 shooting splits, which makes for a 60.2 true shooting percentage (on pace to be a career-high). Additionally, Bledsoe is averaging 7.4 assists as well as 2.5 turnovers per 36 minutes, numbers that would easily rank as high marks in the Birmingham native’s nine-year career.

Like all players on the roster, Bledsoe’s shot profile has been significantly overhauled as 80.3 percent of his 193 field goal attempts so far have either come within the restricted area or from beyond the three-point line, per NBA.com/stats. Regarding his finishing at the basket, Bledsoe has simply been superb in the various ways he’s been able to get buckets that way, considering he’s putting home 76.9 percent of his 78 attempts in the restricted area.

As for his three-point shooting, it’s been Bledsoe’s ability to knock down threes off the dribble that has elevated his perimeter shooting so far this season as he’s 14-of-34 from deep on those type of looks (41.2 percent). By comparison, Bledsoe hit on just 26.5 percent of his 117 three-point attempts off the dribble during his first season with the Bucks last year.

The major strides Bledsoe has taken offensively have been paired with the vital role and return to form he’s experienced as a defender within the Bucks’ fourth-ranked defense. Bledsoe’s athleticism, as well as the 6’8″ wingspan he possesses, has long made him a bothersome defender and he once again ranks highly in terms of deflections accrued so far this year.

But so far this year, Bledsoe has paired his physical gifts with being far more sound and engaged within the Bucks’ restructured defensive scheme, which can be seen in the 101.5 defensive rating he currently holds individually.

Some of the resurgence Bledsoe has experienced defensively may simply come down to the responsibility Budenholzer has placed on the 28-year-old’s shoulders on that end of the floor as Bledsoe posited to Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this week:

“I ain’t been around (Budenholzer) a lot, but I feel like he kind of knows me a little bit,” Bledsoe said. “He puts me against the best player on the opposing team because he probably knows that’s going to get the best out of me. …

“I’m going to get my (butt) bust or I’m going to step up to the plate.”

There will always be a question as to exactly how sustainable all elements of Bledsoe’s play so far will hold throughout the long season that lies ahead, even with just over a fifth of the campaign now behind us.

Next: Bucks: Should a potential Bradley Beal trade be explored?

Even with that unpredictability looming over whatever he does on the court, Bledsoe’s thrived to this point in the year and has finally given us a clear look at the ideal supporting role many envisioned he was capable of assuming when he first arrived to Milwaukee.

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