Across the league, NBA head coaches are facing tough choices as they go to fill out their lineup cards for opening night. Candidates have campaigned for spots since the start of training camp, hoping to show they have what it takes to get the job done.
Some races were over before they began, the incumbent’s hold on the seat just too strong. But there are those, like the fight for the Clippers’ second starting backcourt spot, that keep coaches up at night.
Now it’s time to make the call.
Vinny Del Negro is under immense pressure to get it right, knowing that his decision could have a profound impact on the hopes of a team and its loyal fans. The difference between starting and coming off the bench often means reduced minutes and fewer opportunities to share the floor with more talented teammates.
After thorough review of the candidates, we believe that the player best equipped to fulfill the necessary responsibilities of starting alongside Chris Paul is 22-year old Eric Bledsoe.
He has earned our endorsement, despite the fact that he trailed his opponent, Willie Green, in the polls throughout the exhibition season. While Green brings with him more experience, it has become clear that it’s time for a change.
With Bledsoe, his ability and potential far outshine a past record that does not reflect his true value. It is tainted by limited service time and one acute medical circumstance, neither of which make him any less prepared to do the job.
His unique skills make him far more attractive in the role than any of his competitors, and furthermore, his team cannot afford to waste them in favor of someone less qualified.
Policy on Defense
The most pressing issue facing the Clippers this season is their ability to defend. They ranked 18th in the league in defensive rating a season ago, a number that must improve for a chance to grab home court advantage in the playoffs.
It is on this very issue that Mr. Bledsoe has convinced us he has the ability to truly impact the change we are all looking for. The job calls for someone to apply consistent pressure on the opponent from the opening tip, and as the best defender on the team, we believe that Bledsoe is uniquely qualified to do it.
Ability to lead
Under the Billups administration, the Clippers thrived from starting two point guards together. Billups’ strength came in handy defending bigger guards, and on offense, efficiency soared and turnovers were at an all-time low.
As a secondary option to the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin pick-and-roll, they could always just reverse the ball and go again with Billups and DeAndre Jordan. By choosing Bledsoe now, Del Negro can replicate this alignment that was so successful, only with a far more disruptive defender.
“Surround ‘em w/ shooters” is a sensible strategy, but Eric Bledsoe warrants a departure from conventional wisdom.
— Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) October 26, 2012
As supporters of his competitor will note, the very title itself, “Shooting Guard,” is a reminder that Bledsoe is not a traditional candidate for the position. His career shooting numbers read: “41.7 percent from the floor, 26 percent from three.”
But when he’s on the court, the Clippers win. They win all the time.
According to 82games.com, they were 24 points better than their opponent with Bledsoe in the game during the regular season, and he’s only improved since. Perhaps more importantly, almost every lineup he shared with Blake Griffin was at least 10 points better than the opposition.
As Bledsoe’s shot continues to develop, he can replace what Billups contributed as a spot up shooter with more cuts off the ball and drives to the hole, creating fast break opportunities in the passing lanes and second chance points on the offensive glass.
It’s time to recognize that the hopes of the team could rest on the decision to give him what he’s earned: a place in the starting lineup. Playing time with Paul has been scarce, but when he gets the opportunity, his performance could be off the charts.
The time has come to make a change. For this season, the choice is Eric Bledsoe.