Just under a week ago, a bombshell dropped when the Bucks announced they were extending starting point guard Eric Bledsoe to a 4 year, $70 million deal.
Usually, extensions come earlier in the year or over the summer, not down the stretch of the season. This is especially true for players such as Bledsoe, who would have had a large number of teams interested in obtaining his services this summer. Bledsoe decided to forgo free agency to remain with the Bucks, while the Bucks ensured he will be a Buck for years to come – but was the deal a smart one for either side?
The deal is a standard one, with no options, and increases in dollar amount each season. On a per year average, the Bucks got a steal considering what Bledsoe has provided them this season. His per game averages of 15.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.4 assists are nice, but not overly impressive. Bledsoe’s real value has been in his defense, which has been at an All-Defense level this season, and a huge reason the Bucks are one of the best defenses in the NBA. Additionally, while Bledsoe isn’t a consistent high-level scorer, he’s been very efficient, with a TS of 57.9%. Add to that his fit with Giannis as a guard who can handle but doesn’t need the ball, can shoot the three, and loves to get out in transition, and you have a player who’s been indispensable for the Bucks, and easily worth that $17.5 million per year average.
Bledsoe has a PIPM of +4.0 this season, the 3rd highest of any point guard, and 16th highest in the entire NBA. That kind of impact would suggest he’s more of a max-level player than anything. ESPN’s RPM is similarly high on him: he has a +3.99 RPM, which is 7th among point guards behind only perennial All-NBA candidates. Bledsoe should have been an All Star this season (over D’Angelo Russell, but also over fellow Buck Khris Middleton), and is the second-best player on a team that will probably win well over 60 games.
The Bucks certainly are not guaranteed to win a championship this season, or even make it to the NBA Finals. The last two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs will be brutal – the Sixers, Celtics, and Raptors are all really good teams as well. But the Bucks, at least in the regular season, have been the best of the bunch, and have a legitimate shot to win the championship. Their best player, Giannis Antetokounmpo (who should win MVP), is only 24. The Bucks need to keep a championship-level roster around Giannis, and while that doesn’t necessarily entail keeping this group together, they know how good this team is. From that angle, keeping Bledsoe around is an absolute no-brainer. Getting him for four years, ensuring the presence of what should be at the least an above-average point guard, should be crucial in keeping the Bucks great (and Giannis happy).
Of course, not all is sunshine and roses. Bledsoe is 29 years old, meaning he will be 33 when the extension runs its course. Bledsoe has been in the NBA since he was 19, and has played heavy minutes for many of those seasons. He’s also suffered some relatively severe knee injuries, which is worrying for a player so athleticism-reliant.
If Bledsoe loses even half a step on offense or defense, his value will wane significantly. He’s a solid passer, not a great one, and is still an inconsistent shooter. When he can’t stay in front of players or chase them down for blocks on defense, or blow past them to get to the rim on offense, he will no longer be worth $17 or $18 million a year. Barring Bledsoe finding the fountain of youth, this decline will probably occur on this extension.
But, the Bucks needed to retain Bledsoe. They got him on a very fair deal that will probably look great next season, ok the following two seasons, and rather brutal in that final year. Like any longterm deal, there’s some risk. Any bad injury, particularly to Bledsoe’s lower body, could accelerate that age-based decline, and make this deal look a whole lot worse. However, the Bucks will take that bet. Bledsoe has been magnificent for them this season, and is a great fit with their franchise player. Keeping him was the first step to bringing this potential title-winning team back, and possibly the most important. For Bledsoe, this deal secures good money for the rest of his prime, and his spot on what should be a yearly contender. It’s a great extension for both sides.