New Orleans Pelicans: Eric Bledsoe’s role and future in question

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /
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New Orleans Pelicans, Eric Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe #5 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

What is Eric Bledsoe’s future with the New Orleans Pelicans?

When you look at the numbers, Bledsoe’s season does not seem bad. Objectively, it isn’t. Whether his improved perimeter shooting is real or not, what truly matters to an extent is that Bledsoe is making his threes at an efficient clip right now. Yet, Bledsoe’s season is a case for why it’s not ideal to rely solely on numbers. In my opinion, you have to conflate the stats with the “eye test” to truly gauge how a player is doing.

And Bledsoe is not doing that well. His offensive production is okay, although tepid. This is the least points he’s averaged since the 2013-14 season and his usage rate is the lowest it’s been since 2011-12. Like I wrote, opponents don’t particularly focus on him—quite an indictment for someone who was being compared to LeBron James in a point guard’s body not so long ago.

Defensively, Bledsoe has fallen off. He has not even gotten close to Jrue Holiday’s brilliance on that end of the floor. Bledsoe’s previous first team all-defense honors seem really distant, but they came just two years ago. The following stats aren’t perfect, but Bledsoe ranks near the bottom in both defensive rating and defensive box plus-minus for the Pelicans. In the latter stat, Bledsoe is better only than JJ Redick among players who actually see game time.

Bledsoe’s defensive nosedive was seen against the Pistons. Throughout the game, he was inattentive, lacked attention to detail, and gave up backdoor cuts. That is unacceptable for someone supposed to set the tone for the New Orleans’ youngsters and provide valuable experience.

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So what can the Pels do about Bledsoe? Can they bench or trade him? The answer is complicated but both options are probably a no-go for now.

Stan Van Gundy can definitely bench Bledsoe, but I’m not sure there is anything to gain from that. At the end of the day, it would take away quality minutes from someone like Kira Lewis Jr. Van Gundy could move Lewis to the starting lineup, for instance, but I don’t think that would be overly beneficial in the long run because it would mean Lewis playing off the ball a lot more.

The Pelicans’ goal should be to develop their first round pick into a potential starter for their franchise. Lewis getting more minutes definitely wouldn’t be bad, but he’ll have a more significant role running Van Gundy’s bench unit.

As for a trade, I’m not too sure there are any viable pretenders for Bledsoe on the market right now. He’s still a good NBA player, but on a sizable contract. Bledsoe is an unrestricted free agent in 2023, although his contract is non-guaranteed in the 2022-23 season. Given how much he makes and a lack of clear fits, I think the Pelicans might be better off waiting until at least the end of the season to make any moves.

Right now, I think the best option for Bledsoe’s role in the team is to keep him in the starting five but continue to keep his minutes low. Over the last five games, Bledsoe has averaged 27 minutes, compared to 31 in the previous five. That’s a good sweet spot that keeps him content while still giving Lewis or Nickeil Alexander-Walker the run they need.

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