Milwaukee Bucks: Eric Bledsoe is Stepping Up in the Clutch

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 6: (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 6: (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

In the midst of a fantastic season, Eric Bledsoe has emerged as the Milwaukee Bucks’ second best clutch player behind Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Things are continuing to roll for the Milwaukee Bucks. Four days into the month of March, the Bucks remain firmly on top of the Eastern Conference with the league’s best record.

A significant part of Milwaukee’s success this year has come from their ability to grind out wins in close games. Unlike their experiences in recent seasons, where they’d often lose games late, the Bucks have been finding ways to win in tight games.

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As I noted a few weeks ago, that’s a major indicator of a team taking a real leap toward becoming a title contender.

One of the key players that’s stepped up late in games throughout the season has been guard Eric Bledsoe. Though Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the Bucks go-to guy in tight games, it’s often been Eric Bledsoe who’s stepped up in crucial moments too.

Bledsoe’s performance, as well as the team’s, has taken a noticeable step up later in games. The Bucks’ best net-rating with Bledsoe on the floor has come in the fourth quarter this year at 21.0. That’s almost three points better than their second best quarter with him on the floor, the second, at 18.3.

How good is that rating? The Bucks’ overall net-rating this season leads the league at 9.1. Thus, the Bucks are performing nearly 11 points better per-100 possessions in the fourth quarter with Bledsoe is on the floor than they are overall.

What stands out the most about the Bucks’ net-rating with Bledsoe on the floor in the fourth quarter is their defensive rating. The Bucks go from a league-leading overall defensive rating of 104.3 to an absurd 97.1 rating in the fourth with Bledsoe. The Bucks are grinding teams down to a halt on the defensive end with Bledsoe on the floor late in games

Net-rating, however, only shows a small part of the picture. Bledsoe’s overall stats take a step up in the fourth quarter as well.

The team’s best quarter for plus/minus with Bledsoe on the floor has come in the fourth quarter at 3.4. Bledsoe is averaging his most points in a quarter in the fourth at 4.6. His 47.9 percent shooting percentage in the fourth is only slightly below his season percentage of 49.2 despite more attempts, and his three-point percentage is higher in the fourth (32.4 percent) than it is overall (31.7 percent).

Bledsoe’s impact is helping the Bucks roll teams. Even when games are close to start the fourth quarter, the Bucks have often gone on to win by big margins as their league-best point differential of 9.4 suggests.

What about those situations, however, when the game remains close late? What kind of impact is Bledsoe making in those games, such as Wednesday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings, when things are much tighter?

Bledsoe has been the Bucks’ second best player in the clutch behind Antetokounmpo.

In the 17 games when the point differential between the teams was five points or fewer in the last five minutes, Bledsoe is averaging 2.5 points, just behind Antetokounmpo’s 2.9. His field goal percentage in the 17 games where the margin was that close is 51.1 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from three. That combination of points and efficiency rank him among the best the league has to offer.

The Bucks’ net-rating in those clutch situations with Bledsoe on the floor is also 20.1. This shows the team is playing at an incredibly high level in clutch moments with him on the floor.

What does all of this mean? It shows that Bledsoe has been the Bucks’ secondary option late in games.

Whether it’s the incredible impact he’s making on the defensive end, or the big shots he’s taking, Bledsoe has arguably been the Bucks second most important player so far this season because of what he’s done at the end of games.

If the Bucks are going to make a deep run in the playoffs this spring, they’ll need someone beyond Antetokounmpo to step up late in games.

Next. Milwaukee Bucks: Grades for Eric Bledsoe’s four-year, $70 million extension. dark

Given his production so far this season, no one seems better suited to take on that role than Eric Bledsoe, and perhaps that’s what helped to convince the Bucks he needed to stick around for years to come.