Milwaukee Bucks: Is it too late for Eric Bledsoe to find more consistent shooting?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 01: (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 01: (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Eric Bledsoe‘s shooting inconsistencies have been something of an issue for the Milwaukee Bucks, but is it realistic to expect major improvements?

When the Milwaukee Bucks acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Phoenix Suns in November 2017, there was a sense of celebration at the team finally landing a high caliber point guard to round out their lineup.

Point guard had long been a position of need for Milwaukee — one where multiple experiments had played out in underwhelming fashion over the preceding seasons – and with Bledsoe there was a real sense that the Bucks finally knew what they were getting at that key spot.

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Perhaps what’s most remarkable approaching the Alabama native’s third season with the Bucks is just how much of the perception of Bledsoe, and the expectations around his addition, have held up too.

The hope was the Bucks were adding a capable playmaker, who could channel his incredible speed and athleticism to make winning plays, and whose defensive tools could allow Milwaukee to unlock an entirely new level on that end of the floor as a collective.

In that regard, the best of Bledsoe has undoubtedly come to the fore, with those elements of his game possibly amplified more than ever in a lower usage role when he’s surrounded by high-end talent.

The concerns of a deal for Bledsoe would very much have been focused on attitude, and specifically how a player who’d spent so many years on dysfunctional teams would adjust to a better team with loftier expectations, and how his long-ranger shooting struggles would impact a Bucks’ team that already had notable concerns in terms of spacing.

The first part of those reservations can most easily be applied to Bledsoe’s troubling and baffling playoff performances, which have undoubtedly emerged as the greatest issue of his Bucks’ tenure to date.

That’s a subject for another day and another article, though, so for now let’s focus in on the shooting.

Bledsoe has performed almost exactly in line with what would have been expectations for him from three-point range since arriving in Milwaukee. For the entirety of his career, the 29-year-old averages 33.6 percent from deep, and as a Buck his average has slotted in at 33.8 percent.

One note that should be made to Bledsoe’s credit is that he has upped his volume in accordance with the Bucks’ “let it fly” philosophies, respectively averaging 5.6 and 6.0 triples per 36 minutes over each of the last two seasons. With his career mark falling in at 4.1 threes per 36, Bledsoe should at least be commended for maintaining his existing shooting percentages while upping his volume.

Still, there can be no doubting his percentages leave him very much in the below-average category when it comes to league-wide shooting. In the regular season, Bledsoe’s willingness to put up shots from range has been key to Milwaukee’s ability to maintain spacing. Bledsoe is not completely inept from deep, and at least commands the opposing team to pay attention to him on a given night. Bledsoe had 16 games last season where he made at least three triples, and only once did he do so while recording a single game three-point percentage below 50 percent.

What complicates any outlook of Bledsoe’s shooting is the way in which he struggles most with the shots that conventional wisdom, and the tendencies of the rest of the NBA, suggests are the easiest of the long-range variety.

Bledsoe’s pull-up three-point shooting (38.4 percent) significantly outperformed his accuracy on catch-and-shoot triples (29.3 percent) last season. Additionally, Bledsoe proved much more adept at making longer range three-pointers than shorter ones (34.8 percent from 25-29 feet vs. 28 percent from 22-24 feet). That sense of Bledsoe’s shot profile grows no less bizarre when you consider he attempted 189 shots more from the longer distance than the shorter one.

Unsurprisingly, all of that rounds out to Bledsoe also registering underwhelming marks on minimal attempts from the corners (19 percent from the left, 32.4 percent from the right).

Perhaps there’s something greater at work in terms of trying to pinpoint Bledsoe’s struggles on comparatively short jump shots, as he also made just 33.3 percent of his mid-range attempts last season.

Generally in the case of a near 30-year-old, it’s unrealistic to expect major jumps in any area of a player’s game. Perhaps major would be overstating it, but in Bledsoe’s case it does feel as if there should be room for some growth as a shooter, though.

Bledsoe doesn’t need to become a dynamic jump shooter, and in many ways he’s arguably already better shooting with movement and distance than many much more efficient three-point shooters could be. Instead, Bledsoe needs to focus on the base shots that act as the fundamentals for expanding a player’s shooting range.

Focusing on catch-and-shoot and corner looks over the course of the season could reap major rewards for Bledsoe. For the Bucks’ coaching staff, it may be worthwhile to treat Bledsoe’s shooting progress in the way they would with a novice shooting big man.

Before injury and later a trade cut short the experiment, John Henson was transformed from a career non-shooter to someone capable of knocking down 40 percent from the corners on a very modest number of attempts under Mike Budenholzer last season. With the Bucks already having made it clear that Robin Lopez is their next shooting project, Bledsoe working on the kind of corner and wing attempts that may act as an introduction for Milwaukee’s new backup center would also seem instructive.

In short, Bledsoe’s three-point shooting woes shows a player that’s still searching for the most basic elements of long-range play, and those which have generally proven to be teachable over time.

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Confidence in him putting it all together would be another thing entirely, but there’s no reason to believe Bledsoe couldn’t take notable strides simply by improving from the corners and gaining an understanding of how to establish his rhythm on catch-and-shoot attempts.