Is Eric Bledsoe Worth as Much as He Thinks He Is?

Eric Bledsoe is still at a standstill with the Suns over his new contract. Is he making the right move by holding out?

News broke on Friday that Pistons big man Greg Monroe had signed his qualifying offer with Detroit, thus forgoing restricted free agency this year to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. This is a rare occurrence for guys as talented as Monroe, but it might be setting a new precedent.

Players who are unsatisfied with their team situations often feel trapped by restricted free agency, given the fact that the team that owns their rights can match any contract they sign elsewhere and retain them. These players take a risk by putting off their first big NBA contract an extra year, but they get a lot more freedom to choose where their careers will play out instead.

Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns might not be far behind Monroe, as he and the Suns have failed to come to an agreement on an extension. He’s reportedly leaning toward taking the qualifying offer as well if the issue isn’t resolved to his and his agent’s liking. The Suns have offered Bledsoe an extension of $48 million over four years, but Bledsoe’s camp is holding out for something more in the range of the five-year, $80 million max.

It’s a complicated situation for many reasons. The Suns already have two excellent point guards locked up in Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas that would lessen the blow of losing Bledsoe to free agency next year. Also, Bledsoe's first chance to really show what he’s capable of as a featured player and starter only came last season and that effort was cut short by a troubling meniscus surgery, the second of his young career.

The Suns seem to have most of the leverage in this situation, especially when you consider we’re in a golden age for young point guards. The list of teams that might need Bledsoe’s services and are willing to shill out a max contract right now may not be all that long.

So, should Bledose put some serious consideration into taking the $48 million from Phoenix?

The $12 million yearly average would tie him with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry as the eighth-highest paid point guard in the league next season. Even in Bledsoe’s breakout (albeit truncated) 2013-14 campaign, there weren’t many statistical categories where Bledsoe ranked in the top eight among point guards.

Eric Bledsoe 2013-14AveragePG Rank

The only categories where Bledsoe even finishes in the top eight is field goal percentage and rebounds. For a starting point guard, he ranks relatively low in assists and a bit too high in turnovers. Even as a “score first” point guard, he finished 11th among them in scoring average last season.

Bledsoe’s best attribute, however, is that he’s capable of contributing at a high level on both ends of the floor. Rather than focusing on individual stats (and largely offensive ones), what if we looked at some of the more all-encompassing numbers that account for contributions on offense and defense together? How big was Bledsoe’s impact on the Suns last year according to things like win shares, player efficiency rating, our own nERD metric, and offensive/defensive ratings?

Eric Bledsoe 2013-14RatingPG Rank
Off Rtg11021st
Def Rtg10616th

Once again, Bledsoe doesn’t really hit the top 8 threshold in any of these categories to justify even the contract offer he’s turning down, let alone the one he wants. Being low in win shares (a cumulative stat) is understandable, given that he only played in 43 games last season. Even so, his rate of win shares per 48 minutes was only the 13th best among point guards.

Our nERD metric - which estimates how many wins above or below .500 a league-average team would finish a season with the player in question as one of its starters - ranks Bledsoe as the 18th best point guard. Even though he ranks ninth in player efficiency rating - the kindest to Bledsoe of the all-encompassing stats - that still puts him behind teammates Dragic (21.4) and Thomas (20.5) as the third best point guard on his own team.

Admittedly, this is a pretty raw way of analyzing Bledsoe’s value and there are certainly other factors at play beyond the box score. Age, for one, might be considered an element that’s on his side at 24, although many of the point guards that rank ahead of him in these categories are close to his age or younger. The idea of his as-of-yet untapped potential also looms large, but the risk of investing in a player that has such a large knee-related injury risk might counterbalance the upside argument.

The $80 million contract that Bledsoe is reportedly looking for - one that would make him the fourth-highest paid point guard in the NBA - might be a pipe dream at this point. If the Suns can’t at least work out a sign-and-trade, Bledsoe taking the qualifying offer and betting on staying healthy enough to earn a max contract next year has a lot of potential to blow up in his face.

Bledsoe may be at odds with the Phoenix Suns, but taking the Suns’ $48 million offer might be the smartest move at this point, given the saturated point guard market, his shaky injury history, and the fact that he has yet to put up a full season of elite production as a starter. Regardless of how the situation plays out, it will likely be one of the most interesting stories to follow for the remainder of this offseason until it’s resolved.