Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns

The Extra Pass: Eric Bledsoe’s path from afterthought to building block; plus Sunday’s recaps



In Eric Bledsoe’s final game with the Los Angeles Clippers last season, he played nine minutes and 28 seconds.

In that game, the Memphis Grizzlies scored 118 points despite possessing what most would consider a below-average offense.

Mike Conley, a player Bledsoe has routinely shut down throughout his career, went to the free throw line 17 times.

All while Bledsoe sat.

This wasn’t particularly uncommon throughout Bledsoe’s tenure with the Clippers. For whatever reason, the explosive young guard was never seen as a viable partner in the same backcourt as Chris Paul, despite Paul’s supernatural ability to set his teammates up perfectly.

It’s not like the Paul-Bledsoe backcourt was a failed experiment, either. Although they shared the court for just 185 minutes, the Clippers posted an offensive efficiency of 115.9 (which would be the best in the league, by far) and a net efficiency of +11.1 points. Not only did Paul and Bledsoe work well together, but Bledsoe worked better than any other “true shooting guard” did next to Paul.

The inability to think outside of the box made Bledsoe expendable for the Clippers, which in turn made him a bargain for someone else.

That someone was Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough. Somehow, McDonough flipped a player with no athleticism who had reached his ceiling (Jared Dudley) for a player with all the athleticism and no ceiling.

It didn’t matter that the Suns already had a point guard in Goran Dragic, because any fears of fit were largely unsubstantiated in the first place.

So far this year, Dragic and Bledsoe have played 310 minutes together and have a net efficiency rating of +4.7 together.

More importantly, Phoenix’s most commonly used lineup with Bledsoe and Dragic has a net rating of +9.6, which ranks fifth in the entire league for lineups that have played over 150 minutes together.

Bledsoe didn’t have many doubters individually, but this pairing did. Any questions have been largely put to rest, though, as the Suns are the only team in the NBA with a starting backcourt comprised of two players with a PER over 20.

After vanquishing the more highly regarded “Splash Brothers” backcourt of Golden State on Sunday night, Phoenix is officially red hot. Five straight wins won’t melt away the talks of rebuilding or trading Dragic altogether, but Bledsoe has given McDonough the same flexibility off the court that he gives the Suns on it.

-D.J. Foster  



Kings 106, Rockets 91: Here is my key takeaway from this game — DeMarcus Cousins completely outplayed Dwight Howard. Cousins had 21 points on 14 shots plus pulled down 10 boards, and he held Howard to 13 points. Rudy Gay dropped 26, Isaiah Thomas had 11 of his 19 in the second quarter when the Kings took control of the game. Houston’s league-best offense got open looks but simply didn’t hit them (they were 3-of-8 from the midrange and shot 25 percent from three).

Timberwolves 101, Grizzlies 93: Minnesota took the lead with a 17-4 run in the first quarter and while Memphis made it interesting at points (Mike Conley’s 15 pints in the third quarter helped that) the Timberwolves never trailed. Kevin Love put up 31 points and had 9 boards, but he also played good post defense on Zach Randolph to help keep the Grizzlies attack under control. Love can play straight up post D pretty well (when he avoids fouls).

Trail Blazers 111, Pistons 109: Detroit fell victim to one of the classic blunders — the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” — but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never get in a close game with the Trail Blazers!” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! (Seriously this team just does not lose close games, only once this season to Monta Ellis and the Mavs, aside that they just make shots at the end of games. It was Damian Lillard’s turn this time to throw the dagger.)

Thunder 101, Magic 98: If you were expecting a blowout that’s what you got, with OKC leading comfortably most of the second half, until an 18-4 Magic run late in the fourth quarter made it interesting. Arron Afflalo had 9 of his 25 in the fourth quarter and had a key three to cut the Thunder lead to four with less than a minute. Next a Mo Harkless dunk cut it to two. Kevin Durant split two free throws and the Magic got one last shot to tie — but a Glen Davis fadeaway three was not what they had in mind. Durant had 28 points to lead everyone.

Nuggets 102, Pelicans 93: A lot of Denver players pitched into this one, but it was two guards who were really key. One was Ty Lawson, who had an awful game in the loss to the Jazz, but he bounced back with a good game (12 points, 8 assists) directing the offense. The other was Nate Robinson off the bench with 14 points, but you know he can score; it was a couple key blocks and some good defense we didn’t expect that really mattered. Ryan Anderson had 26 for the Hornets but he was 10-of-21 shooting and missed a lot of good looks.

Suns 106, Warriors 102: The backcourt of Eric Gordon and Goran Dragic stood toe-to-toe with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in this one — the Suns/ starting backcourt had 45 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds. (For the record, the Warriors starting backcourt had 49 points.) Credit the Suns defense for forcing turnovers on 19.3 percent of the Warriors possessions (they have been turnover prone lately). Also, the Warriors miss Andre Iguodala as teams load up on Curry to prevent his threes.

Greg Oden on basketball career: ‘It’s over’

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6
Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images

Greg Oden’s multiple injuries dictated the former No. 1 pick wouldn’t have the career forecasted for him.

But he returned from three years off an NBA court to play for the Heat in 2014. He followed that breakthrough with a couple tryouts and a stint in China.

Could he once again return to the league?

Dana Hunsinger Benbow of IndyStar:

Asked whether he’d play basketball again, he said, “I wish. It’s over.” Instead, he is back with the Buckeyes as a student coach, helping out the players and Matta any way he can.

Oden, who was picked one spot before Kevin Durant, once declared: “I know I’m one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it’ll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things.” That statement is blunt, reality and sad all wrapped into one.

It’s a shame we never got to see Oden healthy for long. There was good reason for the Trail Blazers to pick him first, but injuries ruined what could’ve been an intriguing extend debate over him and Durant.

Hopefully, Oden finds fulfillment in the next chapter of his life.

Report: LeBron James didn’t want to play for Cavaliers before they drafted him

Vince Bucci/Getty Images

The Cavaliers landing the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft seemed like a fairytale.

The consensus top choice and one of the most-hyped prospects of all-time was a local kid from nearby Akron, LeBron James.

But this happy accident didn’t come through rainbows and butterflies. To get the top seed in the lottery, Cleveland had to get bad – really bad. The Cavs missed the playoffs five straight years, bottoming out at 17-65 in 2002-03.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

When James was a teenager, he started attending games at the arena, and he couldn’t believe how bad the Cavs were, how empty the arena often was, with its bright blue seats seeming like a neon sign of disinterest. During his senior year of high school, he went to several games, was given courtside seats and visited the locker room. His thought was pretty clear after he watched that 17-win team with the lowest attendance in the league: They were awful, and he didn’t want to be a part of it.

Can we be surprised someone who grew up in Akron, Ohio, as a Bulls, Yankees and Cowboys fan didn’t want to join the Cavs? LeBron was a frontrunner.

What he didn’t realize at the time: He’d gain the power to singlehandedly transform a franchise, and he’d develop an emotional attachment to the Cavaliers.

Cleveland wasn’t going to remain unwatchable with him. He turned the Cavs into a credible championship contender. Then, after leaving for the Heat, he returned. He even delivered delivered its long-awaited title last season.

The tears of joy he cried afterward show just how much that area, including its NBA team, means to him.

That he was initially sour on the Cavaliers adds an interesting twist to the story. It doesn’t detract from it.

Kevin Durant shoots extra while echoing his critics: ‘They called me a coward!’ (video)


The Warriors’ Kevin Durant era started out with a thud – a 29-point home loss to the Spurs.

He responded by shooting extra jumpers after practice while repeating his critics.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN:

When asked after his session about shouting criticisms, Durant explained, “That’s what I say to myself when I’m working. I hear it all the time. You hear the noise. You hear what they say about you. Everybody hears it. So it’s a little extra motivation when you hear it.”

Of the scene, Durant said, “Nobody in this arena right now, and that’s when you get better. Nobody sees you when you’re doing this stuff right here, but luckily y’all was in here watching.”

Depending on your perspective, Durant is:

  • Maniacally driven to succeed
  • Feeling the pressure in Golden State
  • Showboating in front of a camera

I’ll take a little of all three.

Not one 2016 top-10 draft pick started his team’s first game. How does that compare historically?

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Commissioner Adam Silver poses for a photo with the top prospects before the start of the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 23, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Ben Simmons is hurt. Brandon Ingram is being brought along slowly. Jaylen Brown is on a good team trying to win now. Dragan Bender is blocked by Marquese Chriss. Kris Dunn is stuck behind Ricky Rubio (for now). Buddy Hield lost a preseason battle to E'Twaun Moore. Jamal Murray is ready for only a minor role. Marquese Chriss is blocked by Jared Dudley. Jakob Poeltl got drafted by a good team with an established starting center. Thon Maker is far too raw.

The top 10 of 2016 NBA draft class isn’t off to a fast start.

In fact, no top-10 pick started his team’s first game after being drafted for just the second time on record. The only other time it happened since 1983, as far back as Basketball-Reference.com records go, was 2013.

The only 2016 draft picks to start so far are No. 11 pick Domantas Sabonis (for the Thunder) and No. 27 pick Pascal Siakam (for the Raptors).

No. 11 pick Michael Carter-Williams was the only 2013 draft pick to start his team’s first game in 2013. So, at least the class of 2016 has a leg up on that class, which was led by No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett.

Here’s each first-round pick since 1983 to start his team’s first game since being drafted. Top-10 picks are in blue, and all other first-rounders are in orange.


Year Pick Player
2016 11 Domantas Sabonis
2016 27 Pascal Siakam
2015 1 Karl-Anthony Towns
2015 2 D'Angelo Russell
2015 3 Jahlil Okafor
2015 4 Kristaps Porzingis
2015 7 Emmanuel Mudiay
2014 1 Andrew Wiggins
2014 2 Jabari Parker
2014 10 Elfrid Payton
2013 11 Michael Carter-Williams
2012 1 Anthony Davis
2012 2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
2012 3 Bradley Beal
2012 4 Dion Waiters
2012 6 Damian Lillard
2012 7 Harrison Barnes
2012 10 Austin Rivers
2011 1 Kyrie Irving
2010 1 John Wall
2010 5 DeMarcus Cousins
2009 4 Tyreke Evans
2009 6 Jonny Flynn
2009 7 Stephen Curry
2009 9 DeMar DeRozan
2009 10 Brandon Jennings
2008 1 Derrick Rose
2008 2 Michael Beasley
2008 3 O.J. Mayo
2007 2 Kevin Durant
2007 3 Al Horford
2007 6 Yi Jianlian
2007 27 Arron Afflalo
2006 5 Shelden Williams
2006 6 Brandon Roy
2006 10 Mouhamed Sene
2005 1 Andrew Bogut
2005 4 Chris Paul
2005 16 Joey Graham
2005 25 Johan Petro
2004 1 Dwight Howard
2004 2 Emeka Okafor
2004 3 Ben Gordon
2004 5 Devin Harris
2004 9 Andre Iguodala
2003 1 LeBron James
2003 3 Carmelo Anthony
2003 5 Dwyane Wade
2003 10 Jarvis Hayes
2002 2 Jay Williams
2002 4 Drew Gooden
2002 10 Caron Butler
2001 6 Shane Battier
2001 27 Jamaal Tinsley
2000 1 Kenyon Martin
2000 3 Darius Miles
2000 17 Desmond Mason
1999 1 Elton Brand
1999 2 Steve Francis
1999 4 Lamar Odom
1999 6 Wally Szczerbiak
1999 9 Shawn Marion
1999 18 James Posey
1999 26 Vonteego Cummings
1998 2 Mike Bibby
1998 3 Raef LaFrentz
1998 5 Vince Carter
1998 7 Jason Williams
1998 9 Dirk Nowitzki
1998 10 Paul Pierce
1998 14 Michael Dickerson
1997 1 Tim Duncan
1997 4 Antonio Daniels
1997 5 Tony Battie
1997 6 Ron Mercer
1997 13 Derek Anderson
1997 23 Bobby Jackson
1996 1 Allen Iverson
1996 3 Shareef Abdur-Rahim
1996 4 Stephon Marbury
1996 5 Ray Allen
1996 6 Antoine Walker
1996 11 Todd Fuller
1995 1 Joe Smith
1995 2 Antonio McDyess
1995 3 Jerry Stackhouse
1995 4 Rasheed Wallace
1995 7 Damon Stoudamire
1995 22 George Zidek
1994 2 Jason Kidd
1994 3 Grant Hill
1994 6 Sharone Wright
1994 10 Eddie Jones
1994 18 Eric Mobley
1993 2 Shawn Bradley
1993 3 Anfernee Hardaway
1993 4 Jamal Mashburn
1993 6 Calbert Cheaney
1993 7 Bobby Hurley
1993 18 Luther Wright
1992 1 Shaquille O’Neal
1992 3 Christian Laettner
1992 5 LaPhonso Ellis
1992 6 Tom Gugliotta
1992 9 Clarence Weatherspoon
1992 11 Robert Horry
1992 24 Latrell Sprewell
1991 1 Larry Johnson
1991 4 Dikembe Mutombo
1991 5 Steve Smith
1991 9 Stacey Augmon
1991 11 Terrell Brandon
1991 24 Rick Fox
1990 2 Gary Payton
1990 7 Lionel Simmons
1990 8 Bo Kimble
1990 10 Rumeal Robinson
1989 3 Sean Elliott
1989 5 J.R. Reid
1989 14 Tim Hardaway
1989 19 Kenny Payne
1989 21 Blue Edwards
1988 3 Charles Smith
1988 5 Mitch Richmond
1988 6 Hersey Hawkins
1988 9 Rony Seikaly
1988 10 Willie Anderson
1988 14 Dan Majerle
1988 20 Kevin Edwards
1988 21 Mark Bryant
1987 2 Armen Gilliam
1987 3 Dennis Hopson
1987 6 Kenny Smith
1987 12 Muggsy Bogues
1987 13 Joe Wolf
1986 1 Brad Daugherty
1986 3 Chris Washburn
1986 5 Kenny Walker
1986 8 Ron Harper
1986 11 John Salley
1986 12 John Williams
1986 13 Pearl Washington
1986 21 Anthony Jones
1985 1 Patrick Ewing
1984 1 Hakeem Olajuwon
1984 3 Michael Jordan
1984 4 Sam Perkins
1984 6 Melvin Turpin
1984 18 Vern Fleming
1983 1 Ralph Sampson
1983 2 Steve Stipanovich
1983 13 Ennis Whatley
1983 20 Roy Hinson

To some degree, this year’s state of affairs is understandable. Simmons was a lock to start before he got injured. Two playoffs teams – Celtics (who took Jaylen Brown No. 3) and Raptors (who took Jacob Poeltl No. 9) – drafted in the top 10 due to trades.

But the effect is clear. This draft class seems underwhelming.

It’s why the Rookie of the Year race feels so wide open and a 2014 draft pick, Joel Embiid, is the frontrunner.