The Offbeat: A Look at the Bledsoe/Millsap Deal

Jeff Gross

Would the rumored Paul Millsap for Eric Bledsoe deal be a boon or debacle for the Utah Jazz?

While it's been rumored for many days, the Eric Bledsoe for Paul Millsap trade is still out there on the minds of Jazz and NBA fans alike. That is because the trade makes a lot of sense on the face of it: the Jazz give up an expiring talent to the Clippers for a long-term PG, an established position of need. The Clippers, on the other hand, get a talent upgrade as they fight to establish true contender status.

That being said, questions remain on the Jazz side, questions the Jazz front office will need to have sure answers to in order to make the move. Let's dive into those questions to discover: should the Jazz make the trade?

1. How good can Eric Bledsoe be?

Bledsoe is putting up a good season, no doubt. His 18.9 PER is third on a fantastic Clippers team, and he's led their bench unit to the top performance in the league. In under 22 MPG, he averages 9.6 PPG, and shoots over 42% from three. Also impressive is his defense: he holds opponents to just a 13.6 PER, and averages 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. This impressive performance comes in his third season, at just age 23.

How did other players turn out who had similar early success? Let's take a search through Basketball Reference. I did a search for other guards who had a PER within 1 point of Bledsoe before the age of 23, it turns out there are 47such players (with over 500 minutes) in NBA history. Here's the full list:

Totals Shooting Advanced
Player Season Age Tm G GS MP TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS FG% 3P% FT% PER WS
Sidney Moncrief 1980-81 23 MIL 80 2417 406 264 90 37 145 1122 .541 .222 .804 18.0 9.9
Rajon Rondo 2008-09 22 BOS 80 80 2642 416 659 149 11 209 953 .505 .313 .642 18.8 9.9
Norm Nixon 1978-79 23 LAL 82 3145 231 737 201 17 231 1404 .542 .775 18.2 9.6
Rajon Rondo 2009-10 23 BOS 81 81 2963 360 794 189 11 246 1110 .508 .213 .621 19.1 9.6
Phil Smith 1975-76 23 GSW 82 2793 376 362 108 18 1641 .477 .788 18.4 9.4
Earl Monroe* 1967-68 23 BAL 82 3012 465 349 1991 .453 .781 19.3 9.3
Reggie Theus 1980-81 23 CHI 82 2820 287 426 122 20 259 1549 .495 .200 .809 18.4 9.2
Monta Ellis 2007-08 22 GSW 81 72 3071 404 315 124 27 173 1636 .531 .231 .767 19.0 9.0
Otis Birdsong 1978-79 23 KCK 82 2839 354 281 125 17 200 1778 .509 .725 18.4 8.8
Ben Gordon 2006-07 23 CHI 82 51 2704 258 296 64 17 249 1753 .455 .413 .864 18.2 8.6
Alvin Robertson 1985-86 23 SAS 82 82 2878 516 448 301 40 256 1392 .514 .276 .795 19.5 8.6
Calvin Murphy* 1971-72 23 HOU 82 2538 258 393 1491 .455 .890 18.1 8.3
Baron Davis 2001-02 22 CHH 82 82 3318 349 698 172 47 246 1484 .417 .356 .580 18.2 8.2
Calvin Murphy* 1970-71 22 SDR 82 2020 245 329 1298 .458 .820 19.4 8.0
Brandon Roy 2007-08 23 POR 74 74 2792 348 430 79 16 136 1416 .454 .340 .753 19.4 8.0
Damon Stoudamire 1996-97 23 TOR 81 81 3311 330 709 123 13 288 1634 .401 .355 .823 18.1 7.6
Kenny Anderson 1993-94 23 NJN 82 82 3135 322 784 158 15 266 1538 .417 .303 .818 18.2 7.5
Isiah Thomas* 1982-83 21 DET 81 81 3093 328 634 199 29 326 1854 .472 .288 .710 18.9 7.4
Mark Jackson 1988-89 23 NYK 72 72 2477 341 619 139 7 226 1219 .467 .338 .698 18.3 7.2
Stephen Curry 2010-11 22 GSW 74 74 2489 286 432 109 20 226 1373 .480 .442 .934 19.4 6.6
Player Season Age Tm G GS MP TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS FG% 3P% FT% PER WS
Gilbert Arenas 2002-03 21 GSW 82 82 2866 386 514 124 17 290 1497 .431 .348 .791 18.6 6.5
Steve Francis 1999-00 22 HOU 77 77 2776 409 507 118 29 306 1388 .445 .345 .786 18.4 6.4
Kobe Bryant 1997-98 19 LAL 79 1 2056 242 199 74 40 157 1220 .428 .341 .794 18.5 6.3
Doc Rivers 1984-85 23 ATL 69 58 2126 214 410 163 53 176 974 .476 .417 .770 18.1 6.3
Derrick Rose 2009-10 21 CHI 78 78 2871 293 469 57 27 217 1619 .489 .267 .766 18.6 6.0
Brandon Jennings 2011-12 22 MIL 66 66 2331 226 365 104 22 146 1260 .418 .332 .808 18.4 5.5
Tyreke Evans 2009-10 20 SAC 72 72 2677 380 414 109 26 216 1450 .458 .255 .748 18.2 5.4
Eric Gordon 2010-11 22 LAC 56 56 2112 164 244 71 18 151 1247 .450 .364 .825 18.5 5.3
Ray Allen 1998-99 23 MIL 50 50 1719 212 178 53 7 122 856 .450 .356 .903 18.9 5.2
Kobe Bryant 1998-99 20 LAL 50 50 1896 264 190 72 50 157 996 .465 .267 .839 18.9 5.2
Louis Williams 2009-10 23 PHI 64 38 1912 187 268 80 15 106 898 .470 .340 .824 18.2 5.2
Jameer Nelson 2005-06 23 ORL 62 33 1784 180 302 70 9 148 905 .483 .424 .779 19.5 4.9
Brandon Roy 2006-07 22 POR 57 55 2015 250 230 67 10 116 955 .456 .377 .838 18.0 4.8
Michael Redd 2001-02 22 MIL 67 8 1417 224 91 42 7 57 767 .483 .444 .791 20.0 4.6
T.J. Ford 2006-07 23 TOR 75 71 2243 236 595 101 8 231 1047 .436 .304 .819 18.2 4.3
Allen Iverson 1996-97 21 PHI 76 74 3045 312 567 157 24 337 1787 .416 .341 .702 18.0 4.1
J.R. Smith 2007-08 22 DEN 74 0 1421 152 128 62 12 112 907 .461 .403 .719 18.1 3.7
Spud Webb 1985-86 22 ATL 79 8 1229 123 337 82 5 159 616 .483 .182 .785 18.5 3.5
Eric Bledsoe 2012-13 23 LAC 56 12 1219 175 185 90 48 110 537 .453 .429 .798 18.9 3.4
Kemba Walker 2012-13 22 CHA 53 53 1830 182 299 100 21 120 916 .428 .345 .791 18.9 3.4
Player Season Age Tm G GS MP TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS FG% 3P% FT% PER WS
Jrue Holiday 2012-13 22 PHI 47 47 1802 197 418 69 20 188 894 .452 .353 .775 18.2 2.9
Jeremy Lin 2011-12 23 NYK 35 25 940 107 216 55 9 126 512 .446 .320 .798 19.9 2.7
Dana Barros 1990-91 23 SEA 66 0 750 71 111 23 1 54 418 .495 .395 .918 18.8 2.5
Tyreke Evans 2012-13 23 SAC 39 35 1212 186 121 55 17 82 600 .477 .328 .762 18.2 2.4
Rodrigue Beaubois 2009-10 21 DAL 56 16 700 78 74 29 12 54 397 .518 .409 .808 18.5 2.0
Dick Groat 1952-53 22 FTW 26 663 86 69 309 .368 .790 18.2 2.0
Robert Hawkins 1976-77 22 NYN 52 1481 154 93 77 26 1006 .447 .688 18.2 1.9
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/21/2013.

There's a wide variety of players here, and I invite you to draw your own conclusions. My feeling is that his closest comp is Jameer Nelson, who also put up a good season at similar percentages at age 23 in a mostly bench role. The best players on this list, Kobe Bryant, Isiah Thomas, and Derrick Rose, all had their success at an earlier age. On the other hand, a T.J. Ford-esque outcome is possible, but doesn't look particularly likely: that the majority of players on this list are still active is telling.

2. Can Eric Bledsoe be the PG of the future for the Utah Jazz?

The prototype Jazz PG has always been pass-first in style, causing Jazz fans some cognitive dissonance in recent years when Devin Harris and Mo Williams have taken the reigns. To be clear, Bledsoe is very much in the Harris/Williams side of the equation. He averages just 3.3 assists per game, just 5.5 per 36 minutes. Mo Williams career AP36 average is 5.8, Devin Harris' is 6.3. If Jazz fans want to to see a pass-first point guard, the team is trending in the wrong direction.

The more open question is whether or not a pass-first point guard is necessary in an efficient Jazz offense. My feeling is that the abandonment of the pass-first PG is more of a detriment to aesthetics than production; players like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose have shown the ability to lead top-5 offenses with an emphasis on PG scoring. Even those players, though, are better passers than Eric Bledsoe is.

3. Who makes up the salary gap in the trade?

Of course, a one-for-one Paul Millsap for Eric Bledsoe trade doesn't work under the CBA, as such, the Clippers will need to add significant salary ballast to make the deal work. Jamal Crawford's probably too good to be just a throw in. Lamar Odom is an expiring contract as well, but is terrible, would bring his own unique form of drama to Utah, and comes at a position of relative surplus: even after the trade, Marvin Williams, like Odom is a SF who can play PF if needed. While Odom could give a few minutes per game to the Jazz at PF... they're not likely to be good ones.

The other alternative is Caron Butler, who also has been struggling, albeit not as badly. He's a below-average starter, and quite honestly, would probably simply take minutes that DeMarre Carroll is more qualified to use. Furthermore, his 8 million dollar salary next year would eat into the Jazz capspace planned for that summer, and would mean that the Jazz would likely have 2 completely average SFs locked in for $16 million next year for no particular reason. It wouldn't be pretty.

4. How do the salaries work for the Utah Jazz long-term?

This also becomes a little bit interesting: acquiring Bledsoe would mean three young starting-quality players (Favors, Hayward, and Bledsoe) to go on the restricted free agent market together during the same summer. While the Jazz would likely have the ability to resign all three without going over the luxury tax line (contingent on what they do with Al Jefferson), it's then more unclear if Kanter and Burks could be resigned the following summer. Of course, this is largely dependent on each player's individual development. This, though, may be the proverbial "good problem to have"; even if the Jazz had to lose one of those players for luxury tax reasons (a la the Oklahoma City Thunder), they could make a trade for some significant assets for the latter half of this decade.

5. Will Paul Millsap resign with the Utah Jazz?

This is the hardest question, and the one Jazz fans have the least information about. Paul Millsap is an incredibly good player, I think he's significantly underrated. His +/- numbers are fantastic, his standard numbers show great efficiency, and his steals and rebounding provide extra possessions for the Jazz. Naturally, keeping a player like Millsap would make the Jazz more likely to win games in the future.

The uncertainty, though, comes in when considering what Millsap is likely to make in this open market, when many teams have cap space to use; would Millsap be worth the money he'd be given? To me, he's such a good player, and still underrated, that it's hard to believe he wouldn't be. In this post, I argued that he'd be worth at least a $10 million per year deal, I think he'd likely get more.

And then: does Millsap want to stay in Utah? Signs point in both directions: there's some indication that he might not love a shared role with Derrick Favors down the road, but he currently seems to enjoy playing with Jefferson, and has played in Utah his entire career. He's recently started a Twitter account and done an impressively thorough Jazz gear giveaway. Perhaps he's trying to raise his value to the Jazz organization?

Whatever the reason, this is the most important question to answer for the Jazz. If there's a 70% chance of keeping Millsap, I don't think it makes sense to do this deal: Bledsoe is too questionable a long-term fit to make it worth that risk. On the other hand, if there's only a 30% chance of keeping Millsap, it probably makes sense to acquire some long-term value before it's too late. By Tuesday's end, we'll know a lot more about the Jazz' estimation of the likelihood of Millsap's departure.

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