NBA Beat: New starter Bledsoe a big boost for Phoenix

There were flashes of brilliance from Eric Bledsoe in his first three NBA seasons.

So the speculation was how Bledsoe would play if he weren’t a backup, which he was for the Los Angeles Clippers.

That’s always tricky. Some players look good as backups on good teams but flop when given the chance to play a larger role.

Early indications are Bledsoe won’t flop in his expanded role with the Phoenix Suns.

Bledsoe has been one of the early surprises of the season. He’s averaging 20.4 points and 6.8 assists for Phoenix, which has started the season 6-6.

Bledsoe missed the last three games because of a bruised left shin, but his play is a reason the Suns have been better than most prognosticators predicted.

The Suns acquired Bledsoe in an offeseason trade and have been pleasantly surprised that a “scoring” point guard has good court vision and isn’t a one-dimensional player.

“Like every young player, he’s going to have times when he looks brilliant out there and other times where maybe he misses guys or forces something, but overall, I think he’s probably better than we anticipated,” Suns first-year coach Jeff Hornacek said. “It’s always hard to expect a guy that is a bench guy on another team to come in and all of a sudden average 20 points and seven assists.

“So it’s obviously a surprise that he’s doing that well.”

Bledsoe backed up Chris Paul the past two seasons as his name constantly swirled in trade rumors.

As Paul became the most popular point guard in Los Angeles since Magic Johnson, Bledsoe studied how Paul drove himself to improve, even though he was already arguably the best point guard in the league.

“Just his mindset on and off the court,” Bledsoe said of what he learned from Paul. “… How he was willing to get better.”

Bledsoe said he kept himself “occupied” waiting for his chance to lead a team by staying in the gym and improving.

When Bledsoe met his new teammates, he hadn’t conceded the Suns would be tanking this season and neither had his teammates.

“When I first came to play pickup with the guys, you could just tell and watching summer league that everybody played hard,” Bledsoe said. “Played as hard as they could, and that’s half the battle.”

When Bledsoe returns to the court, the Suns are clear they want him playing the same way he did before the injury.

“There are probably times where he tried to force the issue too much, but that’s what we want him to do,” Hornacek said. “We want him to be aggressive, attack, and we’ll live with some of the mistakes because as time goes on he’s going to make the right decisions, and I think we’ve got a good player.”

Trending up

It doesn’t seem fair to the rest of the league, but could LeBron James be improving? Entering Saturday, James was shooting 60.1 percent, including 48.4 percent from 3-point range.

Both are ridiculously good and would be career highs if James managed to keep up the pace.

It would take a lot to keep James from winning his fifth Most Valuable Player award in the past six years if he does that.

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There are many things wrong with the Brooklyn Nets, so it would be unfair to single out one player or coach.

But Friday’s 30-point loss at Minnesota has to be the low point of the season. That was the Nets’ fourth consecutive loss and the worst of their four double-digit defeats as they’ve limped to a 3-9 start with their $100 million-plus payroll.

Last words

“Absolutely. And I’m not going to shy away from that, either. I think Melo gets hit more than ever.”

– Knicks coach Mike Woodson during his weekly ESPN Radio appearance, when asked if Carmelo Anthony was not getting “superstar” calls from officials. The NBA fined Woodson $25,000 for his remarks.