Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe had the meniscus in his right knee removed, not repaired, and hopes to return at some point this season. While the news is brutal, it's not necessarily the end of the road for the Suns.
Phoenix is just 2-3 since Bledoe's injury, but its immediate schedule is a manageable one. The Suns will play 13 games from now until Feb. 4, but only four of them --Dallas, Denver and Indiana (twice) -- are against teams with winning records. Of those, only the Pacers game is against a winning team on the road. Seven of the 13 are in Phoenix and a few of the away games -- in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Milwaukee -- aren't against the stiffest competition.
Feb. 5 through the 23rd presents a different range of challenges for the Suns. In seven games, they will face the Rockets twice, the Warriors, the Heat, the Spurs and the Nuggets in Denver. There's almost no way Bledsoe will be ready to return for this stretch, so taking care of the easy schedule in January and early February is important.
Having Goran Dragic also puts Phoenix in a unique situation where it can manage without Bledsoe. The versatile, crafty guard can play with Bledsoe in two-point-guard sets, but he's also comfortable manning the offense by himself. In 658 minutes that Dragic has played without Bledsoe, Dragic's offensive rating has spiked from 106 to 110.4, according to NBA.com's stats tool. The defense is nearly five points worse when Dragic plays without Bledsoe, but the net rating is almost identical.
Surprisingly the Suns as a whole are nearly 2.4 net points better when Bledsoe is on the bench, per NBA.com. The team defense is only 0.1 points worse and the offense is two and a half points better. Some of that has to do with Dragic's wizardry and some of it has to do with how well Phoenix's wing players are playing this season. In Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker, the Suns have two guys who can step up.
Green has thrived over the last five games, starting in Bledsoe's absence. He is averaging nearly 15 points on 47 percent shooting and has posted a net rating of +16.2, per NBA.com. His offensive rating has spiked all the way to 114.4 in those five games and his defensive rating is hovering around 98. Tucker also has a positive net rating (+0.9) in the last five games without Bledsoe, though it's admittedly slim.
Replacing the hyperactive offense and pesky defense that Bledsoe brings on a nightly basis and staying the course -- one that has put Phoenix in the No. 7 spot in the West -- isn't going to be easy. The former Kentucky Wildcat has morphed from a sparkplug off the bench to a borderline all-star worthy of a major payday this summer. The Suns hope they have enough in the backcourt to stay afloat without him.