John Wall and Eric Bledsoe shared a back court for one season at Kentucky and have faced each other numerous times in pickup games and practices, and a handful of times in the NBA. Wall and Bledsoe opposed each other as NBA starters for the first time last season, when Bledsoe was filling in for Chris Paul and Wall led the Wizards to a victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Though Wall will find himself mostly guarding point guard Goran Dragic when the Wizards host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday at Verizon Center, he is looking forward to the occasional times that he is matched up with Bledsoe.
“I’m excited,” Wall said. “He’s like a brother to me. Me, him, DeMarcus [Cousins] always spend time together when we get to the same city. Always hanging out. Plan trips in the summer. Our families get along very well, like we’re from the same mother and father.”
Wall was disappointed when Bledsoe suffered a torn meniscus two months ago and missed the Wizards’ 101-95 victory in Phoenix. But Bledsoe has since returned and helped the Suns go 6-1 since being inserted back into the starting lineup alongside Dragic. Bledsoe has scored at least 20 points in each of his past three games, all Suns wins, and continues to have a breakout campaign despite the setback.
“It’s great to see him get out of the shadow of playing behind me at Kentucky and playing behind Chris Paul in L.A. and get the opportunity in Phoenix to help that team fight for a playoff spot right now. I think if he didn’t get injured, he’d probably be most improved, in my opinion,” Wall said. “Seeing as we both competitive people that played against each other in practice, it’ll be fun and exciting.”
Wall was devastated when Bledsoe had to have a second knee surgery in three years after finally getting the opportunity to start in Phoenix. Bledsoe will be a restricted free agent this summer .
“Just stay strong,” Wall said he told him. “Last summer, I dealt with it, not having to have surgery but just had to sit out for two or three months, and trying to stay mentally prepared and focused. And I know it’s tough with the kind of season he was having.”
Wall said he could spot the potential in Bledsoe the moment he showed up in Lexington, a move that forced Bledsoe to move over to shooting guard. “Just because of the season I was having and who I was coming in, it was tough. I think he just shocked a lot of people,” Wall said. “A lot of people put attention on me and they gave him the opportunity to free up and he won some games for them and played big for us in a lot of those games. we was a great dynamic duo.
“Just playing pickup with him and being on different teams in practice and competing against each other and trying to make each other better each day, I kind of knew what he had,” Wall said. “He shocked himself, because he didn’t think he’d have the opportunity to leave after one year. He was doubted himself, but me and the other teammates knew what he was capable of and how much he meant to our team. He thought he was going to be there four years.”
In their lone meeting as starters last season, Bledsoe had the statistical edge, scoring 17 points with nine assists, while Wall had 15 points and eight assists. But Wall scored six points in the fourth quarter, including a huge jumper and dunk, as the Wizards won, 98-90.
Bledsoe’s apprenticeship behind Paul ended when the Clippers dealt him to the Suns last summer, giving him the starting job in which both Paul and Wall predicted Bledsoe would succeed. The fourth-year guard is averaging career highs of 17.4 points and 5.7 assists, dramatic improvements from his career averages of 8.2 points and 3.4 assists. The Suns are 18-7 with Bledsoe and Dragic in the starting lineup.
“He’s going to be a great point guard in this league,” Wall said he told himself when he heard about Bledsoe heading to Phoenix. “All it does is take time, and you kind of seen. I already knew when he played what he could do when he’d get the opportunity. You could tell when he played in the playoffs, he had big games, playing just 15 or 20 minutes. That lets you know what a player can do when he has a team that trusts him.”