Bledsoe tabbed to NBA All-Defensive First Team

(Photo: UK Athletics)

NEW YORK – Widely considered one of the league’s best on-ball defenders, former Kentucky men’s basketball player Eric Bledsoe was officially anointed one of the league’s top defenders when he was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team on Wednesday.

It marks the first such honor for the Milwaukee Bucks’ starting point guard.

Bledsoe was joined on the first team by Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) and Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics).

Bledsoe becomes the third Kentucky player under John Calipari to win NBA All-Defensive honors. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans) was named to the first team in 2018 and the second team in 2015 and 2017. John Wall (Washington Wizards) made the second team in 2015.

Davis picked up votes again this year, in addition to former UK players De’Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings), Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Los Angeles Clippers), who was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team on Tuesday.

Bledsoe, of course, is still playing in the NBA Eastern Conference finals as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee took a 2-0 series lead but the Toronto Raptors have roared back to tied it at 2-2.

Regarded across the league as a lock-down defender with elite athleticism, Bledsoe was among the league leaders with 1.5 steals per game in the regular season. Bledsoe, even at 6-foot-1, also routinely comes up with highlight-reel blocks at the rim.

Bledsoe, who helped the Bucks to the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, has started every game for Milwaukee this season. Offensively, he averaged 15.9 points, 5.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds in the regular season with a 19.31 player efficiency rating.

The NBA All-Defensive Teams were selected by a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters. Players were awarded two points for each first-team vote and one point for each second-team vote. Voters selected two guards, two forwards and one center for each team, choosing players at the position they play regularly. Players who received votes at multiple positions were slotted at the position where they received the most votes.

Bledsoe played his lone season at Kentucky in 2009-10, Calipari’s first at UK. Bledsoe and the Wildcats won the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships, went 35-3 and advanced to the Elite Eight.

Defensively, Bledsoe totaled 52 steals with 12 blocks that season in addition to a stellar offensive season that saw him average 11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He made the All-SEC Freshman Team and the SEC All-Tournament Team.

After the season, Bledsoe was selected 18th overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Bledsoe was one of the nation-leading 33 Wildcats to appear on an NBA roster in 2018-19 with more on the way.

From the 2018-19 team, Kentucky stars PJ Washington, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson are all in the 2019 NBA Draft. Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery have declared but have left open the option to return to UK. Under NCAA rules, they have until May 29 to make a final decision.

Since Calipari joined the Wildcat program for the 2009-10 season, UK has produced 35 NBA Draft picks over nine seasons, nearly twice as many as the next-closest school (Duke). Included in the 35 are 26 first-rounders, three No. 1 overall picks and 19 lottery selections.