Point Guard Power Part 2- Guest Contribution

Welcome back as we begin to break down the sixteen starting point guards from the 2013 NBA Playoffs and the differences among various styles of play. Please note, these groupings reflect the sixteen teams starting point guard, regardless of injury. For example, Derrick Rose missed the entire 2012-2013 season but is considered Chicago’s starting point guard when healthy. (Player’s in each group are in no special order)

The “If I had 5 picks to build a team, my 5th pick would be a Point Guard” Group:

Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets, 3rd Season:

Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin

 

Remember when Lin was known for this? That seems almost like a lifetime ago. Since Lin moved to the Houston Rockets at the beginning of the season, he has fallen out of cloud nine and into more of a supporting role. No longer do you see Lin holding the ball with the clock ticking down. That role was handed off to James Harden. Lin’s strengths are his ability to attack the rim, absorb contact, and finish. He’s an average mid-range shooter who likes to shoot from the elbow and foul line if the drive isn’t there. Lin’s weakness may be his sustainability. During the opening round series versus the Oklahoma City Thunder, Lin received an upper-body injury that limited his play and forced him out of Games 2 and 3. Ironically, Games 2 and 3 are the only two games the Rockets won against the Thunder, eventually falling in game six. When Lin managed to get into the game, his impact was minimal, averaging a measly 4.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and 2.0 APG. While Lin may not be an attack first type of player, his mindset is similar to Tony Parker in that he is always looking for ways to create opportunities for his teammates.

  • Biggest Question: Can Lin be a reliable, consistent point guard?

Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks, 4th Season:

In a rather guard heavy draft in 2009, Jeff Teague started just 10 games combined in his first two seasons in the league. Other notable guards picked before Teague, who went 19th; Stephen Curry, Ricky Rubio, Ty Lawson, and Jrue Holiday. Teague began to show signs of a worthy draft pick late in the 2012 playoffs, where he averaged 14.0 PPG and 4.0 APG respectively. This year’s NBA Playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks had an early exit, but Teague finished with 14.0 PPG and 5.0 APG. Teague’s game flourishes when he is able to create turnovers with his quick and speedy defense. Along with his defense, the turnovers he creates led to fast break and transition points which only help buffer his stats. Between his second and third year in the league, Teague’s stat line jumped from 5.2/2.0/1.5 (PPG/APG/RPG) to 12.6/4.9/2.4. After the Hawks early exit in this year’s NBA Playoffs, Teague finished the season averaging 14.6/7.2/2.3 and continued to show improvement in all areas of his game. During his third year Teague also was top ten in the league in steals and steals per game. Potential is one of the top characteristics an NBA looks for when evaluating players. Now every player will not end up being like Michael Jordan, Teague’s consistent improvement year after year shows the coaching staff and fans that he can be an extremely talented point guard in this league.

  • Biggest Question: Can Teague show the league how much he continues to improve?

The “On the Rise” Group:

Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets, 4th Season:

There’s no doubt that if you need to win a footrace, Ty Lawson will be your pick. Easily one of the fastest point guard’s in the league, Lawson’s ability to change his pace and stop on a dime, explode to the rim, and shoot the ball well from the perimeter make him a matchup nightmare for opponents. Not many defenders can run with Lawson all game and one of the reasons why the Denver Nuggets averaged the most points per game in the regular season is due to Lawson’s ability to move quickly. Representing a new breed of point guards, Lawson’s agility is easily one of his best qualities. He has missed multiple games due to nagging leg injuries, which are usually resolved by a day or two of rest. Look for Lawson to remain a consistent competitor throughout his career and in the years to come.

  • Biggest question: Can Lawson step up and become the face of the team?

Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat, 5th Season:

One of the most interesting point guards over the past couple years is Mario Chalmers. Famously known for his buzzer beating shot to help Kansas knock off Memphis in the 2008 NCAA Basketball Finals, Chalmers has had opportunities that many other players haven’t had. Chalmers has been lucky enough to have played in the NBA Finals three out of his five seasons. If that wasn’t enough, he’s had the privilege to play alongside two of the top ten players in the league, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Besides not having a true center, the biggest criticism of the Miami Heat is their lack of a true point guard. Chalmers has a knack for disappearing during stretches of games. Whether he is shooting the ball well or not, he is going to average heavy minutes as he’s averaged 8.0 points per game in the NBA Finals while logging an average of 27.6 minutes per game. His strengths rely on his ability to hit shots early in the game to spark the Heat offense and spread the floor more. He’s a streaky shooter who can hit from deep but what is a little concerning is that in twenty-one playoff games this season, he’s only managed to eclipse five assists 3 times.

  • Biggest question: Can Chalmers prove that he doesn’t need James or Wade to produce big numbers?

George Hill, Indiana Pacers, 5th Season:

Coming out of the 2008 draft class, which featured the likes of Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, and Russell Westbrook, George Hill is someone to keep your eye on. Originally drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, Hill moved to Indiana to start the 2011-2012 season. Hill is an extremely strong player, capable of shooting from distance and also driving hard in the lane. Coming off his first season in Indiana, Hill averaged 9.6/2.9/3.0 during the regular season. Although it was in a losing effort, Hill averaged 14.2/4.7/3.7 against the Miami Heat in NBA playoffs. What is promising from a point guard standpoint is the increase in assists from 2.9 to 4.7. Hill has the ability, similar to Tony Parker, to control the tempo of the game. His confidence with the ball is promising for someone who still has many years left in the league. Hill creates efficient offense for the Pacers but there is always room for improvement. He also has long, lanky arms that can pester whomever he defends. If Hill can commit to the defensive side of the ball and allow his defense to create offense, the Pacers may finally break through and finally defeat the Heat.

  • Biggest question: Can Hill compliment the breakout of Paul George to become the next big duo? (Other big duos: Durant-Westbrook, James-Wade, Duncan-Parker)

Mike Conley Jr., Memphis Grizzlies, 6th Season:

For those that want to see one of the new studs at the point guard position, Mike Conley Jr. is a sight to see. Over the past four seasons and possible 303 games played, not including playoffs, Conley has started in 302 of them. Conley has made an immediate impact on the Memphis Grizzles and his play reflects the characteristics of his team. A defensive-minded, team-oriented, grinding type style of play has led to the emergence of the Grizzles as a new contender in the Western Conference and Conley has a lot to do with that. His decision making ability is his best asset. In the regular season, Conley finished averaging, 14.6/6.1/2.8. In the playoffs, his numbers grew to 17.0/7.1/4.7. What more can you ask for? Conley loves high pick-and-roll situations where he uses his basketball IQ to read defenses. Depending on the positioning of his defender, he knows when it’s time to attack the basket, spot up for a jump shot, or dish the ball to a teammate. I like to call Conley a Steve Nash 2.0 (More on this later).

  • Biggest question: Can Conley continue to help spear the resurgence of the Grizzlies?

Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks, 4th Season:

Finally, we begin to tap into what the new breed of point guards is all about. Brandon Jennings may be one of the finest examples. After reading last week’s piece, you can see there has been a change in the way the point guard position has been played. There is very few pass-first point guards left in the league and more are sprouting up like Brandon Jennings. Simply put, Jennings likes to shoot. What gets Jennings into trouble is that he has become the player that his team depends upon to score. This is a huge change in perspective from a few years ago. Usually your point guard would run a play for your go to player, but when your go to player is also the point guard, things get tricky. Jennings has yet to harness the ability to understand when it is right or wrong to take a shot. There is no question that he embraces the role and pressure of hitting the big shot, but sometimes his play can hurt his team. When a point guard begins to think that he must make the basket or that he must make the play, sometimes selfish play results and this is what hurts Jennings. He is a phenomenal shooter when he heats up and an extremely good ball handler, but his defense and decision-making must improve.

  • Biggest question: Does Jennings have what it takes to become dependable in crunch time?

The “I Have My Own Style” Group:

Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls, 4th Season:

What makes Derrick Rose so special? Every step on the court is explosive and with purpose. His will to carry a team earned him MVP honors in 2011 and this past season was a goose egg on an otherwise astounding resume. Rose may not have played a game since 2012, but there is no question he is among the NBA’s elite players. Rose has so much explosiveness, yet so much control. This is what makes him so dangerous and terrifying to guard. This is where we see another new breed of point guard style. A style based on hardnosed driving and shot creation. Shot creation essentially is a player’s ability to turn a poor shot attempt into high percentage shot attempt. Rose provides this exceptionally well because of his ability to pivot, cut, or drive through the lane with ease. Spectators of the game are always looking for ways in which players improve their game. Rose did just that when he started to focus on shooting the three-point shot more effectively. This is what makes Rose so important to the Bulls. He leads by example, never afraid to play hard and physical, which is something that most point guards shy away from. Rose has averaged 36.8 minutes per game during his four year spell in the NBA. This is impressive considering the physical toll his body takes from colliding with bodies on a nightly basis. The biggest question for Rose is whether or not his ACL injury will hinder his ability to play with the same explosiveness and intensity from previous years.

  • Biggest question: Does D-Rose come back playing like the old D-Rose?

Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets, 8th Season:

There are a select few players in the league who have a big impact during their rookie season. Deron Williams is one of those players. After finishing his rookie season averaging 10.8/4.5/2.4, he jumped to 16.2/9.3/3.3 in his sophomore campaign. In eight seasons, Williams has averaged double digit assists in four of them. Don’t let the assists catch you off guard, Williams can get hot and it doesn’t take long. This past season he hit eleven three-pointers in one game. He’s extremely quick off the dribble and his ball handling is second to none. There aren’t many negative aspects with his game but there wasvsomething that plagued him at times this past season. He just disappeared for games. Numerous times during the season he’d have a strong 20 point, 10 assist night and follow that up with a measly 6 point, 5 assist night. When Williams starts to settle for long-range jumpers instead of slashing in the lane and dishing the ball out to teammates, you know it may be an off night. While Williams’s talent level is extremely high, he has the same problem that Mario Chalmers occasionally has. They both will play 25-30 minutes but barely contribute on the offensive end. Chalmers has an excuse because he is falls down the pecking order behind James, Wade, and Bosh but Williams is the leader of the team and no team can win with their best player underperforming.

  • Biggest question: Is Williams capable of delivering an MVP-caliber season?

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics, 7th Season:

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo

 

There may not be a nickname for Rajon Rondo, but he might as well be called a walking double-double. Dating back to the 2011-2012 season and a portion of the 2012-2013 season, Rondo had a streak of 37 games with 10 or more assists; the second longest streak of all time behind Magic Johnson. He’s lead the league in assists and triple-doubles the past two years. Unfortunately, Rondo’s biggest enemy is himself. He demands so much of himself and sometimes that hurts him and the team. Mentally the game escapes him sometimes and there seems to a correlation between how he plays and the type of television broadcast. It’s safe to say that in playoff time, where most games are nationally televised, Rondo becomes more of an attacker and less of a distributor. Take your pick.

In games that are NOT nationally televised:

PPG

RPG

APG

STL

BPG

FGA

TO

13.0

5.3

11.6

1.8

.2

11.6

4.1

In games that ARE nationally televised:

PPG

RPG

APG

STL

BPG

FGA

TO

16.1

6.8

10.2

2.3

.5

13.7

3.6

  • Biggest question: Can Rondo carry the load as the Celtics begin to rebuild?

The “New Wave” Group:

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder, 4th Season:

Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook

 

What makes Russell Westbrook part of the new wave? He likes to shoot…a lot. When he does, it’s a flip of the coin. Either he is going to make most of them and have a good night or he is going to miss nearly every shot and it turns into a long night. Westbrook is an extremely fast paced guard. You can say he likes to control the tempo, but the tempo is always fast. He pushes the ball and doesn’t give the defense a chance to get set up. When he does start to push the ball, he developed two lethal moves. The first is a pure explosive drive to the hoop. Derrick Rose and he have a lot in common when it comes to driving at the basket because both generate tremendous power. The second move is a magnificent looking and perfectly timed pull up jump shot. These two moves are his claim to fame and it’s near impossible to stop. The only downfall to Westbrook, other than poor shooting performances, is how important of a player he thinks he is. There are times when the Thunder are under stress and those are the times where Kevin Durant must save the team, but Westbrook thinks anything Durant can do, he can do as well.

  • Biggest question: Can Westbrook accept that he is #2 behind Durant?

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, 3rd Season:

There used to be a battle between who was a better pure-shooter, Ray Allen or Reggie Miller? After the Golden State Warriors made some noise in this year’s playoff run, Stephen Curry may get to enter the debate. Calling his past year a breakout year may be an understatement because Curry has been on many team’s radars for a long time now. There is no question he can shoot but a big theme with some of the other point guards is their improvement. Can Curry take the playoff experience he’s gained and add another weapon to his arsenal? Such has looking to get his team involved and driving harder to the basket. He had some circus drives in the first round of the NBA Playoffs but eventually he will need to build some more muscle to absorb the contact. Clearly the theme of the new wave is the point guard’s mentality to shoot more often. Curry is the prime example. Curry’s main concern is his weak ankles. Staying healthy has a direct impact on Curry’s potential success in the league.

  • Biggest question: Can Curry stay healthy?

The “Old-Fashioned” Group:

Raymond Felton, New York Knicks, 8th Season:

It seems odd to mention Raymond Felton alongside these other great guards but remember this piece isn’t measuring the best sixteen guards, just their styles. That being said, Felton is a treat to watch. He isn’t the fastest guard or the guard you’re going to rely on to take the last shot, but he’s a floor general. He runs the offense efficiently and really is Mike Woodson’s voice on the court. He plays surprisingly tough defense, but his decision making and court sense put him in this group. He excels when he gets a high pick and is able to read and react to the defense. Felton has never failed to average more than 5.5 assists in a season and never failed to average more than 10 points in a season. He is a quintessential cog to the Knicks team and his style of play defines the style in which the Knicks play. Felton never shies away from the spotlight, he embraces it and better than that, he plays within himself. Felton is the kind of player who will sacrifice the numbers to get the result, and that’s something that is harder to come by in the league today.

  • Biggest question: Can Felton help Carmelo Anthony challenge the Heat in the Eastern Conference?

Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers, 16th Season:

What an honor it has been watching Steve Nash play year after year. There may not be a better guard in a pick and roll situation than Nash. His passing is spectacular, his free throw shooting is above average, and his basketball IQ is off the charts. Nash has led the league in assists five times during his career as well as adding two consecutive MVP trophies in 2005 and 2006. While he may be older now, Nash relies more on the mental aspect of his game rather than the physical. He isn’t going to break you down off the dribble or blow by you with speed. He’s going to methodically pick your defense apart. He’ll make the extra pass, stretch the defense and before you know it the balls sinking through the hoop. (This is where Mike Conley is the Steve Nash 2.0…Conley is capable of doing all of these things because he pays attention to detail but what separates him from Nash, and why he’s the “2.0” version, is his ability to have the extra explosive step Nash never had. This makes Conley a lethal passer and driver). While his offensive execution is second to none, where his weakness lies comes on the other side of the ball. Maybe considered an average defender, he doesn’t have the speed to keep up with the likes of Russell Westbrook for a full game. As Nash becomes older, the nagging injuries become bigger obstacles for him. As an NBA fan, appreciate the way Nash plays because he’s one-of-a-kind and he’ll be gone before you know it. Nash also would rank high on the list of best players to NOT win an NBA Championship.

  • Biggest question: How many more seasons does Nash have left in the tank?

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers, 8th Season:

For the past few years, Chris Paul’s name has been the answer to this question by almost everyone, “Who is the best point guard in the NBA?” and rightfully so. Paul has consistently been the most productive point guard in the league. Paul has averaged an impressive 18.6 PPG and 9.8 APG over eight seasons in the league. Paul won Rookie of the Year in 2006, has led the league in assists twice (2008,2009) and led the league in steals five times (2008,2009,2011,2012,2013). Unfortunately, Paul’s biggest enemy may be the playoffs. While posting similar numbers in the playoffs (20.9 PPG and 9.5 APG), he has never managed to reach the Conference finals in five post-season trips (three with the then-New Orleans Hornets and two with the Los Angeles Clippers). Paul embodies very different styles and mentalities in a point guard. He has the ability to create his own shot, which means he is the one his team looks for in crunch time. His best trait may be his composure with the ball. His ball handling is elegant; his passing is unparalleled; and more importantly his commercials are entertaining.

  • Biggest question: Can Paul reach the NBA Finals at some point during his career?

Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs, 12th Season:

For a more in depth analysis of Tony Parker, refer to Part I.

The “Honorable Mention” Group:

While these sixteen point guards mentioned above are all talented players, there are always some that get snubbed from the playoffs. Here are other guards to look out for.

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers:

He’s sort of fast. So don’t blink.

Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves:

Great handling. Even better passing.

Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers:

Don’t give him space or he’ll blow by you.

While point guards are an important part of the game, their styles are always changing. This has led to new promising talent and even more exciting games. As speed and explosiveness become more popular in a point guard, the more polished guards know that one upping someone isn’t about beating your defender on a nice lay-up, it’s about winning games when it matters most. This is why the style of your team’s point guard can define how successful your team is. I think we can all agree the San Antonio Spurs are glad that Tony Parker is theirs.

Joe Meola

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