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In Defense of Point Guards

Published: October 14, 2010

Building a championship team around a point guard has been unsuccessful in the past 20 years, but that’s not to say that it isn’t still a good course of action. Zach Harper poses the question, “Should you build your team with a point[guard]?“, in a recent article on TrueHoop:

You’ve got a chance to draft a star point guard and make him the face of your franchise. He’ll easily be as good as Chris Paul. He’ll be as big as Deron Williams. He’ll be as athletic as Derrick Rose. He’ll do a little bit of everything like Rajon Rondo.

Would you build your team around this player?

Seems like a no-brainer, but the more I think about the NBA and what it takes to win, I don’t think I’d be willing to build any team around a point guard. The game just doesn’t work that way anymore if you want to win titles.

He goes on to present his case, looking at the title winning point guards over the past 20 years and breaking down their relevance on their respective title teams. The list turns up only one who was arguably the best player on the team, Chauncey Billups, who Zach argues wasn’t really the centerpiece of that team:

The one possible outlier is Billups, who was named Finals MVP in 2004 and helped the Pistons regain some glory. But was that Pistons team really built around him? Wasn’t it essentially built around Ben Wallace, defensive prowess and buoyed by the midseason acquisition of Rasheed Wallace? Billups ended up being their best player for a few season, but it’s hard to confidently say he was the focal point of those teams.

And he’s right. There hasn’t been a point guard in the past two decades to lead their team to a title. We interpret that data a little bit differently though. While I will agree with Zach about most things (like how to prepare for a 9am basketball game), I don’t agree with his conclusions on this one.

First off, most great point guards of the past 20 years haven’t been that historically great. Of those that arguably have been (Paul, Williams, Stockton, Kidd, Payton, Nash), two have been in the league for less time than it took MJ to win a title, [edit– and three made the finals]. As for Nash, he took some tough breaks against the Spurs, and his defense is awful. That’s all I have to say about him.

Of the three best point guards in the past twenty years that have finished playing, two have been painfully close to winning titles. Stockton was Jordan-ed for God’s sake!

It’s also hard to include Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the category of great point guards of the past two decades not to win titles because their teams have thus far been almost entirely unwilling to spend over the luxury tax line. If you’re looking for the reason Paul and Williams aren’t contending, that may be the more likely culprit.

On another note, there really hasn’t been a player on par with the pure basketball skills of Chris Paul since Isiah, who was also the last point guard to lead his team to a title. Sure, some people are going to claim Williams, Stockton, or Jason Kidd are up there, but get real. If you’re going to choose the best player of that bunch (when healthy) it’s going to be Paul.

I’m not going to sit here and predict what would have happened in 2007-2008 if somehow Pau Gasol had wound up on the Hornets instead of the Lakers, but it’s possible that there could be discussion taking place about how well building around a star point guard works. It would only have taken one strange deal being a little more strange to change the way we view the NBA. Butterfly effect, baby!

In my mind, a sure fire way to compete for NBA titles is combining a star big man, a superstar play maker who is able to take over games, and an owner willing to foot the bill for whatever else the coach needs. It doesn’t matter if that play maker is a point guard, a shooting guard, or a small forward, as long as he can take the ball in crunch time and deliver.

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edit- Mikey wrote about building around a PG a while back in our Journal Section.


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