Words by Phlip
Personally, I blame Stockton and Malone…
They rode the pick-and-roll (which NO ONE in the NBA can defend to this day, 30 years later) to the Hall-of-fame. Jordan and his band of achievers prevented them from taking it to a championship, as they did so many others cursed to have to play in the 90s.
When the as-applied-by-the-Bulls approach of not having a classic Point Guard worked to the tune of a dynasty, NO ONE really bothered to have one, opting simply to have a guy who could bring the ball up the court and letting the offense work itself out. Sure, there were teams during this time that employed Point Guards, but it was more a matter of convenience and tradition as it related to physical size than anything resembling necessity.
Next thing you know, it is 2003, and the second great Lakers dynasty – who also lacked a “traditional” Point Guard – came crashing down to the Detroit Pistons in a series that featured one Chauncey Billups, who will come up a little later in this presentation. Immediately upon this taking place, the league was put on notice, in that no more of these “combo guards” (ahem, Iverson) running the point would get it in the league.
At the same time, a certain Mike D’Antoni was hired in Phoenix where he would install a frantic “shoot the ball in 7 seconds or fewer” offense predicated on getting out and running on rebounds, or a quick screen/roll in the half court, both of which happen to necessitate a Point Guard with the legs and basketball IQ to make work. Call it a hybrid of “Stockton to Malone” and Showtime Lakers with none of the defense. Lo and behold, this took Steve Nash from “that funny looking dude in Dallas” to perennial All-Star and two-time MVP. No, it didn’t create any championships, but it had EVERYONE’S attention.
From then, every team in the league TRIED to shore up their point guard spot, much to the point where now, 8 years later, roughly two-thirds of the league can lay claim to being “pleased” with their current point guard situation. Colleges are turning out more hotshot big-scoring Point Guards like Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Russell Westbrook and, to a lesser extent Stephen Curry. We’re seeing more of the traditional PG with SUPER high court vision and basketball IQs, like Rajon Rondo and the oft-compared Chris Paul and Deron Williams. The too-young-to-judge-yet, but highly talented and showy Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving and my rookie-of-the-year pick, Ricky Rubio. See what I did there? Those 10 names, the ones the media has us TRAINED to rattle off first when discussing NBA Point Guards, make up a third of the league’s starting PGs, and we won’t even delve into the fact that both Paul and Rubio both have two more on the bench behind them, and that neglects to mention the fact that Chris Paul’s starting backcourt mate until a season-ending injury last week was, himself a Point Guard by trade.
[Phlip note – I guess we DID mention it, huh?]
What we’re seeing here is another shift in the way we do things. Gone are the days where a Point Guard EXCLUSIVELY did one of two things…
- 1. brought the ball up the court, tossed it in to his Center in the post, to draw a double team and then pass back out to an open shooter.
- 2. facilitated a motion offense in wait for someone to become open enough to shoot.
This could have EVERYTHING to do with the fact that kids these days – despite being taller than we were – are not interested in playing Center, even if they DO make it to the prescribed height, and there are far too many top-level athletes in the NBA for a motion offense to work once out of college.
Again, the fact that three top-level, or who we should believe to be top-level, teams in Miami, Los Angeles (the Varsity team) and the Knickerbockers (more on them in a sec) have been hurting for PG play this season should not suggest that it isn’t available to be had. The guard has been changed, literally. The elite scorers are not the Shooting Guards so much anymore, they’ve moved a spot to the Small Forward position, and Point Guards are playing their position for profit again. The OG’s of the league are still where we expect them to be, that being Tony Parker (who, by the way is only 29), Steve Nash, and Jason Kidd. They hold the mantle and it is theirs to pass.
And back to the Knicks, mercilessly ridiculed for their lack of PG play in a system that NEEDS one to produce points and wins. They happened upon one sitting on their D-League team and gave him a shot. Bear in mind that ‘Antoni’s (no D) system will make a mediocre PG who keeps his eyes open and maintains his dribble into a good-almost great PG and WILL take a great PG to the hall of fame. Right now, Jeremy Lin is above mediocre and primed to be great in this system and – if what we’ve seen to this point is not a fluke – would do well in most others, because he seems to have his head on straight enough to take coaching. That and he is America’s Asian Sports Crush of the moment.
And there you have it, somewhere between 2003 and now, the NBA Center is an endangered species and the NBA Point Guard began a return from the brink of it, which has brought us back to where we are right now. The bonus is that (mostly) properly executed basketball by at least one team on the court on a given night’s televised games has made for some INFINITELY entertaining basketball and a few surprising teams, namely Denver, Indiana and Philly to name a few.