The PG Conundrum & Other NBA Stories

Posted on June 7, 2011 | 3 Comments

Another year in Raptorland, another summer of uncertainty over the PG situation. You think it’s difficult for Raptor fans, try being Jose Calderon.  He’s lived through T.J. Ford, Jarrett Jack and now Jerryd Bayless. Everyone of those players had better physical skills than Calderon, but none of them could ultimately replace him.

Why? Because none of them actually possessed the skill that Calderon had that has continually put him back in charge of the team’s offense again and again: The ability to run a team and make his teammates better.

If this year’s playoffs have showed us one thing (and they’ve shown us more than that, but that’s for another post), it’s the importance of someone who can distribute the ball and make those around him better. In most cases, that’s your PG.

Russell Westbrook, despite his All-Star season, is rumoured to be not as secure in Oklahoma as he was before the playoffs after it became apparent that he’s still not a true PG, something that hurt the Thunder against the Mavs.

Speaking of the Mavs, Jason Kidd, despite the fact that he’s closer in age to me than his teammate, Dirk, has been able to help lead his team to the NBA FInals.

But wait, you say, Miami doesn’t have a great PG on their team and they’re in the NBA Finals, too! Yes, but none of their PGs actually run the team. That’s up to two of the best players in the league, in LeBron James and Dywane Wade, and LeBron maybe the best passing SF the game has seen since Larry Bird. So, unless you have a truly transcendent passer at another position, it’s probably best if you have a PG that can actually run an offense and make his teammates better.

That’s why the upcoming draft is such a concern with me. The player that seems to be the most probable Raptor, come June 23rd, seems to be Brandon Knight. Now, I have nothing against Brandon Knight. I think he’s a very good player and, from what I gather, is a very intelligent young man. My problem, however, is that he doesn’t seem to actually be a point guard. None of his strengths (size, scoring ability) are those that you’d look for in a point guard and his weaknesses (questionable decision making, turnover prone, not a great passer) are kind of red flags for a point guard, don’t you think?

The argument I’ve heard supporting drafting him is that he can learn the point guard position. Lots of players have come into the league with questionable PG skills and flourished, haven’t they? Well, no. Not really.

In the last ten years, 19 PGs with universally questionable PG skills have been drafted in the first round: Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, Jonny Flynn, Jrue Holiday, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Jerryd Bayless, George Hill, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Shannon Brown, Nate Robinson, Luther Head, Ben Gordon, Devin Harris, Delonte West, Kirk Hinrich, Marcus Banks and Juan Dixon.

And that’s not including scoring PGs, who showed the ability to run an offense in college, but whose best attribute was probably scoring, like John Wall or Derrick Rose. It also doesn’t include those that were really SGs, but their teams decided to try and convert them to PG, like Tyreke Evans, Randy Foye and Joe Forte.

Now, there are a lot of talented players on that list. But there are also a lot of players who either have been shipped around from team to team because teams end up longing for a real PG to run their offense, or simply become bench players who can provide instant offense off the bench. And only one of those players have been able to lead his team past the first round of the playoffs as a starting PG. Russell Westbrook. And, as I mentioned, Westbrook’s lack of true PG skills is coming back to haunt him.

Coincidentally, a lot of those PGs with questionable PG skills have been on the wish lists of a lot of Raptor fans over the years. And not coincidentally, most of them have been on the trading block numerous times. The reason is that, despite their offensive skills, teams begin to tire of their inability to actually do what a point guard is supposed to do and run an offense and make those around him better.

The latest is current Minnesota Timberwolves “PG”, Jonny Flynn, who apparently is a favourite of many to be traded to the Raptors. Minnesota surprised many when they selected Flynn as high as they did, and he responded by giving them a mediocre rookie season and a horrible sophomore season. When he came out of Syracuse, NBADraft.net had this to say about him:

Lockdown defender on the perimeter. Flynn enjoys playing defense and seems to take pride in shutting down opposing point guards… Has the basketball IQ, focus and skills to excel as a pick-and-roll point guard at the next level… More of a scorer than a distributor. Detractors question his ability to play the point guard position and run a team. Is he a natural point guard? Is he really ready? On the positive side, he’s a heady player who will likely learn as he goes and improve… Will need to adapt to not having the ball in his hands all the time when he gets to the NBA … Will also have to limit turnovers … Flynn averaged 3.4 TOs per game as a sophomore…

I’m not quite sure WHY everyone seems to want this guy. I have nothing against him, but he really doesn’t seem to be a PG and he certainly hasn’t impressed anyone so far in his NBA career.

Interestingly, Brandon Knight is considered to be an excellent defender, with a high IQ and very good at running the pick and roll. He’s also got questionable PG skills and there are real questions whether he can play the point in the NBA. He’s got many of the same strengths and weaknesses attributed to Flynn when he came out of college.

So what is it exactly about these PGs that lack PG skills that seem to attract so many Raptor fans? I really have no idea. If the survivability of Calderon as a Raptor shows us anything it’s that the ability to run a team trumps just about any other skill a PG has. There are certain skills in the NBA that are instinctual. Rebounding is instinctual. Players either can do it or they can’t. It’s why a guy like Bargnani can’t seem to rebound consistently despite obvious physical abilities, yet a guy like Reggie Evans, who is shorter than most others at his position, rebounds like a demon in heat. Playing the point is instinctual. You can’t think when you’re out there, you have to react instinctively. That’s why so many combo guards struggle, and ultimately fail, to make the transition. Because while they can understand HOW to play the position, they never acquire the instincts of a PG.

Speaking of combo guards, I read today that Monta Ellis is rumoured to possibly be on the move to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala. Now, if this is true, it doesn’t surprise me at all considering that Jerry West was hired in an advisory role recently. Now, it makes no sense from Philadelphia’s perspective, since they already have an offensive minded, undersized SG on their roster, in Lou Williams, but from Golden State’s it makes perfect sense. Iguodala would upgrade their defense and passing, which are two major weaknesses for the team. Iguodala is the perfect backcourt partner for Curry, who is not a true PG, because he does everything well that Curry struggles at. Now if only they can get rid of David Lee for someone who actually plays defense…

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Comments

  • stretch

    The “survivability of Calderon as a Raptor” is based on the Bobcats reneging on an agreed upon trade for him.

    He is more of a typical ball distributor as a pg but he’s only still on the team because they couldn’t get rid of him last off season.

  • http://www.wearingfilm.com Tim W.

    Yes, true, but Calderon keeps beating out these guys for the starting job time and time again. I think there’s a very good reason for that.

  • Statement

    Calderon is on the block because he is expensive and can’t stay healthy, but he is clearly superior to any of the alternatives that the raptors have or have been rumoured to be interested in.

    I’ve never understood the hate for this guy.

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