Fixing The NBA’s Point Guard Problem
An ocean of talent, but wrongly dispersed.
Right now, the NBA has an abundance of great point guards who approach the game differently: there are selfless playmakers like Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo, flashier scoring-guards like Russell Westbrook and league MVP Derrick Rose, old school veterans who always seem to be making the right play when it counts like Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups, and guys who simply do it all in Chris Paul and Deron Williams.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these approaches to the game, but so often a point guard is simply on the wrong team. It seems that for all the perfect matches between teams and their point guards, there are even more mismatches. Guys like Tony Parker and Mike Conley work perfectly into their respective systems, but after watching teams which dominated the regular season falter in the postseason, it’s clear that some teams have serious point guard issues. Let me point out some point guard problems that a simple trade could fix.
This one seems fairly unlikely, which is not to say it doesn’t make sense or that it’s not my favorite of all of these. Rondo has done an incredible job growing alongside Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen since 2006, but with Garnett and Allen both entering the final year of their respective contracts, Big 3 will probably be broken up a year from now. With that will come a Boston team featuring Rondo, probably Jeff Green and possibly Glen Davis as its centerpieces, and one has to wonder if there will be enough offense there to be successful.
Boston would do well to pick up a big time scorer, which is exactly what Russell Westbrook is starting to look like. Westbrook had more than his share of struggles during the Thunder’s postseason run, but perhaps the fault lies more with the system he’s in than, well, with him. After all, he did average 24 points per game in the playoffs, although he did it on 39% shooting from the floor.
The Thunder need a point guard who passes first, setting up Kevin Durant and James Harden to be the leading scorers rather than one who tries too hard to make things happen on his own. Unfortunately, Westbrook is shaping into the latter. In fact, it looks like he might be more of a shooting guard trapped in a point guard’s body than anything, much like Allen Iverson when he first started in the league. Once Iverson was allowed to roam free as a shooting guard who sometimes brought the ball up, he was able to develop into prolific the scorer that he became.
Westbrook’s stats this season are very reminiscent of Iverson’s in his rookie season. He averaged 22 points, eight assists and 4.5 boards per game this season, while AI had a slash of 23.5/7.5/4 in his rookie campaign. Judging from his performance in the playoffs, it seems clear that Westbrook just doesn’t fit in the Thunder system as well as most (including myself) initially thought, and a change of scenery, especially to a place where he can be the “man”, might be exactly what he needs.
As for Rondo, he’d fit in perfectly with OKC, where he’d be more of a distributor than Westbrook while playing his patented lockdown defense. The Thunder played so many games that were close down the stretch this postseason, and it was absolutely shocking to see how infrequently Kevin Durant, the league’s leading scorer, touched the ball when his team needed points most. Much of this blame has to be put on coach Scott Brooks’ play calling, but Westbrook was ultimately making the decisions. Driving and missing, turning it over or giving it to Durant 30 feet away from the hoop with under ten seconds on the shot clock just isn’t good enough.
These problems wouldn’t exist with Rondo, who always looks to pass first and has found himself in many clutch situations with superstars and made it work in the past. OKC wouldn’t be breaking from their youth movement by sending away the 22-year-old Westbrook for Rondo, who is only three years older and has five years of experience and two trips to the Finals under his belt. By the way, the Finals appearances were made with Kendrick Perkins, who he’d be teaming up with once again, this time in Oklahoma City. Boston and OKC surprised us once already this year with the Green-Perkins trade, so who knows. Maybe they’ll surprise us again.
The Timberwolves, as bad as they are, appear to have one point guard too many with Ricky Rubio planning on playing for them next season. Jonny Flynn was curiously taken by Minnesota just a pick after Rubio in 2009, and with Rubio finally committing to the TWolves, it looks like Flynn will be delegated to the bench. His career numbers are hardly where many expected them to be (10.3 points, four assists and one steal per game), but a strong rookie campaign proved that he can be a successful starting point guard.
The perfect team for him to go to would be the Knicks, who could ease him into a starting gig by having him split minutes with Chauncey Billups in year one, and possibly further into the future. The combination would allow New York to either play Flynn if Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are playing well and a distributor is needed or Billups if the offense is really lacking.
The trade would also allow New York to pursue Marc Gasol as well as a deeper bench in free agency rather than hold their money and hope they can land Chris Paul / Dwight Howard next season. Did I mention Flynn is a New York native with a certain brand of toughness that the team sorely needed against the Celtics in Round 1?
Despite one Brandon Roy-led incredible comeback in the postseason against Dallas in round one this year, it’s clear the Blazers are simply missing something. It could be an Andre Miller problem. Although shockingly productive based on numbers (13 points, seven assists, 1.5 steals per game this season), Miller doesn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the team, especially Roy. Perhaps the right fit for Portland is Steve Nash, who would run the pick-and-roll with LaMarcus Aldridge beautifully while taking significant pressure off Roy. With Aldridge’s emergence as a total stud, the Blazers are nearly there, but they need the player that brings it all together for them. Nobody fits that bill better than Nash, and as he’s hitting free agency after this season, he could actually be available on the trade market. By moving him now, the Suns could create a starting job for former Most Improved Player of the Year Aaron Brooks, who would otherwise just be used off the bench.
As for Miller, he’d be a perfect fit on Mike Brown’s Lakers. Brown won’t be running the Triangle Offense, which means that a point guard who can bring up the ball and pass better than Steve Blake or Derek Fisher will be needed, and Miller could definitely be that guy. He certainly doesn’t look to create his own shot, and when working with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum (or Dwight Howard) and Lamar Odom, that’s more than okay.
The Nuggets were remarkably good this season post-Carmelo Anthony, but they got smacked out of the playoffs by the Thunder. From that series, it became pretty clear that their best course of action is not to keep two point guards around — Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton — while they struggle mightily down low. Many teams would be delighted to have either Lawson or Felton, and the fit I like most is Felton in Atlanta. The Hawks tried to solve their point guard problems by trading for Kirk Hinrich mid-season, but he averaged only 8.5 points to go along with 3.3 assists over 24 games. When the playoffs came, he was injured for many of their games and ineffective in the rest. Second-year player Jeff Teague has shown really nice flashes at times, but this team is too talented and too old to start him and wait for his game to develop.
Picking up Felton would give Atlanta the natural point guard they needed so badly against the Bulls in the playoffs. Seeing what Felton did with Amar’e Stoudemire at his side in New York should let the Hawks know how he’ll handle working with Josh Smith, a similarly off-the-charts athlete who loves to run the pick-and-roll. Felton’s blue-collar grit makes up for his erratic shooting, and with just one year remaining on his contract, he is the perfect guy to have right now until Teague is ready.
With mediocre teams like the Timberwolves, Suns and Nuggets having multiple quality point guards, maybe the league’s problem isn’t that it needs more skilled point guards. Maybe they just need to be shuffled around.