Gil Doesn’t Get It

by March 12, 2008
12

By Vincent Thomas

Don’t get me wrong, I dig Gilbert Arenas. Gil happens to be one of my main dudes in the league. And, yes, I dig his blog. I dig his rookie-season stories about getting toasted by Gary Payton, his insane admissions about going on “strike” with wifey and sleeping at a gym for seven days, his candor on contract negotiations — I dig all that. I even dug his childish, attention-whoring post that called for fans to vote him into an All-Star Game that he can’t physically play in. Some folks call Gill quirky; I call Gil giddy. There’s something schoolboyish about him. Schoolboys, however, are sophomoric. That’s cool when you’re writing a trailblazing blog — that’s where schoolboy antics would motivate a pro athlete to divulge bizarre stories about pube-shaving mishaps. That stuff is funny. It’s not funny when an NBA point guard writes a small-minded, schoolboy blog post about the “Perception of a Point Guard” and utters words and thoughts so brick-headed and ignorant that you struggle to understand whether he’s that dense or if there is something conniving going on.

A few days ago, Gil wrote this mumble-jumble about point guards, making it clear that he failed to take advantage of his observatory time on the bench in plain clothes. Instead of studying Andre Iguodala’s contract negotiations, Gil should’ve been studying Chauncey Billups. Then, not only would he have had a less toddler-like understanding of what makes a “pure point guard”, but he’d also have been studying this generation’s greatest example of how a small guard with a scorer’s mentality adjusted his game and mastered the one, all-important point-guard duty: running an offense.

Gil’s assertion, based on what he wrote, was that, in order to be a “pure point guard”, you had to pass much more than you shoot. “I was like, ‘Who are the point guards in the league today? How many are there if there are any?’ We came up with the superstars. There was Jason Kidd at No. 1 … and from there, you could argue. Who’s a “pass-first” point? Who’s a “pure” point? Steve Nash? I don’t know.”

SLAM Fam: can you believe that Gilbert Arenas — one of the highest profile athletes in the NBA, a seven-year vet, a future Max Contract Guy, with basketball as his trade — questioned whether Steve Nash is a “pure” point guard?! That’s like Greg Oden wondering whether Shaq is a pure center.

Then he hits us with this doozy: “Who were the point guards back in the day? Muggsy Bogues, Stockton, Terrell Brandon…” So, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Mo Cheeks, Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson, Mark Price — these dudes weren’t point guards, I’m guessing they must have been something else.

It gets worse. Throughout the blog, he hits us with these torrents of illogic thought, rube-talk, such as: “You would say Chris Paul … but what if he didn’t have the assists, would he still be pure points? Like Steve Nash, he’s averaging 17 points and 11 assists, something like that. So, is that a pure point guard? He’s averaging more points than assists.” So, Gil actually ponders whether Chris Paul and Steve Nash — the two best points in the league — are truly point guards, right? But then he offers this headscratcher a few paragraphs later: “I consider Tony Parker a pure point guard because he only scores in transition. In half court, he really doesn’t.” So, because Parker doesn’t score in half-court settings (even though he does — a lot), he’s a point guard in Gil’s Bizarro World — even though Parker, moreso than any other supposed top-flight point guards, barely runs the Spurs offense.

Folks, you’ve got to understand why this shallow garble about point guards is so alarming … the fact is: the sole reason why the Wizards may never be a contender is not just because Gil hasn’t studied enough Billups, but he either seems to have no real grasp of what it means to be a point guard or he’s purposely diminishing the definition of a point guard to make his play look less inadequate.

Was there ever a time when KJ or Tim Hardaway were called combo guards? Yet, they had prolific scoring years. They were, in fact, quite unstoppable during their heydays — precursors and paradigms for Gilbert Arenas. But guess what else? These dudes would put up 25 and dish out 12, in the same game. They also knew how to involve teammates, get their points within the framework of an offense, control tempo and lead the squad on court. True, NBA offenses were less about isolation-plays in the 80s and early 90s, and Magic’s influence had yet to embolden a generation of big men to create their own shots; but that first batch of modern NBA point guards obviously understood when to shoot, when to pass, when to press action, when to motivate, when to involve a sleeping teammate, how to feed a hot hand, etc. Zeke could have averaged 30 ppg in his prime — years in which Detroit won two trophies and challenged for about four others — instead he did between 18-20 ppg and 8-10 apg. There were also years, like 1987, when Magic’s Lakers won the whole-thang with Magic dropping close to 24 ppg. He also averaged more than 12 apg that season and shot a discerning 53% from the field.

Today, however, we’re in The Platinum Age and you can carry it one of two ways: either you’re dope enough to pull a Chris Paul/Deron Williams and put up a good amount of points and dish it out like crazy; or you pull a Chauncey Billups and reign in your game, working within the structure of your offense. Gil may say, “I do work within my offense,” but that’s not necessarily the point. Since Gil has been with Washington — as a playoff squad — he’s taken about 20 shots per game, making a low percentage and sporting an assist-to-turnover ration well below 2-to-1. That means that Gil takes about one-fourth of his squad’s shot, misses more than he makes and — as the Wiz’ point guard — turns the ball over twice for every three assists. Honestly, that is why the Wizards are stuck in neutral as a middle-rung circus show that gets bounced by less talented teams.

Real talk: there’s no real reason for a point guard to shoot 20 times per game or average 28 ppg — straight up. Imagine if a couple of those shots turned into a few passes to Brendan Haywood — in a position to score. What if the other two went to Young Andre Blatche? The answer is not to move Gil off-the-ball. That’s the Iverson Copout. That also takes unnecessary ingenuity to find a way to make up for the inevitable defensive deficiencies inherit to small backcourts and takes the ball out of the hands of your team’s most talented player. In an ideal world, Gilbert Arenas should have a high enough Bball IQ to make the right decisions with the basketball in his hands; the squad shouldn’t need to parcel that responsibility to Plain Jane dudes like Eric Snow and Antonio Daniels, just so the little dudes can strictly focus on putting up shots.

Gil’s blog was so extremely and deeply dumb, that I can’t take it at face-value. I know Gil is a weird dude, with brain that operates in some alternate realm. But even he can’t delude himself into thinking that there’s even a sliver of doubt when it comes to Nash and Paul’s point guard credentials. He’s not that clueless. All his gum-bumping seemed to be apart of an elaborate scheme to put the best point guards into a common box with himself. “Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams,” he seemed to be saying, “aren’t really point guards, they’re players, just like me.” His argument seemed to foster the idea that the “point guard” label is fit only for those of moderate talent and capabilities, he named Jacque Vaughn specifically. He did this because he knows that he’s lacking, that he simply doesn’t measure up to the best dudes that man his position and his refusal or inability to perform the duties of the position on an elite level is a personal indictment.

I was hoping that Gil would have seen how the Wiz have played in his absence and returned to the court willing and committed to putting some of his game on mute. It is, afterall, in the best interest of his squad. A less offensive-minded Gil would mean a more dangerous Washington Wizards. Chauncey Billups knows this about the Pistons. Lil’ Chris knows he could put up five or six more shots per game and average 26 or 27 ppg, instead he’s made Tyson Chandler a viable option. Kyle Korver is more dangerous with Deron than he was with AI. Even stepping away from the point guard position and looking at Kobe’s evolution, it’s quite easy to see that Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and ‘Drew Bynum are better players because of Kobe’s increased unselfishness. I thought Gil was coming to terms with this watching the games in a suit. Then he wrote that blog, one that literally drained me of energy while reading it.

No, Gil, the ability to score doesn’t preclude performing well as a point guard. Yes, Steve Nash is a pure point guard, as is Chris Paul and Deron Williams; as were KJ and Hardaway and Zeke and Magic and Tiny. I love Gil’s game-winners and dominating scoring spurts; but I want to see the Wiz morph into contenders. But, until he learns how to do his Chauncey Thang or Deron Thang, it’s not gonna happen. When is he going to come to terms with this?

Vincent Thomas is a SLAMOnline columnist and SLAM Magazine contributor.  He can be reached at vincethomas79@gmail.com.