Wanting An Impact Point Guard?

Darius Soriano —  December 5, 2011

The Lakers’ point guard woes are not a secret. In his player profiles John Hollinger questioned if the Lakers point guards were the worst position in the entire NBA, and he’s not alone in that thinking. When I was asked what the Lakers biggest need for next season was, I answered improved point guard production. This isn’t rocket science; the Lakers PG’s played poorly last season and getting an impact player at that position is a necessity.

Or, is it?

To be honest, I’m not so sure.

Hear me out.

Roster construction is a complicated thing. Every general manager is tasked with the same goal: build the most formidable team possible in the hopes of winning the championship. Last year, Dallas was successful in this pursuit and Miami was closer than many people want to acknowledge (it’s much more fun to call LeBron a choker, right?).

In the two previous seasons, it was the Lakers that won the championship and before them, in order, it was the Celtics, Spurs, Heat, Spurs, Pistons, Spurs again, Lakers, Bulls, Rockets, and the Bulls again (this takes us all the way back to 1991). Basically, that’s the last 20 years of NBA champions in a tidy paragraph.

Now, how many of those teams had impact point guards? In 2008, Rajon Rondo was not part of Boston’s “big three” but was vital to their run. In three of their championship years Tony Parker played a pivotal role, earning the Final’s MVP trophy once. Chauncey Billups also claimed the Final’s MVP trophy, earning the nickname “Mr. Big Shot” in the Pistons’ 2004 run. And…that’s it.

That’s the list of impact PG’s on championship teams in the last 20 years.

This isn’t to say PG’s haven’t been important. Derek Fisher’s leadership and clutch shot making ability has aided multiple Laker runs to the ring. The same can be said of John Paxon and Steve Kerr for both sets of Bulls runs. An aged Gary Payton provided veteran moxie and hit some key shots for Miami in 2006 and Jason Kidd’s fantastic floor generalship and ability to guard bigger players were major factors in Dallas’ run.

All that said, it’s one thing to be a key contributor and another to be the reason a team won the championship. And recent history tells us that point guards have been valuable pieces but not the driving force behind most teams’ championships.

Instead, nearly every championship team of the past 20 years has been built on two principles: elite post play on both ends of the floor and dynamic wing players on offense. 

There are the obvious and traditional examples of Kobe/Gasol, Kobe/Shaq, Duncan/Ginobili where the offensive and defensive paint were controlled by one (or more) great players and the offensive wing was controlled by the other. Then there’s the not so traditional of Jordan/Pippen/Rodman, Hakeem/Maxwell/Cassell/Ellie where one of the post or the wing was held down by one (or more) dominant players with a contingent of excellent role players (or in the case of Rodman, a HOF level one) did the dirty work elsewhere.

(As an aside, that was rather simplistic and not a very nuanced take on some of the best players of any era. Jordan, besides being amazing on the wing, was one of the best post up guards ever and commanded many a double team working from the low block as if he were a dominant big man. Pippen’s versatility meant he was highly effective in the post and on the wing, often taking advantage of mismatches by going inside against smaller players. As for Houston, Hakeem put together some of the most amazing playoff runs anyone will ever have. He demolished his foes with a combination of inside/outside work that few Centers in the history of the game could duplicate. But I digress.)

The main takeaway here is that building a championship roster isn’t as much about finding players at certain positions, but finding the best players that fall into rather large templates and unleashing them on the rest of the league. It’s not about having the best point guard, but having a play maker on the wing that can control the game from the perimeter and create shots for others off the dribble. It’s not about having the best big man (though that helps), but rather about being able to protect the basket area on defense and score in the paint while drawing double teams on offense.

Dallas was able to do this via Dirk’s mid range post ups, Terry’s shooting, and Barrea’s ability to get into the paint on the P&R. The Lakers did this in a more traditional way with Gasol and Bynum (and Kobe) post ups with Kobe working the shallow and extended wing in isolation as well as in weak side actions out of the triangle. Both styles got their teams the Larry O’Brien trophy and neither had an elite player at point guard as the catalyst to their success.

So, if you’re asking me if I think the Lakers need an impact player at point guard, I’m going to say ‘no’. Improved play at the position would certainly help, though that’s not what will be the difference between whether the Lakers win or not. Instead, you can look to how well Kobe works on the wings and whether or not Gasol, Bynum, and Odom can control the paint the way they did in 2009 and 2010.

Darius Soriano

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36 responses to Wanting An Impact Point Guard?

  1. Darius,
    I couldn’t agree more. I find ball dominating PGs sometimes as much of a hindrance as a help. It’s great for an offense for everyone to be involved. Of course the problem with the Lakers is they have a starting PG who doesn’t contribute anything. We don’t need a CP3 or a Deron Williams to win. What we do need is a Ron Harper type. Someone who can play a little defense and move his feet a little. The reason as Hollinger said the Lakers might have the worst position in all the NBA is because they were unable to do anything. When you have a spot on the floor that can’t shoot, pass, defend, or dribble (dribble to the basket and create plays) its very hard to overcome that. We talk about how CP3 can’t defend CP3. And everyone laughs and smiles and says that’s true. Who cares that Derek cant guard anyone. Of course if we stop and think about that for more than 5 seconds we realize that’s the most idiotic statement one can make when discussing basketball. There is a difference when Luke Walton guards Kobe and when Artest does in practice. If the Lakers had a bad NBA starting PG maybe Chris Paul averages his season averages in last years playoffs instead of setting playoff records. For a while Kobe was great enough to overcome one of the worst PGs in the NBA. And who knows… Maybe after a controversial knee procedure in Germany he will be again… But do you want to take that risk?

  2. IMHO, we don’t need a *point* guard as much as a guard who can (in increasing order of importance):

    1. Bring the ball up court, even under duress
    2. Play hard-nosed defense
    3. Shoot adequately from the 3 (40%)

  3. I think just about everyone agrees that the Lakers most pressing needs are a backup big and a PG.
    Darius does a great job of showing that an elite PG is not needed to win a championship. Championships are more commonly won by teams with great bigs. However, the Lakers PG situation is so bad that if they can pick up even an average PG they will be greatly improving the position.
    Assuming Bynum is healthy for the playoffs, a backup big will play maybe 8 MPG and let’s be honest if Bynum isn’t healthy the Lakers aren’t winning the championship.
    I agree with Darius but believe the Lakers would be best served using the mini-MLE on a guard that can handle, shoot and defend.

  4. I would be happy if we had a PG who could play some defense. I wouldn’t even care about his shooting or ball handling ability if he would be able to stay in front of the opposing PG.

    I think we can get one of those fairly cheap…

  5. Question: If Luke takes a medical retirement, does he get all or just a portion of his outstanding contract paid to him? What if the Lakers force the issue and waive him for medical reasons? Just wondering what is going through his head right now.

  6. seems like we still have to wait and see if Steve Blake can be the Steve Blake we thought we were getting, (and all excited about).
    imagine trading away Blake and he has a break out season somewhere else. I say give him another shot, with another coach/system, we really don’t know yet one way or the other, i.e.; it’s not a bust or a nugget, we just don’t don’t know… yet.

  7. I am not waiting for an impact point guard…. a decent point guard – yes. Agree with Chris H. I am hoping Blake, free of the triangle, sees some real improvement.

  8. What the Lakers need more than anything else is outside shooting. That was the biggest problem the offense had last year. The offense got bogged down because there was no spacing because there was no threat from the outside. Hopefully Blake can return to shooting more like he did in Portland (40, 36, 42).

    A better PG would be nice (especially on the defensive end) but not nearly as important as someone that’s a threat from the outside.

  9. I think the answer to all these questions have a potential to be DARIUS MORRIS. Of course thats just me hoping he is the next Manu Ginobili (diamond in the rough reference) and becomes our lead PG.

    I like Steve Blake’s chances of recovering from the trauma the TRI limited his game with, but I still believe he isn’t a starting PG. He can step in, take meaningful 16-20 minutes off point and backup 2, but I believe Darius Morris will exceed SB in half a season.

  10. If Blake comes anywhere close to the previous three years before signing with the team last year, there’s the PG improvement needed.

    Solid shooter, gritty defender who was adequate against most opponents. He can penetrate somewhat decently. He’s also young enough that you’d hope that last year really was just an aberration.

  11. Rusty Shackleford December 5, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I see that in the past few decades teams have not always had HOF point guards but can we agree that we do need a point guard that can compete at a higher level on the defensive end? I think of Tyronn Lue when I imagine the highest level of point guard the Lakers can afford. How much money is Mario Chalmers making?

  12. many times down the floor, in last year’s finals, wade was essentially playing as PG.

    also, how does Magic Johnson fit into your equation?

  13. #12. Magic Johnson was an all-time great player for any position. So, he’s one of the PG’s that’s an exception here. As is, to a bit of a lesser extent, Isaiah Thomas. But, if you go back 30 years, they’re the two PG’s that were central to their team’s titles and even Magic had Kareem. (As an aside, Magic is my favorite player ever and PG is my favorite position on the floor. I don’t make this argument b/c it’s convenient, I make it because it’s historically relevant to where this Lakers’ team is and where the league is right now.)

  14. OH man, first, let me say it feels great to be able to leave a comment on this blog after such a long hiatus.

    Second, the past few years, I have always argued (mostly against Aaron), that PG was not as important to the Lakers as any other team. I also argued that in order to stop the elite point guards, team defense is what is important, because the rules basically negate the ability to lock down any PG or wing player 1 on 1.

    However, this year, I think the PG is going to be extremely important for the Lakers. The reason for that is simple: we’re not running the Triangle Offense on a regular basis anymore. The rules allow for the quick point guards to get many looks on offense and if you’re game enough, get to the line for quick fouls and quick free throw chances. But do we really need an “elite” point guard. I dont know.

    No one knows, at this time, what the Lakers will look like in 20 days to open the season. From my reading of espn and other sites, it looks like teams will be very busy trying to fit a team together that can take advantage of the shortened schedule and win a championship this year. With rumor after rumor of trades (CP3, Dwight Howard) coming to the Lakers, it might make the Point guard position moot for our team.
    I think we’ll be able make a better determination when we figure out the actual roster.

  15. I honestly think a lot of the problems could be solved if Kobe took the regimen he gave to Trevor and develop a deadly 3 point shot within the offense.

  16. The starting points guards on the recent championship squads may not have been “impact PGs” like CP3 and D.Rose, but they all contributed plenty to their teams’ success. When their teams won it all, Parker, Billups, Rondo, Cassell all produced plenty from their position. Only Phil-led teams didn’t need as much production from the point guard position, and that’s because he had MJ, Kobe, and the triangle.

    Having said that, I think athleticism and ability to penetrate from the 1 is even more important to our squad’s success. Yes three-point shooting must improve, but Kobe is no longer able to penetrate like he used to – and there is no one else on our roster who could create chances off the dribble. Without penetration, there will be fewer chances for Kapono to clank those corner threes.

  17. i’d settle for a platoon of pgs if they pick opposing ballhandlers up full court and apply pressure on every possession.

    they can make up for the talent deficit with effort and hustle. there is strength in numbers.

  18. From Ding (HT to SSR) some schedule pieces. http://lakers.ocregister.com/2011/12/05/kobes-lakers-vs-lebrons-heat-jan-19-march-4/67130/

    With a shortened season, shouldn’t Bynum’s suspension be prorated to say 3 or 4 games….?

  19. “Impact” PG? No. Serviceable PG? Yes. Blake of old @ ~ 30 MPG and Morris/Fisher sharing ~18 MPG might do it. Relying on a 37-year old to run the point won’t cut it this year. Superstars win championships, but a good PG helps greatly.

  20. The only Christmas dream of a big time PG may be an amnestied Baron Davis–but don’t hold your breath. Even with the unlikely addition of Baron, It’s going to be mostly tweaking.

    I would hope that Derek would be used more strategically and more sparingly. One might see more of Derek as shooting guard taking threes (like in Utah)–and a disciplined member of a more team oriented helping defense. Kobe might be more like the playmaker he was during the Shaq years. Blake may be used more as a traditional PG. Morris may get a chance to be the classic fast moving fast break distributor for a “flash” brigade.

    There’s been deafening silence about the backup center–I wouldn’t be surprized if it turned into Kwame. There have been murmurs of a 3 point shooter–Jason Kopono. I’m more cnvinced of the positions being considered than the individuals named.

    We’ve got to learn from the architect Mies van der Roh: less is more.

  21. Darius, while I agree 100% with your analysis that an elite PG isn’t essential to a championship, I also feel that the analysis misses 1 component: changes in rules.
    In the past 30 years, PG did not nearly enjoy as much an advantage as it is today, since you are allowed to be extremely rough when guarding them (Michael Jordan would be considered extremely dirty by today’s standards when he guarded PGs). In the modern game, the rules drastically increase the effectiveness of a PG, and thus I think that the PG position is a lot more important from here on and in the future than it was in the past.
    Just my 2 cents.

  22. Steve Blake, Darius Morris, Derek Fisher — For this team, for this CBA, for this time, that is not an impossible situation.

    First we need to get a backup center. We need that whether we trade for Dwight Howard or not. If we don’t trade, then we need someone to keep Pau’s minutes down. If we do, then we don’t have the frontcourt depth we had and require the backup even more.

    Only after the frontcourt situation is settled should we even be discussing the PG play.

    Should Shannon leave, then we do need something at guard, and that should probably be at PG as we have Kobe, Devin Ebanks and Andrew Goudelock at SG. However, we do not have the same critical problem we do at center – Caracter is not a center for this team.

  23. Pretty much what everyone else is saying. We don’t need a Chris Paul PG, or an All-Star, or even an “impact” PG. We just need one that isn’t absolutely awful.

    The problem with the Lakers at PG isn’t that we’re lacking a stud. It’s that we’re lacking even basic competence at the position. The ones we have are, by pretty much both every statistical measure AND by the all-important eyeball test just plain awful at this stage of their respectful careers.

    There’s hope that Steve Blake can have a resurgence of sorts by being in his second year on the team and freed from the responsibilities of learning the triangle, but even that is something of a long shot and Fish, god and Laker fans love him, passed his expiration date about six years ago as a serviceable starter.

    Essentially, neither of our PGs would be starting on any other team in the league and it’s questionable on whether they’d even be able to be a BACKUP on any other team in the league.

  24. I agree with this post. However, if the PG is not a high impact PG and also gets burned consistently on defense by quicker PG’s, your center has to be able to rotate and make the opposing team’s PG pay by blocking the ball into the stands rather than player to the floor. Bynum, as good a center as he is, is not this guy. Howard? Well that’s another story.

  25. Jamal Tinsley’s available…

  26. To be fair, it was going to be hard for Blake to fit into Phil’s system and rotations in one year – and maybe he just didnt get them. I’m eager to see what happens to him under Mike Brown. So maybe the PG spot is a wash for now.

  27. Since we’re close to amnesty w/ Luke, we sign Luke Jr.

    http://lakernation.com/2011/12/lakers-close-to-2-year-deal-with-jason-kapono/

  28. Rusty Shackleford December 6, 2011 at 6:06 am

    @ #25 –

    I just saw Jamall Tinsley playing in an NBDL game and he wasn’t even the 3rd best player on the floor.

  29. Rusty Shackleford December 6, 2011 at 6:21 am

    If the Lakers get Dwight Howard and Chris Paul I’d prefer they start Barnes at the SF if they can keep him. Whoop!

  30. Kapono!?! Why not just sign Luke to a second contract and let him take up two spots on the bench?

  31. If the Lakers have the ability to get these trades for Paul and Howard done I don’t see how they don’t do everything in their power to ensure they happen. Frontcourt depth would be an issue but maybe you can convince a guy like Glen Davis or Kirilenko to sign on at a reduced rate. Turkoglu coming back in the deal for Howard as rumored gives an added body too (although not a great one).

  32. To those actually taking these Paul AND Howard rumors seriously: you’d be better off if you didn’t. I know it’s fun to speculate but don’t get your hopes up in anyway as the likelihood of this actually occuring is equatable to winning the lottery.

  33. Everyone listen to Darius… As ESPN LA says… The only way we get Howard and Paul is if we can trade Andrew Bynum for both of them…

    http://espn.go.com/blog/los-angeles/lakers/post/_/id/23956/sources-lakers-want-both-howard-and-paul

  34. If the Kapono signing is true, I think that means Shannon isn’t coming back for sure. Hard to see the team carrying him and Kapono and the two rookies. Mitch seemed to indicate the two rookies were almost sure to make the team.

    Between Blake and Kapono, that makes two veterans Lakers are hoping will return to form after an off year. If so, that fills the 3 point shooting hole.

    Next up, solid back up big and maybe another guard that can penetrate.

  35. Ugh. The Howard and Paul talk has officially gone into unintentional satire territory.

    Anyway, I think it’s axiomatic that there are no perfect teams, that all teams have flaws, and that constructing a roster is a considered series of trade-offs. We have top 10 players at their position at C, PF and SG. That seems to be about the limit, historically. The other positions are going to have to be compromises.

    Obviously, going with slowing vets to fill those holes is problematic, but so is any sort of compromise. And it has the upside of consistency and battle tested resolve. This team, as currently constructed, is just as capable as any in the league to win a title. Every team has flaws. Our are athleticism, PG, and shooting. Miami’s are PG, chemistry, and in the post.

    You could go down the list for each team. A PG upgrade would be great, but it’s far from a fatal flaw on this team. For me, defensive chemistry was the fatal flaw last year. We can get that back with this group.

    Whether we do or not, though, is yet to be seen.