NBA: Sorting Through The Top Point Guard Surplus, Part 2

Check out Part 1, here.

Tier Seven – Forever Young

Jose Calderon, 11.4 PPG, 49.1/46.1/90 shooting splits, 7.1 APG, 39.6 AST%, 4.11 AST/TO, .8 SPG
Andre Miller, 9.6 PPG, 47.9/26.6/84 splits, 5.9 APG, 32.6 AST%, 2.81 AST/TO .9 SPG
Steve Nash, 12.7 PPG, 49.7/43.8/92.2 splits, 6.7 APG, 31 AST%, 2.64 AST/TO .6 SPG

Basketball nerds will tell you one of the greatest accomplishments a shooter can earn is a spot in the 50/40/90 club. Membership in the NBA’s most exclusive statistical group belongs to players who shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the free-throw line over the course of a season. It truly is the mark of a great shooter that can turn their shooting into supremely efficient scoring. Dirk Nowitzki and Larry Bird are some of the most prestigious members; Bird and Kevin Durant are the only members to average more than 25 points while shooting 50/40/90; Steve Nash is the most frequent flier, having only two fewer 50/40/90 seasons than every other player combined (four for Nash to six for every other human in the planet’s history); and most assume Stephen Curry will be joining the club sometime very soon.

Jose Calderon has gotten painstakingly close to joining the club three times in his career. In 2007-08 Calderon actually shot 51.9/42.9/90.8 but was not considered a 50/40/90 guy because his 109 made free throws fell short of the 125 free throws required to qualify as a league leader. The next season Calderon shot 49.7/40.6/98.1 missing the 50/40/90 mark by 0.3 percent in the field goal column. But last season Calderon’s shortcoming came with a silver lining.  Calderon shot 49.1/46.1/90 last season and while his field-goal percentage kept him out another year, his shooting line earned him a spot in an even more exclusive club. That club is the 49/45/90 club and the last member in that club is Jeff Hornacek in 1999-2000; though, it is worth mentioning that Jon Barry missed the 49/45/90 mark by 0.1 percent in the field goal category in 2001-02 and that Nash missed in by 0.1 percent in the free throw category in 2007-08 (Nash shot 53.2/45.5/89.9). Also one more note on Nash: he shot 49.7/43.8/92.2 this year, just missing a fifth 50/40/90 year.

All that to say, Nash and Calderon are not only two of the better shooters in the NBA right now; they are two of the best shooters in basketball history. That is one of the main reasons why they are still trucking along despite being on the wrong side of 30 (in Nash’s case, quickly approaching the wrong side of 40). Andre Miller is obviously not surviving by his shooting, but his eerie offense creativity as a scorer (more on this later) and as a distributor. Nash and Calderon also share that ability to distribute with Miller. Calderon had the NBA’s third-best AST% in the NBA last season, while finishing second in AST/TO ratio. Miller and Nash, despite playing in decreased roles, were still able to land in the top 20 for AST% (all of these rankings are among players that played at least 50 games).

We’ll move on because I can drool over these guys all day, and I am getting close to 500 words on just these three guys. But here is a quick reminder of Miller’s unorthodox effectiveness as a scorer:

Tier Six – The Rising, The Established and The Fading

Jrue Holiday, 17.7 PPG, 43.1/36.8/75.2 splits, 8 APG, 35.8 AST%, 2.14 AST/TO, 1.6 SPG
Ty Lawson, 16.7 PPG, 46.1/36.6/75.6 splits, 6.9 APG, 29.5 AST%, 2.75 AST/TO, 1.5 SPG
Damian Lillard, 19 PPG, 42.9/36.8/84.4 splits, 6.5 APG, 28.0 AST%, 2.19 AST/TO .9 SPG
Deron Williams, 18.9, 44/37.8/85.9 splits, 7.7 APG, 36.4 AST%, 2.77 AST/TO, 1 SPG

Deron Williams’ free fall from hands down second point guard in the NBA status has been an interesting journey to say the least. Removing all the ancillaries though, the fall is due to a marginal drop in his abilities as a scorer and as a distributor combined with the explosion of talent at the position. Williams was a very good scorer for a 3.5 year stretch starting in 2007 and ending with his trade to the Nets. He has not been that efficient scoring since and the fact he was being relied to score the ball more while the Nets were in New Jersey seems to be the reason for that. Also, Williams began shooting the 3 ball much more when he left Utah, despite still not proving he can consistently be an above average 3-point threat.

But still what has kept Williams from falling to far from the top is his still top notch ability as a distributor. Williams finished seventh in AST% last year, while finishing in the top 20 is AST/TO ratio. He has fallen off his all-time great assist numbers recently, but Williams has still proven he is one of the league’s better passers. Also, in watching Williams play it is still obvious that his abilities as a distributor and passer will drive any offense’s efficiency up at least a few notches.

Holiday is the only other player in the group that matches Williams as a distributor and as a scorer. Holiday finished right behind Williams in AST%, though turnovers were a bigger issue. Also, while Holiday shot a worse percentage from the field, when you break down their actual efficiency from certain spots on the court it is obvious they are equals — even though Holiday took on a much greater portion of his team’s scoring load.

Holiday still has problems in his game to work out if he does not want his progress as a top NBA point guard to stagnate, though. Specifically, he needs to cut down on the turnovers, develop better shot selection and become the defender his size and skill set dictates. At least one of those three problems may be fixed with his change in location. He will be asked to do less in New Orleans, which should cut down on his turnover numbers. However Monty Williams‘ offense seems to lead to those same efficiency killing mid-range jump shots Doug Collins loved so much. Also, the Pelicans look to be a train wreck on defense at this point and all attention towards improvement will probably be focused on the hazardous Ryan Anderson-Anthony Davis frontcourt pairing.

Lawson and Lillard are not the distributors Williams and Holiday are, but are slightly more efficient as scorers. Lawson benefited from playing in one of the most forward-thinking NBA offenses last year and one can only hope his scoring prowess remains in a different system with more responsibility to score. Lillard is actually the best scorer out of the group. His field goal percentage may initially say otherwise, but more than one-third of his shots came from 3. If you dig deeper into his offensive efficiency and his ability at particular spots on the court, it becomes obvious that Lillard is a top-notch NBA scorer.

Lawson and Lillard’s flaw, then, is on the defensive end. They are both quite deplorable as defenders, lacking the ability to slow down the opposing point guard. Lillard also remains incompetent as a workable piece within a larger defensive scheme. However, that is a problem that most young point guards go through, and he will chance to improve as his career moves along.

Tier Five – A Love Letter to Mike Conley Jr.

Mike Conley Jr., 14.6 PPG, 44/36.2/83 splits, 6.1 APG, 28.7 AST%, 2.58 AST/TO, 2.2 SPG

In part 1 I mentioned that defense was going to be taken into consideration because it is, you know, half of the game of basketball. That is mainly how Conley placed in such a high tier. Conley is an above average distributor at best — though his surrounding personnel do not necessarily cater to a point guards ability to assist — and the same is true of his ability to score the basketball. However, he is one of the two best defenders at the position. He has the ability to stifle any opposing point guards ability to score (except for Chris Paul in the playoffs, because well, it’s Chris Paul in the playoffs), and is consistently one of the NBA’s top thieves. He also is an important part to a larger defensive system that was responsible for one of the most suffocating defensive performances of the post 2005 rule change era.

Also Conley’s ability as a distributor jumps up significantly during the playoffs (32.1 percent with 3.13 AST/TO and 33.3 percent with 3.15 AST/TO the last two years). He exerts himself more as scorer — though not always successfully — and observers of the last two season Clippers-Grizzlies can attest to his ability to step up to the big challenges in the playoffs.

Tier Four – Remember That Series

Rajon Rondo, 13.7 PPG, 48.4/24/64.5 splits, 11.1 APG, 49.0 AST%, 2.84 AST/TO, 1.8 SPG
Derrick Rose (2011-12), 21.8 PPG, 43.5/31.2/81.2 splits, 7.0 APG, 37.9 AST%, 2.58 AST/TO .9 SPG

That series was the Eastern Conference quarterfinal match up between Rondo’s Celtics and rookie Derrick Rose’s Bulls. The series went seven games, had seven overtime periods, featured an epic Ray Allen-Ben Gordon battle, established Rondo as an elite point guard and introduced the world to Derrick Rose. I bring up the series because it was first incarnation of a trend that has developed around Derrick Rose. That is, we seem to be so overtaken with the narrative surrounding Rose that we skew his greatness to overrated levels. Rose in that 2009 series:

19.7 PPG, 49/0/80 splits, 6.4 APG, 26.6 AST%, 5 TOs (1.29 AST/TO) .6 SPG

His assist rates were average at best and dip into below average when you take his turnover rates into account. Also, while his scoring numbers look okay initially, the near 20 points averaged came off of roughly 23 ended possessions per game. Rose was not bad in the series and to see a rookie perform the way he did is somewhat impressive. However, his actual accomplishments in the series do not live up to the hype we gave it.

And that has become the trend with Rose. He was claimed by many to be the best point guard before going down with injury, when in actuality he was a marginally above average distributor and an above average scorer who was a liability on the defensive end of the court. He was even awarded an MVP award for his efforts in 2011 — though that was mostly a residual effect of The Decision. Here is that MVP season compared to Kyrie Irving‘s 2012-13 and John Wall‘s numbers post game 164 (I mention why this a good place to break up Wall’s season here):

Rose, 25 PPG, 44.5/33.2/85.8 splits, 7.7 APG, 37.2 AST%, 2.24 AST/TO, 1 SPG
Irving, 22.5 PPG, 45.2/39.1/85.5 splits, 5.9 APG, 31.5 AST%, 1,83 AST/TO, 1.5 SPG
Wall, 24.2 PPG, 46.6/37/78.1 splits, 8 APG, 40.2 AST%, 3.08 AST/TO, 1.6 SPG

Wall with his numbers and his superiority as a general defender, he is the obvious lead man out of this group — albeit in a smaller sample size. Justifying why Irving is a notch ahead of Rose is a little bit tougher. Rose is the better distributor by far and they are equally bad on the defensive end of the court — Rose looks better under the coaching of Thibs, obviously. However, Irving is the more polished and more efficient scorer of the two. He is a much better shooter — significantly from 3 and marginally from the mid-range — and the two are a draw around the rim. They are more or less equals at this point, but Irving gets the nod for being a few years younger.

Last thing on Rose: During his MVP year the Bulls were eliminated by the Miami in five games in the playoffs. Two seasons later, a much worse Bulls team saw a much better Miami team and suffered the same fate, despite Rose not suiting up. Look, Derrick Rose is amazing player — that is why he registers in the top eight — but he has not quite matched the hype surrounding him. Chicago will be better next year with him, but probably not be so much better as to make them a legitimate threat to Miami in East.

Properly ranking Rondo requires much less mental work. He is the best ball distributor in basketball and only Chris Paul is in the same stratosphere. He is a slightly overrated defender, but his ability as a thief and his ability to fit within Boston’s top defense for all these years make up for his average at best on-ball skills. Rondo’s problem, as everybody knows, is his ability as a scorer. Though he can occasionally flash brilliance as a scorer he often comes off as below average when it comes to scoring the basketball. His 3-point shooting is deplorable and though his mid-range game has improved — he shot better than 50 percent between at the elbows and the top of the key last season — it is still average on his best day. Also, despite his great footwork and creativity around the rim, he is only average there. But he is still one of the eight best point guards in basketball by a long shot and will either serve as a good building block or trade chip for the new look Celtics.

Going to try to get part 3 — the final six players– to you guys during the week. Worst case scenario, it will be up next Monday.[slider_pro id="31"]

Tags: Deron Williams Derrick Rose NBA Point Guard Top Point Guard

comments powered by Disqus