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Is having a dominant point guard a bane to team-building?

Oct 18, 2010, 6:58 PM EDT

Steve Nash

Constructing a team is rather inexact in its science, and though team officials have grown wise to particular trends and the like over the years, there are still countless ways to approach roster construction and just as many ways to fail in creating a championship-worthy roster. Building a solid, long-term team is tough, building a contender is hard, and building a title-winner nearly impossible.

Jesse Blanchard of 48 Minutes of Hell offers one treatise on the subject (reflecting on Zach Harper’s similar work last week on TrueHoop), one worthy of your time and your thoughts. Blanchard wonders: is the dominant point guard, while one of the most coveted NBA pieces, almost antithetical to successful team-building?

…there’s something inherently difficult about building around these players, as each of the above players has managed to put playoff teams together with nothing but spot up shooters and duct tape.

And therein lies the problem. Because a point guard presents so much smoke and mirrors, masking teammates deficiencies, controlling tempo, and inflating statistics, it’s far too easy to get caught up in his success and prematurely go all in, overvalue your own free agents, and ignore the development of the rest of your team while still having success–just not the kind of success every team should aspire to.

A good point guard, by definition, makes the players around him better. In doing so, he can stunt those players’ natural growth, force management to pay them more than they’re worth due to their inflated production, and put an unfortunate cap on his team’s progress. Blanchard goes on to analyze the rather specific impacts of point guards such as Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, and ultimately, it’s a convincing argument.

I just don’t see that it’s necessarily exclusive to point guards, or indicative of a greater approach that should be embraced.

Couldn’t the same be true of dominant big men? Is J.J. Redick’s summer payday independent from Dwight Howard’s on-court effect? Was Derek Fisher’s deal with the Warriors not affected by the influence of Shaquille O’Neal (and, for that matter, Kobe Bryant?)? Smart organizations like the Spurs have kept those kinds of signings to a minimum, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen elsewhere.

Plus — and I know how unfair this card is to play, and yet here I am — what of the Miami Heat? They may not be building around a “point guard,” but their two best players have functionally played in that role. Is it such a bad idea to build around LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in that context? Or, similarly, how about the Heat’s first venture to build around Wade (who is as much  a PG as LeBron is), which ended with a championship?

If we go strictly by traditional positional nomenclature, then yes, it’s hard to find a modern championship team which boasted a point guard as its best player. That said, to disregard the model based on the fact that the Phoenix Suns had a few injuries/bad luck with suspensions, the arbitrary determination that Chauncey Billups doesn’t count, or that various other teams that have come close but fallen just short seems an unfair way to broach such an interesting topic.

Empirically speaking, recent elite point guards may not translate to Finals MVPs, but if we go beyond top players and look instead to competitive cores, I think you’ll find that plenty of high-level point guards were very central to their teams’ titles. Maybe not Derek Fisher or young Rajon Rondo types, but Tony Parker? Chauncey? Wade, serving as a point guard in disguise? That’s some high-level play that was introduced as a pivotal part of the team-building process.

  1. tubal22 - Oct 19, 2010 at 12:12 AM

    Isaiah Thomas and Magic Johnson were both the dominant players on their team, and they both played the point.

    The problem with the current generation of teams, is that no matter who you get, you can only afford 1 superstar and a bunch of scrubs. Or 2 semi superstars and a bunch of scrubs.

    So you have to make sure that your money players can take care of a good chunk of your offense on their own, when the scrubs don’t show up. So typically you need someone who can handle the ball and take it inside, a la Jordan, Kobe, Wade, Lebron.

    The exception would be the Pistons of 5 years ago who had no superstars, but a bunch of high quality players who played as a team.

    It will be interesting to see what Miami does with 2 superstars, a semi-superstar, and a bunch of scrubs. If the preseason is any indication, it doesn’t look like the big three will be on the floor much together.

  2. MTArider - Oct 19, 2010 at 2:57 AM

    Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson were parts of dominant teams. The Suns are a young team. Those are terrible examples. Think before you type.

  3. reastnt - Oct 20, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    This is a great example of articles written purely to take up space, because “we have to write about something.” Silly discussion, silly article.

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