Posts Tagged ‘point guard’

LeBron James – Point Guard

December 6, 2014

Before this latest string of wins, there were a lot of opinions being thrown around about the state of the new Super Cavs.

On defense the consensus opinion seemed to be that Kevin Love should morph into a shot blocking defensive anchor, I’m guessing via some sort of exposure to radioactive materials, or maybe there’s a gene therapy he could get in Germany. Let’s ask Kobe Bryant for advice here. Alternatively, everyone not named LeBron James or Shawn Marion needed to learn to pay more attention at the defensive end. And frankly, James had been pretty lazy on defense for his normal standards too.

On offense, folks seemed to expect Kyrie Irving to take personality altering drugs until he saw the floor like Chris Paul and became as pass-happy as Rajon Rondo. People also wanted to see Love in the post more, which is a great idea as a first option in half-court sets, except that if Love is catching the ball in the post, LeBron isn’t. Everyone remembers that LeBron shot over 60% from two-point range since he moved into the post as a power forward for the Heat, right? You might want to exploit that particular little piece of amazing. Also LeBron in the post is a dramatically better passer to open shooters than Love.

BUT, LeBron is also vastly more versatile than Kevin, so they may just have to sacrifice that piece of James’s game. This is the trouble with combining a group of super-scorers. They can’t all have the ball in their favorite places at the same time, so the threat of everybody playing sub-optimal ball, or at least putting up sub-optimal stats, is real.

The concerns are a bit premature, but they are legitimate. The Cavs are currently the 5th best offense in the league (same as the Heat last year). They are the 15th defense in the league (4 spots worse than Miami last year). Their margin of victory is only 3.8 points at the moment. It’s always good to have that number be a positive, but historically championship contenders have an MOV of about twice that number. There’s still lots of time.

The competing voice in the Cavs debate always maintained that it was just a matter of time. Talent wins out in the NBA, and these guys were bound to figure it out, or LeBron would just give into the impulse to take over and simply carry them into relevancy on his own. What no one seemed to anticipate, and what has clearly taken place is that James has assumed a new position this year.

The official Cleveland starting line-up looks like this:

PG – Kyrie Irving
SG – Shawn Marion
SF – LeBron James
PF – Kevin Love
C – Anderson Varejao

In actual execution that line-up amounts to this:

PG – LeBron James
SG – Kyrie Irving
SF – Shawn Marion
PF – Kevin Love
C – Anderson Varejao

First, let’s clarify the basic difference between a guard and a forward in traditional position assignment. Guards are ball-handlers. Forwards work for points off the ball and generally play closer to the basket unless they are playing a “stretch” role as a jump shooter. Shawn Marion is no guard. He is a classic tweener or swing forward capable of rebounding with bigs and running with quick wings. He can defend big guards, but he cannot serve that role on offense. LeBron on the other hand has the ball-handling skills of an And-1 champion. The idea that Marion is the starting two guard and James is the starting small forward is as ridiculous as the old days when skinny, three point shooterRobert Horry started at center next to post-scoring, shot-blocking, rebounding machine, Tim Duncan. It’s non-sense.

In fact, not only is James starting at guard, he is clearly the primary playmaker on this team. You see it when you watch them play. He’s orchestrating. He’s handling the ball. He’s making things happen for others. It’s also clear in the box score where he’s leading the team in assists and turnovers. That’s a point guard. Kyrie is ball-dominant, but he’s using his guard skills primarily to create scoring opportunities for himself. This is fine. Allen Iverson won an MVP and helped an offensively challenged Sixers team reach the finals while playing that style. The question-mark is with LeBron. Should he be playing the point?

When the Heat were going through their growing pains, LeBron took over point forward responsibilities for a time (Miami always started two true guards – Dwyane Wade and one of Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, or Norris Cole), and he did not like the role. I don’t recall that James gave an explanation for why he didn’t want to be the point man on the team. Too tiring, maybe? Wanted a system for sharing the ball better so as not to alienate Wade? Not sure. But it looks like that’s where the Cavs are now, and I wonder if James didn’t intend to take this responsibility on from the get go. He did take it on himself to lose a ton of weight this summer. He looks more like a guard than a power forward now.

And frankly if he did decide prior to making the move to Cleveland that he was going to go back to being the primary creator, it may have been a smart move on his part. James is such a great passer on the pick and roll, he has the ability to play to Love’s game this way, keep Andy and Tristan Thompson involved, and open things up for the guards to attack the defense with secondary penetration. LeBron can also push the ball in transition more when he is the first outlet receiver or making more end to end runs off his own defense rebounds. It’s tough to sacrifice all the easy buckets they get off of James’s leak outs, but Dion, Kyrie, and Marion can all finish on the break as well, and LeBron’s ability to see over the defense and make pinpoint passing strikes is unmatched in the game today.

Defensively, my only thought is that they still need to coordinate better and give more consistent effort. Not having a dominant defensive center isn’t a death sentence on defense. The Heat didn’t have one. It just takes more attention to detail and energy on the perimeter when there’s no shot blocker waiting at the rim. Either that or they need to make a move to get the shot blocker they are missing. One easy shift they could make is to consistently line up with Marion guarding the other team’s best wing player. This would give James more freedom to help on defense, and his speed and athleticism make him the team’s best cover up defender and ball hawker.

One nice thing that comes about if the Cavs do concede that LeBron is their starting point guard: Waiters wins his argument with Bradley Beal. The Heat would have the best starting backcourt in the NBA (Warriors have an argument). He just isn’t part of it.

2014 NBA Preview with John Stockton

October 28, 2013

The following is an excerpt from my annual pre-season interview with NBA Hall of Famer and professional point guard engineer / mechanic, John Stockton.

A rainy night in Tacoma, WA, in a brightly lit machine shop, John Stockton is bent over a sleek, polished hinge joint.  He’s wearing a Jazz purple and gray mechanic coverall, streaked with motor oil and singed on one sleeve.  He peers through watch-maker’s magnifying lenses and operates a tiny motorized screwdriver.  Next to him lies an inert human form, approximately 6′ 3″, wearing capri pants and a tiny backpack.  I can tell John’s not ready to talk yet, and there’s no point rushing him.  I set up my recorder and watch as he tightens a piece in what must be the broken knee joint.  Russell Westbrook‘s empty, lifeless eyes stare up at the fluorescent lights.  It’s creepy when John turns off the point guards to work on them.  I remember 2008 when Chris Paul was like this.  John does good work.  After eight minutes of intense concentration, he sighs and pushes back from his work.

Jason Palumbo – How’s it coming, John?

John Stockton – Hmm?  Oh.  Hi.  Good.  Shouldn’t take but 5 or 6 weeks to get him running again.

JP – It took longer with Rose.

JS – The DR-1Model taught us so much about the limits of these new designs.  We took a full year to really understand the unit.  Maximum torque, minimal drag, minimal weight.  There’s no steel left in the design.  Carbon fiber, titanium, just a few aluminum struts for support, naturally grown human tissues.  We’re close to perfecting these new hotrod models.  Remember the SF-3?

JP – Yeah, that was the one who almost won the dunk contest, except he ran into Vinsanity.

JS – Exactly.  The Steve Francis prototype was just  a test to see what the limits of the turbo-PG could be.  But he was heavy.  Steel-allow chassis, the old meat and potato power cells, limited three point range.  These new point guards are the future.

JP – You think they’ll be better than Chris Paul or Steve Nash?

JS – Well… The operator matters, J.  I can’t lie to you.  We can make the best robot point guard in the world, but there is a ghost in the shell, and it makes a difference.  SN-13 lasted this long for two reasons: operator brilliance and that Canadian engine.  Nash runs on completely macrobiotic fuel now, burns totally clean.  Those older parts are starting to wear out, but the processor and the motor will run forever.

JP – You never cease to amaze me with this stuff, John, but I’ve got to ask you about the season.  For the kids, John.

JS – Shoot.

JP – You’ve got six point guards on teams that people expect to contend.

JS – Six?  Let me guess.  The Formula One Racer, DR-1, CP-3… Not old Nashy.  Who else?  2nd Gen Curry, I guess.  I’m really proud of that one actually, J.  We got his targeting system so finely calibrated, he’ll be the best shooter the game has ever seen if the gyros in the ankles don’t go.  Had to keep them tight so his balance wouldn’t disrupt his shot, but now the whole ankle joint array is sensitive.  Who else?

JP – You got Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, and no, nobody expects Nash to contend except maybe Kobe Bryant.  You never worked on the Mamba did you?

JS – No.  I don’t do shooting guards.  He’s organics anyway.  You know he’s an Italian make?  Of course he’s got German parts now.

JP – Okay, well you’ve still got two more to guess.

JS – RW-0 here? (He holds up Westbrook’s mechanical knee)

JP- Yeah.  That’s five.

JS – The last one must be Lin.  Jeremy is based on an older model, and there’s a hitch in his shooting wrist from a malformed strut.  Operator thinks too much on defense too, gets beat by guys who are slower than him.  Still, he’s a solid build that’s worked in the past.

JP – Not who I meant.

JS – People don’t think the Rockets will contend?

JP – Not that.  They just don’t think Lin is the reason.  James Harden and Dwight Howard are getting the pre-season credit.

JS – Don’t disregard the importance of the point guard, J.  The point guard runs the offense.

JP – Noted.  Can you guess who the actual number 6 point guard on the list is?

JS – Not old DW-8?

JP – Deron Williams!  You got it!

JS – I thought people had forgotten about him.  We made a mistake in that model, J.  Coach Sloan asked me to make him better than CP-3, so I beefed up the power output and added more mass to increase the leverage.  The whole unit is just a touch too heavy now.  Suffered a series of breakdowns, and now the operator isn’t sure how to pilot the point guard.  It was bound to happen after Jerry left.  I put Gary Payton‘s old model, JKidd, in charge of Deron, and I hope that helps.  JKidd lasted a long time.  Payton built him really well, and I’m hoping Kidd can get the DW-8 operator back in the saddle as Karl would say.

JP – Karl Malone would say that?

JS – Yes.  He would say that.  Let’s go over the breakdown again before you go and I get back to work on RW-0.  So Formula One is still a Spur, and the operator is pick and rolling at a Nashian success rate.

JP – He’s Stocktonian.

JS – J.  Don’t sass me.  Anyway.  I can see San Antonio winning.  If Bernard King had built that small forward of theirs to a higher free throw standard, they would have won last year.  DR-1 is on the best defensive team in the league with the best depth that the team has had around him since he was activated.  Chicago is going to be tough, J.  We were not screwing around during that year-long rebuild of his knee.  He’s fully upgraded.  All of his operations should be functioning at peak performance.  Rose is as finally-tuned a robot point guard as I’ve ever built.

JP – Good enough to beat LeBron James and the Heat?

JS – Don’t say his name, J.  He can hear it when you say his name.

JP – Ooookay.  Let’s move on. How about Curry and the Warriors?  Can they win the West?

JS – If that darned ankle holds together.  Tell Mark Jackson to get him in for regular tune-ups, and I’ll do what I can.

JP – What about the Thunder?  Is Russell Westbrook really going to be ready to go inside of 6 weeks?

JS – J, I told you: We have mastered the turbo model.  The torque was too high before, but these new shock absorbers we’ve designed are going to revolutionize the explosive point guard as we know him.  Westbrook will be back, and he will kill John Connor.

JP – What?

JS – Nothing.  Can we wrap this up?

JP – Sure.  Do you think the Clippers can come out of the West?

JS – Listen, J, I know former point guard Doc Rivers was getting really frustrated with my 9Green model.

JP – Rajon Rondo?

JS – Yes.  We constructed the Rondo model with the widest possible field of vision to maximize assist potential, but it compromised the targeting at distance.  Even at a range of 15 feet with no defense his shot is suspect.  Doc will enjoy working with CP-3.  He’s not the new turbo design, but he has no flaws, and the operator knows his business.  That’s a point guard.

JP – And can any of your point guards defeat LeBr… I mean Him.  Can anyone beat the Heat?

JS – How can a simple machine, no matter how perfect in form and function, contend with the divine?  Karl and I faced the last basketball demi-god in two Finals.  I looked into his eyes, J, and I saw my ghost aflame, my gears and chassis smitten upon the hardwood.  Man’s works cannot stand against the NBA devil.  This one is the same as mine was.  Oh, he discarded the 23 to try to blind us to the truth, but he’s the same. Those eyes, J.  Pitiless.  What hope has a point guard against something like that, J?  What hope have any of us?