Why Point Guard Is the Most Overrated Position in the NBA
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The importance of the point guard position has been beaten so far into the ground lately that guys like Goran Dragic and Jeremy Lin (who by no estimation are even in the top half of starters at their position) are going to sign new contracts worth around $30 million.
Yet, considering the success of the NBA's last two dynasties (the Lakers and Bulls) and the inevitable LeBron era, we have to ask, are point guards really that important?
Let's start by looking at the history of Finals MVPs. This is the best way to determine who the best player on a given championship team was.
In the 44 years that the trophy has been awarded, only four "pure" point guards (Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Chauncey Billups and Tony Parker) have won it. Even if we include a combo guard like Dennis Johnson, those five players combined beat Michael Jordan's individual total by only one.
The full positional breakdown is as follows:
Point guard: Seven (M. Johnson three times, Thomas, Billups Parker, D. Johnson).
Small forward: Eight (John Havlicek, Rick Barry, Cedric Maxwell, Larry Bird twice, James Worthy, Paul Pierce, LeBron James).
Power forward: Four (Tim Duncan three times, Dirk Nowitzki).
Center: 13 (Willis Reed twice, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabar twice, Bill Walton, Wes Unseld, Hakeem Olajuwon twice, Shaquille O'Neal three times).
If you ignore power forward (which wasn't really distinguishable from center until the mid-to-late '90s), you can see that the point guard position has generated the least NBA Finals MVPs.
What this means is that most championship teams weren't built around a point guard. While this stat isn't ideal because the team's best player may not win the award, it tends to balance out when guys like Parker (second to Duncan) and Billups (MVP by default on a star-less team) win it.
That stat encompasses all of the NBA's modern history, so let's take a more recent sample. It is generally agreed upon that Michael Jordan's dominance shifted the landscape of the NBA towards individual scorers, so let's see how the Jordan effect changed the point guard position.
Since Michael Jordan's first title in 1991, the NBA champion has featured an All-Star at point guard exactly once. That would be Tony Parker in 2007.
In that same span, the loser of the NBA Finals has had an All-Star point guard nine times (Magic Johnson, Gary Payton, John Stockton twice, Jason Kidd twice, Rajon Rondo, Jameer Nelson and Russell Westbrook). Considering Tony Parker didn't meet any of those guys in the in 2007, all nine occurrences of a star point guard playing in the finals in that span resulted in a loss for their team.
In terms of regular season dominance, point guards have won only seven league MVPs. Three of them belong to Magic Johnson.
Steve Nash's '06 award remains questionable considering Kobe Bryant scored over 35 points per game in that season, and I think we can all safely say that LeBron James was the true MVP in 2011 after eviscerating Derrick Rose in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Of the star point guards who have led teams to championships, it is important to note that most of them did it under circumstances that are fairly hard to replicate.
Magic Johnson happened to play with another legend in Kareem. Isiah Thomas lucked into two championships thanks to the fact that Bird and Magic were nowhere near their former selves, but Phil Jackson hadn't yet taken over the Bulls to Michael Jordan realize what it takes to win.
Tony Parker won his Finals MVP award playing next to Tim Duncan (a top-10 all-time player) and Manu Ginobli (a future Hall of Famer). Chauncey Billups played for one of the best coaches of all time (Larry Brown) for a team that would later send four of their five starters to All-Star Games and was lucky enough to play against a team that was imploding.
Finally, let's look at the ringless legends. It's no coincidence that any list of the greatest players without championships is filled with point guards. Stockton and Nash headline the list, but there are also guys like Mark Price and Lenny Wilkens and modern stars like Deron Williams and Chris Paul.
That list doesn't tell the whole story. Remember, several star point guards failed to win championships as the leaders of their teams, but managed to get one after catching on with a contender as a role player.
Oscar Robertson didn't win his championship until he played with Kareem. Gary Payton got his as a bench player for the '06 Heat, and Jason Kidd was no higher than fourth (after Dirk, Tyson Chandler and Rick Carlisle) on the list of most valuable Mavericks in 2011.
What all of this says is that teams don't need point guards, they just need a creator. NBA champions tend to be built around one of two things: perimeter scorers or big men. The common thread is that in both cases, the team had someone initiating the offense that usually wasn't a pure point guard.
At 6'9'' Magic Johnson wasn't a pure point guard, he was a distributor in a power forward's body. Larry Bird served the same role for Boston (though as a small forward). The Bulls' offense during their dynasty was initiated by a shooting guard (Jordan). Same goes for the Lakers with Kobe Bryant.
Some teams got even more creative with their offenses. Bill Walton was the initiator of Portland's offense when healthy, despite being a center. LeBron James has played every position on the court, but what never changes is that he has the ball.
The simple fact here is that championship teams rarely have star pure point guards. Considering the history of the league and the fact that guys like LeBron, Kobe and Kevin Durant aren't going away, it seems nearly impossible for a modern team to win with one.
Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, every talking head feels the need to remind us that this is a "point guard driven league." It isn't. Point guards don't win championships, perimeter creators and big men do.
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