Can a 2-Point Guard Backcourt Actually Work in the NBA?

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIISeptember 22, 2012

14 Aug 1994:  Guard Joe Dumars of the United States celebrates with Isiah Thomas after a World Championship game against Russia.  USA won the game, 137-91. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger  /Allsport
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The landscape of the NBA is an ever-changing anomaly. With each generation comes a deviation from the previous form, thus creating a game of pure unpredictability. As one could only expect, the latest era of basketball is no different from the past.

The most recent change of pace has seen the NBA go from a league of perfected fundamentals to explosive athleticism with a poor feel for the basics. For those who believe the changes will end at a mere change in physical ability, however, the new generation of coaches have another trick up their respective sleeves.

While the traditional backcourt of a point guard and shooting guard remains the most common lineup utilized, teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves have begun to adopt a new system. Rather than signing a conventional shooting guard, the franchises have opted to run with a two-point guard system, thus enabling the teams to look to multiple players at once for both ball-handling and facilitating.

For those NBA diehards, this system has been used before. The Chuck Daly-led Detroit Pistons paired Isiah Thomas with Joe Dumars. This created an elite two-guard system which led to a combined average of 14.0 assists per game during their 1988-89 championship season (8.3 per game from Thomas and 5.7 from Dumars).

Although that Pistons unit had extreme success, winning two consecutive NBA titles, they also happened to be arguably the greatest defensive team in NBA history. As a result, the dual point guard set was rarely acknowledged as a reason for success.

Inevitably, it never caught on as a widespread system. 

For that reason, it's difficult to define its success, which begs the question, can a two-point guard backcourt actually work in the NBA?

There are obvious factors that point to the potential failure of such a system. A size disadvantage, for instance, will almost certainly occur, with the average point guard coming in somewhere between 6'0" and 6'3". The standard shooting guard ranges anywhere from 6'4" to 6'7".

For that reason, there is logic behind the skepticism. This detraction does not mean that the system cannot work, however, as this remains a beneficial approach.

Over the past 10 seasons, the San Antonio Spurs have won three NBA titles and have made it out of the first round of the postseason in all but one year. One of the major reasons for this consistent string of success is the backcourt pairing of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Although Ginobili is considered to be an elite shooting guard, his greatest skill is his outstanding ball-handling. Paired with his point guard-caliber passing, the Spurs have become the quintessential dual point guard success story.

Other examples include the pairing of Kenny Smith and Clyde Drexler for the 1995 Houston Rockets and Jason Kidd with Jason Terry for the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. Unfortunately, we once again find that the the dual ball-handler system was not these championship-winning teams' greatest strength.

For that reason, it's clear what the key to a two-point guard set truly is: At least one guard listed must be either an elite scorer or defender.

Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were both elite perimeter defenders. They were equally as sound on offense. Thomas' career averages round out at 19.2 points and 1.9 steals per game. Dumars' rest at 16.1 points and 0.9 steals, which doesn't quite do the "Jordan Killer" justice.

For the San Antonio Spurs, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have averaged 16.8 and 15.2 points per game respectively. Each player has been known to go off for 30 when he turns it on, which is why the dynamic duo have functioned in perfect harmony.

As for Kenny Smith and Clyde Drexler, they've each carved out legacies as offensive-minded players. Drexler happens to be a Hall of Famer, and was one of the most dynamic scorers of his time, even as his career dwindled down in Houston.

Smith and Drexler also benefited from Hakeem Olajuwon residing in the paint, but that's another story.

The Dallas Mavericks may be the greatest wild card of all. Both Jason Kidd and Jason Terry are elite ball-handlers, while Kidd happens to be one of the greatest facilitators in NBA history. Terry and Kidd both are amongst the top 10 three-point shooters in league history as well, which makes the pairing work.

Through all of the upside, however, we find ourselves back at the original detraction. That, of course, is the pressing question of how a point guard duo can overcome the inevitable size deficiency.

As history has shown us, it's rare that they're able to. The duos listed almost always had shooting guards with exceptional ball-handling abilities. As the modern-day Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves hope to place two legitimate point guards together, struggle becomes inevitable.

Ultimately, a dual point guard set cannot work at the NBA level. Pairing two elite ball-handlers and facilitators, however, can work at a championship level.

To utilize the point guard system on a temporary basis would be wise for any team looking to bring a new dynamic to their offensive attack. For a team to build its starting rotation with two lead guards, however, would limit its potential success.

In a day and age in which the Dwyane Wade breed of shooting guards is becoming more common, it would behoove general managers to simply find an elite ball-handling shooting guard. Otherwise, teams will be disappointed by the results they see.

They'll also learn the hard way that having two facilitating ball-handlers is not quite as effective as running two point guards.