How Dual-Point Guard Lineups Are Changing the NBA Backcourt Model
The NBA is constantly changing, cosmetic makeup of the backcourt included.
As many of the league's teams begin to embrace what has become the art of small ball, a number of possibilities have now opened up in not just the frontcourt, but the backcourt as well.
Prior to the acceptance of the small-ball concept, backcourts consisted of a prototypical point guard and shooting guard. One man's job was essentially to get the other the ball; one played on the ball, the other played off it.
Now, however, we're seeing an increased use of what have become known as "Dual Point Guard" lineups, where teams are playing two altruistic floor generals at once.
We've seen it done by the Los Angeles Clippers before; last season, they started both Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul. The Minnesota Timberwolves are no stranger to it either, having opted to play Ricky Rubio—when healthy—alongside Luke Ridnour quite often. And we're seeing such a lineup used in full force with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd for the New York Knicks.
Simply put, whether it takes place from the onset of a game or occurs during the heart of it, these dual-point guard sets are becoming more common. And it's having a revolutionary impact on the game.
On the surface, it seems like a minor deviation from the norm, yet the fact is playing two point men within the same lineup has a dynamic impact on the team's entire blueprint.
Within a binary point guard design, offenses now have two athletes capable of bringing the ball up and directing the offense. We'll always see plenty of point forwards who opt to take the ball up the floor when they grab a rebound, but this is different.
Most point guards' natural instincts are to pass first, shoot later. They possess an inherent need to attack the paint and kick the rock out to an open wing or trailer. All one needs to do is watch a few seconds of game film on Rubio or Kidd to see how true this is.
What this is doing is putting an increased emphasis on ball movement. The more point guards that are on the floor at any time, the less likely a team is to remain stagnant in its passing. After all, these are guys who were drafted, for the most part, to do just that—pass.
An even bigger change that such structural tactics are bringing about, however, is an emphasis on shooting.
Again, with more and more teams opting to play positionless basketball, spreading the floor is stressed with the utmost importance. Doing so gives the one big man present more room to operate down low while also opening up lanes for the most habitual of rim-attackers.
But you cannot stretch defenses without shooters. In the age of stretch forwards, plenty of bigger players are anything but shy when it comes to hoisting up deep balls. Typically, however, it's the point and shooting guards who possess the most accurate of outside touches.
To date, of all NBA players who have attempted at least 20 three-pointers, point guards and shooting guards make up 41 out of the top 50 success rates. Clearly, if a team's ultimate goal is to stretch the floor, playing a surplus of guards is going to help that cause.
Doubling up in the backcourt with point guards then allows teams the luxury—or option—of shifting a shooting guard to the small forward spot, and so on. All in the name of offense.
To say such a delineation of a backcourt is flawless, though, would be bold and absolutely wrong. Though such models ensure the small-ball concept be executed with efficiency and precision, it can be a potential hazard on defense.
For teams that do not utilize the same type of lineup structure, they have an instant matchup edge on the offensive end. There are point guards who possess some size, but most will physically pale in comparison to a classic wing.
At the same time, however, this holds true for small-ball lineups in general. Playing traditional small forwards at the power forward position has its advantages on offense, but it can prove dangerously ineffective on defense.
What will ultimately happen to dual-point guard lineups?
It comes down to preference and prioritizing. And just as we're seeing teams place more stock into athleticism by limiting the use and number of conventional big men, we're seeing them place an increased accentuation on playmaking and shooting.
Which is why dual-point guard lineups are becoming more common.
Suddenly, in the age of versatility, standardized distributors are being encouraged to hone their off-ball movements. Almost without warning, shoot-first point men are acceptable, because their stylings can be combated with the use of a natural point guard in the same lineup.
So yes, the backcourt, just like the frontcourt before it, is evolving. Its model for success is no longer rigid in structure, but open for interpretation and team-by-team predilection.
And should we take the elevated application of such a strategy into account, it's affluently clear that these modernized models aren't going anywhere.
All stats in this article are accurate as of Nov. 30, 2012.
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