How Scoring Point Guards Became the Future of the NBA
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Today, as a result of a steady influx of point guards who score points, they are now the future of the league.
But it’s not due to the influx of the scoring point guard alone. It also has as much to do with the fact that today, NBA coaches and front-office executives are more readily accepting of harnessing the talents of a scoring point guard instead of encouraging them to change their ways.
Today, it’s OK for a point guard to look to score the ball as much as he distributes it. The acceptance of that fact has a lot to do with the early success of a pair of scoring point guards who entered the league in 2008 and whose respective careers have seen unprecedented early success.
After being selected by the Chicago Bulls with the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, Derrick Rose’s career has seen a meteoric ascent to superstardom.
Prior to selecting Rose, the Bulls were a team that was offensively inefficient. Prior to his arrival, during the 2007-08 season, the Bulls ranked 18th in the league in scoring, averaging 97.3 points per game. That was a major contributing factor to the Bulls going just 33-49 during the 2007-08 season.
The next season, after selecting Rose with the first overall pick in the 2008 draft, the Bulls ranked eighth in the league in scoring at 102.2 points per game. Rose’s 16.8 points per game as a rookie certainly helped the cause.
Today, Rose’s career averages of 21 points per game and 6.8 assists per game enable him to be dubbed a “scoring” point guard, as does the fact that each year since his rookie year, he’s led his team in field goal attempts per game.
Despite that, after just four short seasons, Rose has led the rejuvenation of the Bulls, showing that a scoring point guard can be the catalyst to a winning program so long as he is not overly selfish, plays tough defense, plays on a team that utilizes his strengths and believes in his coach.
After just four short years, Rose has already done things that some of his most renowned predecessors—Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and even Gilbert Arenas—could not accomplish.
Of the three, Iverson has had the most accomplished career, but it is Rose who, after the 2010-11 season, became the youngest Most Valuable Player in league history after leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. It wasn't until Iverson's third year that he managed to take the Sixers to the playoffs; Rose got his Bulls there as a rookie.
To Iverson's credit, he led the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2000, but the success was short-lived. After the Finals run, Iverson would spend five years with the Sixers. In those five years, the Sixers failed to make the playoffs more times (twice) than it advanced out of the first round (once).
Rose is far ahead of Iverson's curve. In just his third year, Rose's Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference Finals before eventually losing to the Miami Heat in a five-game playoff series that was actually much closer and more competitive than the 4-1 series count would lead one to believe.
Unfortunately, since then, Rose has not spent as much time on the court as the Bulls would have liked. Rose played just 39 of 66 regular season games for the Bulls during the 2011-12 lockout shortened season due to a myriad of injuries. He then tore his left ACL during Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Just how far the Bulls can go with Rose remains to be seen, but it’s a question whose answer we will probably find out soon.
Rose already has some impressive individual accolades, but his draft mate, Russell Westbrook, is another scoring point guard whose team has arguably had more collective success than Rose’s Bulls.
With Westbrook as the team’s lead guard, the Thunder won the Western Conference before losing to the Heat in the 2011-12 NBA Finals.
Though Westbrook has not won an MVP or been named to an All-NBA First Team, he, like Rose, is a three-time All-Star. Westbrook has also been named to the All-NBA Second Team twice.
That the Bulls and Thunder have found such success with two point guards who lack traditional playing styles flies in the face of popular convention.
But whether or not Rose and Westbrook have found success can’t be debated.
And that has much to do with why the NBA media and front offices have warmed to the idea of allowing non-traditional point guards to play their games.
Since Rose and Westbrook entered the league, the NBA has seen an influx of point guards that includes Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Eric Bledsoe, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard.
Although the scouting reports on both Curry and Jennings had them each dubbed as being “scoring” point guards, that did not stop the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks from making each of them lottery picks back in 2009.
Today, although Jrue Holiday was named as a reserve for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, it is Irving and Lillard who are the league’s two most talked-about young point guards.
The dearth of talent surrounding Irving in Cleveland makes the fact that he averages only 5.6 assists per game somewhat understandable. His 24.2 points per game on 18.8 shots per game is excusable. But Lillard, playing for a much more talented team, averages the second-most shots per game in Portland, 15.3, behind only LaMarcus Aldridge (17.5).
At this point, Lillard is the runaway favorite to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award, though that can change over the second half of the season.
But the major point is that Lillard has not been criticized for looking for his shot or being too offensive-minded because the way we viewed point guards today is different than the way we viewed them 10 years ago.
In the mid-1990s, the NBA was in the midst of the golden age of centers. Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutumbo, Brad Daugherty, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Vlade Divac and Rik Smits come to mind.
Over the next decade, by 2005, the league had seen a steady influx of dynamic wing players from Grant Hill, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson all the way through to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and even more recently, Kevin Durant.
Now, today, perhaps beginning with Rose and Westbrook back in 2008, the league seems to be beginning an era in which the skill set of the combo guard and the shoot-first point guard is embraced.
At this point, we don’t know if a team built around a scoring point guard can win an NBA championship. But with an abundance of them leading their respective teams, and a seemingly newfound belief on the part of front offices in being able to win with them, it won’t be too long until we find out.
For that, we can thank Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. Due in large part to them and the fact that the Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder have been able to win big with them, scoring point guards are the future of the NBA.
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