Are Elite PG's Really Needed for Playoff Success and Championships?
Elite point guards are fun to watch because they can dictate the tempo of a game. With their ability to handle the basketball, drive to the hoop, shoot from the outside, and their solid defend.
Yet, is it a reality in the NBA that having an elite point guard isn't necessarily that beneficial for success in the playoffs?
Are role playing point guards the better fit for a team?
In the last 10 years the Los Angeles Lakers have won four championships, the San Antonio Spurs three, along with the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Detroit Pistons.
The starting point guards for those teams have been Derek Fisher, Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups, Jason Williams, and Rajon Rondo.
Only Billups was considered as one of the better point guards in the league primarily for his ability to defend and hit big shots. What about the opponents in the Finals for the teams that won championships? Eric Snow, Jason Kidd, Fisher, Billups, Jason Terry, Snow, Rafer Alston, and Rondo.
Out of all the point guards on teams to make the Finals, Kidd and Billups were the only two that could be considered elite.
Starting with Derek Fisher, who has played 14 seasons including two stints with the Los Angeles Lakers, a short time with Golden State Warriors, and a season with the Utah Jazz.
He's never been an elite point guard even though he's won five championship rings in his career. For his career he have averaged 9 points, 3.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds, 1.1 steals, on 40.2 percent shooting, 37.3 percent from three, and 81.2 percent from the free throw line.
What has helped Fisher thought be part of teams that have gotten to the Finals as well as winning those five rings is his knack for clutch shooting and his ability to defend. Any scoring that Fisher did was just an added bonus for the Lakers.
The championship teams of the Lakers include the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Trevor Ariza, and Pau Gasol.
For Tony Parker, it was a little bit different. He's not known for his defense, which is about average for a point guard. He was counted on as more of a change-up for the Spurs offense.
The reason is Parker is lightning quick and could lead the break very well for the Spurs. He allowed the team to run. He was the second leading scorer for the Spurs behind Tim Duncan.
In the three championship this decade for the Spurs, Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson and Bruce Bowen played major roles in the championships. With Jackson only being around for one of the championships.
Parker has averaged 16.6 points, 5.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds, a steal, on 49 percent shooting, 31.2 percent from three, and 72.8 percent from the free throw line.
Another example of that is with the Boston Celtics and winning their championship this decade. The Celtics had Rondo who is a great defensive point arguably the best in the NBA right now.
Rondo, like Parker, was used more as a change of pace because of his athleticism. Rondo could get into the open court more easily than the likes of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce.
This is one of the reasons why Rondo is able to get to the rim so much. His major weakness though is his shooting from outside 12 feet. Rondo has one of the worst jumpers in the NBA, which was exploited in the Finals by the Lakers especially in game seven.
Rondo basically disappeared from the late first quarter until the closing minutes of the game. Rondo disappeared because Bryant had dared him to shoot from about 15 feet out and Rondo missed the shot badly.
When the Celtics won the championship, Rondo was the fourth option offensively. He helped get Pierce, Allen, and Garnett the best looks possible and he played his role extremely well that the Celtics were able to defeat the Lakers in six games.
In his young career so far Rondo has averaged 10.7 points, 6.8 assists, 4.4 rebounds, on 48.9 percent shooting, and 63 percent from the free throw line.
When the Miami Heat won the championship they had Jason Williams running the point. Again, a role player for the season and in the playoffs!
Williams in his career has been known for his flashiness and ability to set up teammates. That's what the Heat counted on him to do to help Dwyane Wade and O'Neal.
In his career, he has averaged 10.8 points, 6 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals, on 39.9 percent shooting, 32.8 percent from three, and 81.3 percent from the free throw line.
Billups the only elite guard to make the list that won a championship. It had less to do with his passing ability as a point guard but more to do with his defensive abilities and hitting clutch shots.
He also got help from Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace. The Pistons strength was its defense as the likes of Billups, Prince, and both Wallace's played huge roles in defeating the Lakers in five games.
Billups in his career has averaged 15.4 points, 5.6 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal, on 41.6 percent shooting, 38.8 percent from three, and 89.2 percent from the free throw line.
Again, on those championship teams and those Finals teams, there were no point guards by the name of Paul, Williams, or Nash.
Even looking at the 1990s when the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets combined for eight of the 10 championships, neither team had an elite point guard. The point guards on those teams were Steve Kerr, B.J. Armstrong, John Paxson, Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, and Scott Brooks.
Bulls had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The Rockets was Hakeem Olajuwon. Yet, none of the point guards on the Bulls or Rockets were elite.
The two other teams that won championships in the decade were the Spurs and Lakers. The point guard again for the Lakers was Fisher and the point guard for the Spurs was Avery Johnson.
Fisher was a role player with O'Neal and Bryant leading the way. As was Johnson for the Spurs. The Spurs two most important players were David Robinson and Tim Duncan. However, Johnson came up huge for the Spurs because the New York Knicks were daring him to take 15 foot jumpers and he was making them.
The teams that made the Finals were the Lakers, Trail Blazers, Suns, Knicks, Magic, Supersonics, Jazz, and Pacers. As for the point guards on these teams they were elite in the 90s at least for most of the Finals appearances.
This list includes Magic Johnson, Terry Porter, John Stockton, Kevin Johnson, Greg Anthony, Penny Hardaway, Gary Payton, and Charlie Ward.
Of this group that got to the Finals, five of them were elite point guards and three were role players.
In the 70's, the 10 championship teams were the Milwaukee Bucks, Lakers, Knicks, Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Trail Blazers, Washington Bullets, and the Supersonics.
Of those teams, the point guards were Oscar Robertson, Flynn Robinson, Walt Frazier, Jo Jo White, Butch Beard, Lionel Hollins, Tom Henderson, Gus Williams, and Magic Johnson.
In the group, only Robertson, Frazier, and Johnson were elite point guards. The rest were role players for their respective teams.
The Celtics dominated in the 60's. Here's a look at the championship teams in the decade. Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones, Mal Graham, and Em Bryant. The 76ers and Knicks were the only two teams to win a championship in the 60's as well.
Point guards on those teams were Frazier and Wali Jones. Cousy in the first championship was elite but the following three seasons he became a role player. Jones was a role player, and Graham and Bryant were more of bench players than anything because John Havlicek could handle the ball for the Celtics.
For the 50's era, the Celtics started their dominance at the tail end of the decade.
The Minneapolis Lakers started out the NBA's first decade by winning three straight titles and four out of the first five. The Rochester Royals, Syracuse Nationals, Philadelphia Warriors, and the St. Louis Hawks twice also won championships.
For the teams their point guards were Slater Martin, Bobby Wanzer, George King, Jack George, Jack McMahon, and Cousy.
First decade in NBA history didn't see too many elite point guards.
Only two could be considered elite that won championships that was Cousy and George. Also during this time it truly was based on the dominance of big men with the likes of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Pettit, and Bill Russell.
What do the last two decades prove?
It is beneficial to have a shooting guard that can handle the ball and make plays the chance of a championship is better. In the last 17 out of 20 seasons, the shooting guard was one of the best players on the team.
When a team had a big man, it was 15 out of 20 seasons that the center or power forward was one of, if not the best, player on the team that led the team to a championship.
For small forwards, 10/20 the small forwards was amongst the better players on the team.
Finally, for point guards only one out of the 20 seasons was there a point guard that could be considered elite amongst the best players to lead their team to a championship.
The reason why it has been difficult for a point guard to lead their team to a Finals appearance or championship is because of unselfishness. A point guard's primary responsibility is to distribute the ball first and score second. It's difficult for them to change their mindset to score first and then get teammates involved.
In the playoffs, defenses get tighter and are more willing to dare a point guard to score, which goes away from a point guards first instincts which is to get his teammates involved in the offense.
Yet, there's a reason why out of the position players, the shooting guard has been the most successful. A shooting guards main purpose is to score and pass second. The opposite of what a point guards responsibilities are and hence why the shooting guards have had more success.
Even going by the two teams being predicted to win the championship for the 2010-2011 season, neither team has an elite point guard. Both point guards on those teams are going to be role players.
If the last two decades are any indication of how the NBA has gone, elite point guards are not necessary for playoff success or for winning a championship.
The Bulls and Lakers combined over the last two decades have won a total of 11 championships without an elite point guard.
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