The point guard position is commonly referred to as the player who initiates the team’s offense, the floor general. In recent history, the NBA’s infrastructure has undergone a makeover. Now, it’s all about a lightning quick pace and guards that can score the ball at will. While this has produced some exciting and flashy play, there is one critical argument that needs to be discussed with these point guards.
While these scoring “point” guards can produce huge numbers and exciting play, they don’t win championships. Whenever a discussion is brought up about Hall of Fame caliber players, the ring discussion is always brought up. Winning a championship is the pinnacle of success in the NBA, especially as the point guard. The point guard’s main duties are to will his team to victory–he is supposed to control everything on the floor. Would Magic Johnson be considered the greatest point guard of all-time without his five championship rings?
This is being brought up because many of the NBA’s teams are being led by a new breed of scoring point guards. The old fashioned, pass-first guard is a thing of the past. Enter thoroughbreds like John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook. All five of these point guards are averaging over 20 points per game this season, embodying the role of a pure scoring point guard. When you think about these guards, it’s not Rajon Rondo, chasing triple-doubles and skipping full-court dimes to open teammates. It’s more of a charging to the rack, scoring mentality.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this on the surface. However, let me be straight here for a second. Save Damian Lillard, who appears to be an outlier of this conversation, do you honestly see any of these point guards winning a championship during their careers? Sure, their play is exciting as hell to watch. But in the end, they don’t win rings. The history and facts prove this.
Since Isiah Thomas won the Finals MVP in 1989-1990 with the Detroit Pistons as a point guard, there have only been TWO point guards to win a Finals MVP in the last 21 years. These two are Tony Parker with the Spurs in 2006-2007 and Chauncey Billups with the Detroit Pistons in 2003-2004. Anyone that knows basketball is aware that Tony Parker is more of a facilitator than anything for the Spurs–plus Tim Duncan was the leading scorer during that championship run in 2006-2007, scoring 22.2 points per game in the playoffs.
That Detroit Pistons team that won the Finals in 2003-2004 was a team that was predicated on hard-nosed defense–not one player on the team averaged over 18 PPG in the regular season. This Pistons squad scored only 90.1 points per game (24th in the NBA), while only giving up 84.3 points per game (first in the NBA). Their offense played at a relatively slow pace (87.9 possessions) and wasn’t dominated by one player. Chauncey Billups only averaged 16.4 points per game in the playoffs, shooting 39 percent from the field. Plus, Billups was only taking 12.4 shots per game, compared to 17.6 for Rip Hamilton. Billups was Finals MVP by facilitating his offense and being the floor general in every aspect of the position. Let’s compare this to Russell Westbrook’s playoff run in 2011-2012, when the Thunder made it to the NBA Finals. Westbrook is one of the scoring point guards that has came close to winning a championship, even if his success is predicated by Kevin Durant‘s insane skills.
Russell Westbrook is the embodiment of a scoring point guard. While Kevin Durant is considered the star in Oklahoma City, there is no doubt that Westbrook has been attempting to wrangle that position from him for years. During their NBA Finals run in 2011-2012, Westbrook led the Thunder in field goal attempts per game with 20.4, but only shot 44 percent from the field and 28 percent from deep. Westbrook also boasted the highest usage percentage during the playoffs of 30.7 percent. This equated to A LOT of Westbrook pounding the ball into the ground and a lot of Russell Westbrook shots, which takes up valuable possessions and clock. Westbrook scored 23.1 PPG in the playoffs, which was 5.4 points less than Kevin Durant’s 28.5. Durant also took one less shot than Westbrook per game and had a lower usage percentage, while shooting 52 percent from the floor. Imagine if the Thunder were led by a pass-first point guard–would they have eclipsed the NBA championship hump that year? That can only be tossed up for speculation.
For these other scoring point guards, most of them haven’t reached the type of success that Westbrook has, partially, because none of them have someone named Kevin Durant on their side. Without Durant, Westbrook would arguably be in the same position as Wall, Irving, Thomas and the others. What position is this? Being the leading scorer and arguably best player on a team that isn’t winning. These guards break people down by driving and getting to the rim. They dribble and dribble and use up a lot of clock to get their shots up. Whenever the point guard is leading the team in shots, it usually equates to a lot of stagnant offense, which explains the low shooting percentages coupled with high usage ratings. And these players aren’t just not winning championships; they are barely winning games in the regular season. The Wizards are the only team over .500 at 30-28. The Cavaliers sit at 23-36 and the Kings are at 20-37 and the second-worst team in the Western Conference. Let’s look at John Wall and the Washington Wizards.
The Wizards currently hold the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, but are only a few games away from falling out of playoff contention. Wall is taking 16.8 shots per game, which leads the team. Wall also has a usage percentage of 27.7, which also leads the team. Even though Wall is leading the team in shots and scoring, he is sixth in offensive rating at 106. It’s also significant to point out that while Wall is leading the team in scoring, he is eighth on the team in field goal percentage at under 43 percent.
Even though Wall is essentially a scoring point guard, he might be the best facilitator out of the bunch–throwing 8.6 dimes per game. Per NBA.com/stats, Wall is taking up 97.8 touches per game, with a total of 5,672 touches this season. Wall possesses the ball for approximately 8.0 minutes per game, which is the highest in the NBA. Since we are discussing winning, Wall is only contributing .136 win shares per 48 to the Wizards, which is tied for third on the team behind Ariza, Gortat and Booker. (The graph below includes all games before Thursday night.)
Obviously, John Wall is explosive and a scoring threat at the point guard position–there is no denying that. But, his style of play doesn’t translate into winning for the Wizards. He’s fun to watch and his stats will make you believe that he’s an elite player. He might be an elite scorer, but is he really an elite floor general? That’s up for debate.
How can he improve in the win column? Well a start would be to surround Wall with better talent. The Wizards definitely have the least amount of talent between the teams we are discussing here, yet they are in playoff contention. Wall has improved as a facilitator and is close to finding the perfect balance between scoring and facilitating. It will be interesting to watch Wall progress and how he reacts to better talent coming along in Washington.