The 2013 summer free agency period is winding down, and it’s time for the dog days of summer as most NBA-heads take a break before training camp at the end of September. But with so much movement during July’s free agency period, a lot of fans and coaches are looking at a bunch of new faces once training camp opens. This is certainly the case for five teams with a new point guard in the backcourt.
An elite starting point guard is a must-have if you’re an NBA team that doesn’t possess LeBron James. In last year’s conference finals, two of the final four teams possessed points who could rightfully be called elite, with Tony Parker carving up Memphis’ stout defense as the Spurs swept a tough Grizzlies group. While not elite, George Hill was also instrumental in Indiana pushing the champion Heat to a Game 7. Mike Conley‘s excellent play was one of the primary reasons the Grizzlies were able to advance the farthest they’ve ever gone in postseason play despite lacking very much outside shooting to space the floor for their Grit ‘N Grind crew in the post.
The importance of a quality point guard wasn’t lost on teams this summer with a number of backcourt helmsman changing teams, and that’s neglecting to mention that Brandon Jennings‘ future in Milwaukee is still murky as of this writing. But there were five solid point guards who changed teams, and they could be the difference between contending for a playoff spot, or another round of ping pong oddsmakers next summer.
Here are the five best point guards who will be donning new uniforms next season, and how they might affect their team’s fortunes moving forward.
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5. Greivis Vasquez
We already alluded to the battle Greivis Vasquez might have for starter status in Sacramento next season, since Isaiah Thomas is entering his third season in the league and isn’t likely to give up his role without a training camp battle.
But the 26-year-old Venezuelan stands nine inches taller than the 5-9 Thomas, and at 6-6 he’s able to see over most opposing point guards. He used that size to his advantage in something of a career year last season for a New Orleans team in a moment of transition, averaging career-highs in points, assists, rebounds and field goal percentage. He even flirted with averaging a double-double, going for 13.9 points and 9.0 assists per game in under 36 minutes a night.
Vasquez joins another team in transition with Sacramento. They moved Tyreke Evans in a three-team sign-and-trade that brought them Vasquez, rather than let him walk with nothing in return. They drafted Ray McCallumâ€”another pointâ€”and brought in the efficient Carl Landry to shore up their frontcourt. They’ve also got a new owner, a new general manager, Pete D’Alessandro, and a new coach in Mike Malone.
With Zeke, Jimmer Fredette and McCallum behind Vasquez, we’re not sure how much playing time he’ll get in Sacramento, since he’s not really known for his explosiveness and at 26 has probably reached near his apexâ€”in terms of production. What he can bring is a steady hand in the backcourt, and a pass-first mentality the Kings have been lacking in the past from their guards (i.e. ‘Reke & Aaron Brooks). Time will tell how much effect Vasquez’s heady game will have on the new-look Kings, though.
4. Jose Calderon
The least heralded member of the 50/40/90 club, Calderon signed a four-year, $29 million contract this summer with the Dallas Mavericks, and it appears the 31-year-old could finish his NBA career in Texas. Last season, he spent time splitting minutes with Kyle Lowry in Toronto and getting traded to Pistons as part of the three-team trade to bring Rudy Gay to Toronto.
Even with all that turmoil for this 2012-13 season, Calderon saw his scoring increase while approaching 50/40/90 territory for the second time in his career after shooting 49.1 percent from the field, a career-high 46.1 percent from three, and 90 percent from the charity stripe. Yes, Calderon is on the downside of his prime, but steady eddy is someone that can knock down an open three-pointer and convincingly run the offense with a pass-first mentality.
After Darren Collison‘s disappointing 2012-13 season in Dallasâ€”so much so, journeyman guard Mike James stole the starting spot from him mid-way throughâ€”the Mavs are just happy they have another solid point guard. With Monta Ellis coming over from Milwaukee, the Mavs have ushered in their plan B after failing to land Dwight Howard or Josh Smith. Calderon is the focal point of that movement, even if he’s unable to log much more than 30 or so high quality minutes a night, with Gal Mekal coming on in back-up duty.
3. Eric Bledsoe
This is finally the year Eric Bledsoe gets to play as a starter since he’s backed up all-world point guard Chris Paul the last two seasons in Los Angeles. The Suns’ picked up the much sought-after bench guard despite already having a solid point in Goran Dragic, who is locked up at $7.5 million a season through 2014-15.
Last season was Bledsoe’s best as a pro, averaging career-highs in points and rebounds. Despite standing just 6-1, the hyper-athletic Bledsoe can jump out of the gym, and is one of the toughest guys to block out when the ball is in the air on the offensive end. He still needs to play a little more under control, since that athleticism can get the best of him, but he’s a very good defender, who has improved his ballhandling and shooting, two huge demerits through his first two NBA seasons.
While Bledsoe’s 36-minute averages tapered off towards the end of this past season, he still managed to shoot a career-best from the field. That includes a drastic jump in his percentage from deep. After failing to crack 30 percent on three-point attempts through his first two seasons, Bledsoe’s 3-point shooting accuracy climbed to 39.7 percent last season. He only attempted one 3-pointer a game last season in 20 minutes of action, but if he can keep that percentage in the high 30s without the law of diminishing returns affecting him, the Suns might have an elite core in their backcourt to build around.
Right now the Suns might keep Dragic at point and move Bledsoe over as an undersized off-guard, but we’re still counting him as a point for the purposes of this list. With little expected from Phoenix this season as they look towards the stacked 2014 Draft, Bledsoe can experience the growing pains of full-time guard status without the expectations other guards on this list will have to meet.
That’s a good thing too because even as a three-year vet, Bledsoe doesn’t turn 24 until October. Doc Rivers did all he could to keep Bledsoe in L.A., but with a rookie contract that expires at the end of the season and with Paul making max money for the Clippers, it was hard to argue for the money Bledsoe will likely command if he keeps improving like he did last season.
2. Jarrett Jack
There is a contingent of Dub fans in the Bay who thought Jarrett Jack took too many mid-range jumpers last season as a pseudo-backup/third guard for the Warriors. They thought he dribbled too much and many declared his inefficiency rather loudly over Twitter. But for Cleveland fans, the signing of Jack to a four-year, $25.2 million deal (the fourth year is partially guaranteed with a player option), meant the Cavaliers were serious when they said during this year’s draft lottery that they didn’t plan on being back next summer.
Ostensibly, Jack is a $6.3 million backup for oft-injured star Kyrie Irving, but like he did in Golden State last season, he can serve as both a backup and the off-guard when Irving is on the floor. They need more offensive punch in their backcourt, anyway. Last season, Jack shot 45 percent from the floor and over 40 percent on 3-pointers, so he’s more than capable of lighting it up when he’s feeling it.
But Jack doesn’t just jack up shots, despite what some Dub fans feel after watching him in the backcourt with the rising star of Stephen Curry. He also averaged 5.6 assists in just under 30 minutes of action a game, and when the team’s offensive movement broke down sometimes, Jack’s steadying hand after eight years in the league could be quite helpful for a young Cavs squad.
There will be times when Cavs fans will scream in terror as Jack ignores an open Irving on the wing to dribbled at the top of the key and shoot a low-efficiency mid-range jumper above the free throw line, but that’s just part and parcel of his old school game. He’s going to shoot when he has an opening, and Cavs fans should just grin and bear it because he brings a ton of experience and leadership to a team that’s one of the youngest in the league.
1. Jrue Holiday
The draft-day trade sending All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and Pierre Jackson to the Pelicans for a top-five protected 2014 first-round pick and the rights to Nerlens Noel had some people thinking Pelicans GM Dell Demps had overestimated the value of the point entering just his third season in the league. Some even thought new Sixers GM Sam Hinkie was a genius for the move.
But the 2008 McDonald’s All-American was an All-Star last season in Philadelphia despite very little around him talent-wise. Andrew Bynum never played, and then-coach and partial GM Doug Collins‘ moves the summer before turned out to be such a bust, he resigned this summer. But locking up Holiday to a four-year, $41 million deal was smart, and the Pelicans will now reap the rewards.
Besides, Demps was informed by new Pellies (â„¢Zach Lowe) owner Tom Benson to win and win now. Trading away their Noel pick for Holiday and working out an expensive sign-and-trade deal sending the No. 5 on our listâ€”Vasquezâ€”to Sacramento while signing Tyreke Evans might be overpaying for a lackluster set of players who overlap at important positions. Or it could mean a really tough backcourt/wing combo of Evans at small forward, Eric Gordon at the off-guard and Holiday as their point.
With Anthony Davis as the cornerstone of the frontcourt, and Ryan Anderson coming off the bench to terrify defenses who can’t stay with him in transition as he sets up behind the arc, the Pelicans are fringe playoff contenders in a loaded Western Conference this season. Jrue might have the most pressure on this list, but as the only All-Star â€” and at just 23 years old, still very young â€” Holiday also has the greatest potential to become one of the top tier point guards most non-LeBron teams need these days to, not only make the playoffs, but actually compete once there.
Only time will tell which of these five ends up being the most important to their new teams.
Who will be the best point guard in a new uniform next year?
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