Breaking Down San Antonio Spurs’ Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

In today’s NBA, there is hardly a limited supply of talented point guards. 

Perhaps more so now than ever before, the league can boast remarkable depth at the position as well as incredible star power at the top. And of course, the San Antonio Spurs can claim both within their roster as well. 

The spotlight certainly falls on Tony Parker, a soon-to-be 14-year veteran who has played various roles within the organization since he was drafted in 2001. He provides the team with the superstar talent necessary to win titles, though the roster boasts plentiful depth behind him—another key given Parker’s age.

As a whole, the point guard rotation has consistently been one of the team’s strongest features, and following a strong 2013-14 campaign, there’s little reason to believe 2014-15 won’t follow suit.

 

Looking Back

As he does every year, Parker headlined the Spurs’ point guard corps with under-the-radar excellence—serving as the team’s alpha dog and primary orchestrator throughout its 2013-14 pursuit of a title.

Despite a significant drop from his 2012-13 MVP-caliber stat line—his scoring and assist averages dipped from 20.3 and 7.6 to 16.7 and 5.7, respectively—digging deeper, the Spurs’ lone 2014 All-Star showed little evidence of a decline.

His playing time took an expected hit, and his changing role within the offense—spurred on by the rapid development of Kawhi Leonard as both a scorer and a playmaker—had a noticeable effect on Parker’s numbers.

Even so, his shooting efficiency remained top-notch, hovering around the 50 percent mark throughout the season. His poise, leadership and overall ability to drive his team to success were unchanged, and his stats remained admirable given the circumstances.

But Parker, though the linchpin of the team’s backcourt, hardly ran a one-man show. In fact, given his preseason expectations, Parker wasn’t even San Antonio’s showstopper at the point guard position. That honor belongs to Patty Mills, the team’s resident towel waver-turned-bench spark, whose contributions proved essential from start to finish.

Though he isn’t quite the player Parker is, he shattered expectations from day one. After serving the previous year as a bench bookend, Mills entered camp slimmer, the first of many improvements that surrounded his 2013-14 campaign. 

He became one of the team’s most reliable three-point shooters and a leader in the second unit from the season’s start to his championship-clinching Game 5 performance, in which he contributed 17 points, including 14 in the third quarter. 

When tasked with a heavier workload midseason due to a Parker injury, Mills responded with the strongest month of his career, establishing himself not only as a capable reserve but also as an individual capable of carrying a team in the near future.

His breakout alone is worthy of endless praise, but given the continued excellence of Parker and the increased development of fourth-year Cory Joseph, the Spurs deserve the highest of honors when it comes to the point guard position throughout their championship season.

2013-14 Point Guard Grade for San Antonio: A

 

Offseason Developments

The 2014 offseason was filled with highs and lows for the San Antonio Spurs, and a fair share of both revolve around Mills.

After his impressive campaign, Mills—an unrestricted free agent—entered the summer with a handful of options. Numerous teams with greater needs for his services had the money available to outbid San Antonio, and there was chatter within NBA circles regarding the young man’s potential as a starter.

Fortunately, Mills ended up re-signing in San Antonio. However, the reunion is due in no small part to a shoulder injury that cost Mills both a few million dollars and the opportunity to explore a future as a starter elsewhere.

The injury will keep him sidelined for a projected six months, heartbreaking news for both Mills and the Spurs, who became reliant on his services off the bench.

Beyond Mills, San Antonio offered a partially guaranteed contract to undrafted point guard Bryce Cotton, who will compete in training camp for a two-year contract after an impressive Summer League outing with the Spurs. 

At 5’11”, Cotton is hardly an imposing threat. However, what he lacks in size, he makes up for in talent. His success in college led to unanimous inclusion on the All-Big East First Team.

A talented scorer, he’ll have the opportunity to translate his collegiate success into a professional setting as he attempts to secure a roster spot for the upcoming season. 

 

Looking Forward

Even with Mills sidelined, the 2014-15 NBA season won’t be too different for the San Antonio point guard crew. Parker will return to lead the team, though he’ll likely see his stats and playing time diminish, as coach Gregg Popovich conserves the health and energy of his veterans.

Additionally, an increased focus on Leonard should take a load off Parker’s shoulders as the small forward looks to build upon his Finals MVP-worthy playoff campaign.

Still, Parker will serve as the team’s offensive catalyst and a likely contender for the All-Star Game.

Backing him up will be Joseph, who will assume the lead reserve duties as Mills recovers. Joseph has manned the main backup role before and has done so well. He’s the team’s best defensive option at the 1, and his confidence running the floor allows for seamless transitions whenever Parker needs to catch a break.

Joseph, though still raw, has been improving annually, and many people, including Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon, are confident that Mills’ absence won’t prove too hard for a Spurs team knee-deep at the point guard position:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has adapted his schemes to match his team’s collective strengths; he only needs to tweak it for Joseph.

San Antonio should not skip a beat because the efficiency of the backup point guards was so similar, both offensively and defensively. 

After all, Pop captains a plug-and-play operation, inserting the next man up and getting results. Besides, the show must go on, and the franchise will undoubtedly survive an unfortunate injury to a significant piece.

And of course, once Mills returns, look for him to pick up right where he left off. Joseph—who has shined in the past when given the opportunity—may steal a few minutes should he take advantage of his upcoming increased role, though the big picture—as it relates to the Spurs’ collection of point guards—should look similar to 2013-14.

After a season in which it sported one of the greatest cohorts of floor leaders, San Antonio will look for a repeat, relying on a full recovery from Mills, consistent improvements from Joseph and perennial excellence from Parker. 

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Breaking Down Miami Heat’s Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

When you have someone like LeBron James around, traditional point guards almost seem unnecessary.

The four-time MVP has established himself as the planet’s very best thanks in large part to his extraordinary playmaking ability. He may be a forward on paper, but in practice he’s also a floor general who can run and initiate offense with the very best of them.

Now the Miami Heat confront a post-LBJ era, an era in which point guards are suddenly anything but unnecessary.

While Dwyane Wade remains a capable ball-handler and facilitator, he’ll need help—the kind of help Miami sorely missed during the 2014 NBA Finals.

The question is where that help will come from.

 

Grading 2013-14′s Point Guard Performances

Maybe it’s unfair to judge starting point guard Mario Chalmers on the basis of his NBA Finals performance alone, but it’s awfully hard to ignore.

After a season in which the 28-year-old tallied 9.8 points and 4.9 assists per contest, Chalmers saved his worst for last—averaging just 4.4 points and 2.8 assists through five games against the San Antonio Spurs. For the series, he was just 7-of-21 from the field and turned the ball over 10 times through the first four games.

By the end of Game 3, Chalmers’ confidence had all but collapsed.

“I think everybody else is doing their job and I’m being that guy that’s not helping out,” Chalmers said after the game, per Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick. “I don’t want to be that guy.”

Chalmers added that he was “still at the drawing board.”

After Game 4, it was time for change. Head coach Erik Spoelstra benched Chalmers for Game 5, instead inserting shooting guard Ray Allen into the starting lineup. The decision conceded the Heat were struggling at a position widely regarded as the most important on the floor—and that backup point guard Norris Cole offered little hope.

During the season, Cole averaged just 6.4 points and three assists in 24.6 minutes per game. Beset by uneven playing time in the Finals, those numbers dropped to just 3.2 points and 1.8 assists per contest.

After three seasons of running point for Miami’s second unit, Cole clearly hasn’t instilled much confidence. He’s a frenetic player with solid defensive ability, but he’s less adept at hitting the open shots Chalmers ordinarily made. Recall that Chalmers converted on 38.5 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season.

Cole made just 34.5 percent of his.

On paper, Chalmers’ Finals implosion was untimely but also anomalous. Yet concerns about his fit on a championship team were nothing new.

Hardwood Paroxysm’s William Bohl recently wrote that, “He was, in the eyes of his superstar teammates, their idiot younger brother, always to blame when mistakes were made, the whipping boy when a defensive assignment was blown or an open man wasn’t passed to on offense.”

Bohl adds that, “LeBron, especially, wasn’t afraid to let ‘Rio have it from time to time, often over Chalmers’ shot selection, defensive intensity or lack of court vision.”

Though Chalmers seemed to justify himself with a surprisingly electric performance in the 2013 NBA Finals, it’s this June’s disappearance that left a lasting impression. He looked like a backup guard in over his head—which puts Cole’s limitations in even greater perspective.

Grade: C+

 

Offseason Developments

Team president Pat Riley called in some reinforcements this summer, but there’s little reason to believe it will be enough.

The organization’s big acquisition came on draft night when, per The Palm Beach Post‘s Jason Lieser, “Miami immediately traded for [Shabazz] Napier [taken No. 26 overall] by giving up its first-round spot, second-round pick (No. 55), an unspecified future second-round selection and cash.”

The 23-year-old most recently averaged 18 points and 4.9 assists per game as a senior at Connecticut.

His subsequent performances at the Orlando and Las Vegas summer league tournaments left something to be desired. Through his first five games, Napier made just 15 of 55 field-goal attempts. After piecing together a couple of respectable games, he finished by going 9-for-42 from the field in his final three games.

“I definitely needed this one to understand the game much better,” Napier said during summer league play, per Jeff Shain’s special to the Miami Herald. “It’s a big adjustment, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Napier offered an example, adding, “I was unable to do a lot of things I did in college as far as passes. I’m going to have to learn how to adjust and make those certain passes on an NBA level. That’s the learning curve.”

More recently, Napier cited another culprit.

“But my biggest thing is getting comfortable with that basketball,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s one of my biggest problems and it’s kind of ironic, because it’s a basketball. But it’s different than a college basketball.”

Assuming those issues work themselves out in time, Miami should have some additional firepower in its backcourt this season.

Otherwise, little has changed.

The franchise re-signed Chalmers to a two-year deal reportedly worth a total of $8.3 million, and Cole will make $2,150,188 this season in what could be his last with the Heat (the club can make him a restricted free agent next summer with a qualifying offer).

Miami certainly hasn’t taken a step back at the point guard spot, but nor has it made significant strides.

 

Looking Ahead

Napier could certainly evolve into a starting-caliber floor general, but it’s hard to see where he fits in this season. Assuming he shakes off whatever ailed his summer-league shooting, he should be able to carve out a few minutes early on. Whether he plays enough to make a consistent impact remains to be seen.

There could be some additional opportunities for Napier in the event Chalmers begins adopting a slightly more versatile role.

“We’re looking at Mario differently in this roster,” Riley explained, per the Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson. “He’s a point guard, but we’re also looking at him as a [shooting guard]. Mario can be very effective as a long-armed [shooting guard] who can shoot the three.”

For what it’s worth, Riley added that Napier, “struggled this summer somewhat shooting the ball, but we still feel he has a tremendous upside.”

At the moment, however, the starting gig belongs to Chalmers. And at the very least, the Kansas product should be good for a few passes and around 10 points per contest—perhaps more without James around to soak up touches.

The good news is that Chalmers has been with this team since he was drafted in 2008. He preserves some measure of corporate knowledge and understands Spoelstra‘s system. His experience in Miami could be instrumental to the club’s ability to steady the ship in the wake of James’ departure.

The bad news is that by now Chalmers is what he is. It’s unlikely he takes a significant step forward this late into his career. The odds of Cole rapidly ascending the point guard ranks aren’t much better.

While this team’s need for a credible floor general is suddenly acute, its ability to meet that need is in question.

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Breaking Down Dallas Mavericks’ Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

Anybody who watched the 2012-13 Dallas Mavericks knows that this team needs good point guard play.

And if you were one of those people who hung in there with that squad, you deserve a back rub or something.

That year was rough in many ways. Dirk wasn’t himself, the nucleus from the 2011 title team was gone, and all year the Mavs seemed out of sorts. With a roster almost entirely full of players on one-year deals, it was an experiment gone wrong.

But as the saying goes, you can learn more from failure than success. And one of the primary lessons learned was that the Mavs need a competent point guard.

The 2012-13 playoff-less season was marred by less than adequate guard play. There was a lack of understanding of how to run the offense, how to get the whole team involved and maybe most importantly an inability to perform in crunch time.

According to NBA.com’s team clutch database, the 2012-13 Mavericks were 23-24 in games where the spread was five points or less in the last five minutes. That was 17th in the league.

This team needs a solid point guard play, and with all the turnover at the position this offseason, it’s about time to take an assessment of exactly what the Mavs are working with here.

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance

 The 2013-14 Mavericks went 26-22 in games where the score was five points or less in the last five minutes of a game. An obvious improvement over 2012-13 simply in terms of record, but their plus minus in those situations showed even greater progress. The point differential of 1.3 was a 1.4-point improvement from two years ago.

Obviously some of that is due to Dirk Nowitzki. He recaptured his game, and ended up fifth in the league in clutch total plus minus with 84.

But someone had to get Dirk the ball. Someone had to calmly run the offense under pressure. And that someone had to be a point guard.

Enter Jose Calderon.

The veteran fit the bill in crunch time, and the team owes a lot of their improvement to Calderon’s addition.

Clutch situations weren’t the only spots where Calderon made a difference. Their point differential increased by three points per game, and their assisted field-goal percentage shot up to fourth best in the league.

Of course, Calderon isn’t solely responsible for this. The entire team went through an extreme makeover last season, it wasn’t just the point guard that changed. But these are areas where Calderon can make a big impact. Where a guy with his skills is very valuable.

All that being said, the Mavs were limited at the position last season. The two main guys were Calderon and Devin Harris, though Harris missed 42 games. So essentially, the main guy was Calderon.

And anybody who watched him play knew the Spaniard had gaping holes in his game.

In addition to being a notoriously bad defender, the guy had next to no ability to finish at the rim. He made just 46 shots from five feet and closer last season in 2,468 minutes played last season.

For some perspective, Nate Robinson is generously listed at 5’9” and only played in 44 games last season yet he made 66 shots from that same distance.

The position improved dramatically from 2012-13, but still had plenty of weak spots. It was good, but definitely not great.

2013-14 Point Guards: B

 

What to Expect This Season

Half the roster has changed this offseason, but perhaps no one position has undergone more of a radical shift than the point guard spot. Two of Dallas’ top guys in Calderon and Shane Larkin were traded to the Knicks as part of the package that brought Tyson Chandler to the Mavs.

And along with Tyson Chandler came Raymond Felton. Dallas also signed Jameer Nelson, and re-signed Devin Harris. Those three will be the point guards for this season.

Gone is Calderon’s steady hand, and in come three relative question marks.

As previously stated, Harris missed 42 games due to various injuries last season and he also hasn’t played more than 70 games since the 2010-11 season. He brought energy and some offensive punch when he played, but he also only shot 37.8 percent from the field last season. He was good, but often inconsistent with his production.

Speaking of inconsistency, Raymond Felton will compete for starters minutes. He went from key player on a 54-win Knicks team to an afterthought in just a year. It’s anybody’s guess as to which Felton the Mavs get, let’s just hope it’s an in shape one.

Finally, Jameer Nelson might be the closest thing to consistent the Mavs have at the position. His shooting numbers are in decline, but he’s still a good passer and a smart player. His best years are behind him, but he still has a lot to give.

Obviously, this group does not have a Jose Calderon. There is a striking lack of the sharp-shooting and sure-handed point guard who fixed so many of Dallas’s ills last season.

So the plan of attack has to change, but just a bit.

Even though Dallas is without a Calderon-type point guard, the new guys bring other things to the table. Namely, they’re more athletic.

Now nobody is calling these guys crazy athletes, but athleticism was something the position was sorely lacking last season. Devin Harris brings the speed, while Felton and Nelson are far from slow. All three are quick, and they make their money by getting into the teeth of the defense.

Sound refreshing?

And with essentially three starting point guards, we might see a bit more pace-pushing. ESPN Dallas’ Tim McMahon recently wrote about how the roster seems to be moving in that direction, and the point guards are certainly equipped for that style.

As far as missing a steady hand, the Mavs should be just fine there too. Harris, Nelson and Felton have all been starters. They all know what they’re doing. And Nelson specifically has consistently run a team for all 10 of his NBA seasons.

To be clear, this is a team and a position in transition. Things are going to be different this year. Hopefully better, but nonetheless different.

Where Calderon was a limited player, the new trio is versatile. Where there was mostly just one point guard last season, now there’s three.

In football there’s a saying, “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.” There’s no saying about three point guards in basketball, but either head coach Rick Carlisle will have his hands full or he will have three weapons to work with.

Based on his track record, it seems Carlisle should be happy this year. The Mavs can now play different styles, play mismatches and be less rigid in their lineups thanks largely to their flexibility at the point.

Change can be good. The Mavs have been proponents of that over the years, and this overhaul certainly puts that logic to the test. But the point guard position should improve with its new look. The front office did a nice job of keeping the position’s basketball IQ high while also upgrading its athleticism and versatility.

Now it’s time to start putting all the pieces together.

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Army grad Coach K takes USA team to West Point (Yahoo Sports)

United States basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, center, and team members applaud for cadets running an indoor obstacle course at the U.S. Military Academy on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in West Point, N.Y. Krzyzewski is a 1969 graduate of the academy. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) — On the first day of classes at the United States Military Academy, he was clearly the big man on campus.


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Can Dallas Mavericks Survive with Aging Point Guard Platoon?

The Dallas Mavericks may lack star power at point guard, but they make up for it with depth.

After trading away one of the more reliable game-managers and shooters in the game in Jose Calderon in order to acquire Tyson Chandler from the New York Knicks, the Mavericks are betting that a veteran platoon of guards will be able to share the load and keep one of the league’s very best offenses chugging along.

Who will be the man primarily tasked with that job? It certainly isn‘t easy to handicap.

Raymond Felton, who was acquired alongside Chandler in the trade, is coming off the worst season of his 9-year career, where he averaged just 9.7 points a game and shot 39.5 percent from the field. Felton appeared to lose a step offensively, as he could no longer reliably get in the paint or threaten opponents with his three-point jumper (31.8 percent last year). 

There is hope that Felton will return to the mean this season for the Mavericks, however, as the 2012-13 season was one of his very best. Felton proved to be a capable distributor out of the pick-and-roll with Chandler during that season, and he was part of a team that shot a ton of threes, which is something Dallas should do this season.

Felton will be suspended the first four games of the season, but he’ll get his chance to prove he’s worthy of holding down the starting job.

Counting on Felton to be in shape and return to form is always a dicey proposition, and so it makes sense that the Mavericks addressed their point guard situation with other signings this offseason as well.

Former Orland Magic point guard Jameer Nelson was a late offseason addition, but his shooting and distributing ability should help alleviate some of the sting from losing Calderon.

Here’s what Nelson told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel about joining the Mavs:

I just think with the makeup of the team and the organization it’s similar to what we had in Orlando when we were winning. And I wanted to get back to that. I’ve dealt with the process of rebuilding, and it’s tough. I want to win. I don’t want to sit back and develop anymore.

Nelson may be on his last legs at 32 years old, but he did average 7 assists a game last year with minimal talent around him. Now with guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis next to him, Nelson could have a bit of a revival.

It’s important to note that Nelson only played around 29 minutes a night even in his prime, so sharing the load with the other point guards shouldn’t be much of an issue. He’s used to playing in shorter stints.

In addition to Felton and Nelson, the Mavs also re-signed Devin Harris, who brings a change of pace and a little more size off the bench. Harris should spend a good deal of his time backing up Ellis at shooting guard, but he’s easily capable of getting substantial minutes at point as well.

Here’s Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News with his take on the Harris signing:

Devin Harris got a good deal.

And by the way, so did the Mavericks.

Harris showed in the second half of last season that he is still a very solid option at point guard and at shooting guard in smaller lineups. He also re-proved that during the playoff series against San Antonio, when he was still a pest to Tony Parker.

Harris is the best defensive option of the bunch, which could mean he’ll see an uptick in minutes when the matchups call for that. Harris can also help the Mavericks play a little faster when he’s at the point.

Here’s what Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle told Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas:

The Mavs ranked in the middle of the pack in pace last season, averaging 95.7 possessions per game, almost six fewer than the team that played at the fastest tempo. Carlisle hopes the remodeled Mavs, a team he believes is built to run, will be among the leaders next season.

“We want to play faster,” Carlisle said. “We’re going to have to do it by playing with our depth and playing with intelligence. We should be able to do that because we’ve got a lot of high-IQ players.” 

That includes three point guards with significant starting experience in Jameer NelsonRaymond Felton and Devin Harris. Of that trio, only Harris could be considered fast by NBA point guard standards. However, the Mavs’ hope is that their three-man rotation at the position gives their point guards the luxury of playing at maximum speed without concern for conserving energy. 

The idea isn’t necessarily for the point guards to run the transition offense on a regular basis anyway. The best way for them to push the pace is often via the pass, something Jason Kidd was a master of as an old man during his second tenure in Dallas. 

The reference to Jason Kidd and that 2011 title team is important. The Mavericks have shown before that they can get by with creative defensive schemes to make up for a lack of foot speed and athleticism, which Kidd was short on at that point.

With Felton, Nelson, Harris and maybe even a little bit of Gal Mekel, the Mavs will largely need to get by with intelligence instead of athleticism at the point this season. Egos will need to be cast aside, as playing time should be based on matchups and who has the hot hand. 

That could cause some serious issues, but the presence of a leader and teammate like Nowitzki and an excellent coach in Carlisle provides a pretty strong foundation for this point guard experiment to flourish. 

That being said, there’s no mistaking that point guard is the one weak link for the Mavericks right now. Monta Ellis had some great moments at the 2 last year, Chandler Parsons should be a huge offensive upgrade at the 3, and Nowitzki and Chandler have proven in the past that they are a perfect fit for one another. There’s just one hole in this starting lineup.

Relying on this veteran group beyond this season probably isn‘t ideal. The Mavericks could potentially get involved in a big way in free agency next year, particularly if Chandler re-signed on a friendly deal similar to Nowtizki’s. Thanks to the contract that will pay Nowitzki $8.3 million next season, the Mavs can address their long-term point guard situation sooner rather than later.

The free agent market for point guards in 2015 should be a strong one. Eric Bledsoe could very well be an unrestricted free agent, should he take the qualifying offer for this year. Rajon Rondo is set to hit free agency. Goran Dragic will likely decline his player option and become a free agent. Ricky Rubio could be a restricted free agent.

A lot can change between now and then, but Dallas is in a good spot having point guard as the only real position of need. That’s the deepest positional talent pool the league has to offer.

While it’s possible the Mavericks get involved in trade talks if the veteran platoon doesn’t work out, building chemistry and letting this roster jell is probably the preferred way to go.

There are a lot of new pieces and old faces in Dallas this season, but having multiple experienced players at the point should go a long way for a team that once again has legitimate title aspirations. 

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Perspective on Brandon Jennings as a Young Point Guard

When the Pistons acquired point guard Brandon Jennings going into the 2013-2014 season, many viewed the addition as a solid, low-risk move, with considerable upside. The talented ball-handler had put his name on the map by leading the Milwaukee Bucks in scoring as a 22 year-old, and followed up that campaign by leading the Bucks to the playoffs in the 2012-2013 season, albeit with 38 wins in a watered-down Eastern Conference. Jennings had his weaknesses exposed in Milwaukee. His inefficient scoring apparently had drawn the ire of the Bucks’ front office, and few around the league regarded Jennings as a point guard of the future that a championship team could build around. Still, Jennings seemed to be a major talent upgrade over what the Pistons had at the position, and it was reasonable to think that he could score more efficiently in Detroit, where he wouldn’t have to be the primary or secondary option on offense. The team sent Brandon Knight, a former lottery pick who had lost his luster, and two guys o

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How Derek Fisher Can Help Each Point Guard on NY Knicks Roster

Phil Jackson’s presidency over the New York Knicks has brought a sea change to the point-guard position. He upgraded at starter in the form of Jose Calderon, 32, and added promising 21-year-old Shane Larkin to share backup duties with returning veteran of the game Pablo Prigioni, 37. Now, like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant before them, these slightly more ancillary players will need to tailor their abilities to the triangle offense.

The 2014-15 season also marks the point of embarkation for rookie head coach Derek Fisher after 18 seasons played mostly at the point, 10 of which came during Jackson’s tenure as Los Angeles Lakers coach. Fisher’s experience as a guard in the triangle system should provide a unique angle to impart wisdom to his new charges.

However, as Jason Kidd proved with the Brooklyn Nets last season, copious experience playing the point does not necessarily make for a virtuoso coach of point guards. Fisher will need to harness the full breadth of his leadership and experience to produce success with the Knicks roster, which boasts Carmelo Anthony and more question marks than anything else.

The team has made a significant upgrade at PG already, but while Calderon and Prigioni clearly complement the roster, and Larkin brims with potential, each of them will benefit in different areas from the first-year coaching wisdom of “D-Fish.”

But first, it is necessary to examine the new strength of the position and the new offensive system.

 

Making Trades and Drawing the Triangle

Jackson swung a nifty pre-draft trade in late June that sent Tyson Chandler back to the Dallas Mavericks along with Raymond Felton in exchange for Calderon and Samuel Dalembert, essentially a swap of starting point guards and centers. The trade also sent guards Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington to the Knicks, plus a pair of second-round picks.

Jackson subsequently included Ellington in a trade with the Sacramento Kings for forwards Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw, helping to better balance the roster.

Tweets from ESPN’s Marc Stein had suggested that the team was trying to move Ellington and considered including Prigioni or Larkin as a sweetener:

Instead, both remained in the backcourt, and the Knicks parted with budding big man Jeremy Tyler. Retaining both Prigioni and Larkin implies that Jackson and Fisher like what they have at the position and believe they can run the new offense.

According to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, “Fisher thinks Anthony can do the same (in the triangle), operating out of the pinch post the way Jordan, Pippen and Bryant did.” Anthony, the league’s leading scorer in 2012-13, profiles as an ideal player to center the triangle around, and he will be found most often around the elbows receiving passes on the weak side. 

Fisher reinforced his opinion of ‘Melo during the Las Vegas Summer League, saying the following:

It’s an area where he likes to operate, even before now, being able to play in this system. But it will be important that we don’t just put him there and watch him play, which is easy to do with great players.

That means the point guards will have to be active—no “iso Melo“—but in the triangle system, passing responsibility diffuses throughout the team. Melo could very well lead the team in assists. The onus will be on the guards to maintain a strong shooting percentage from the perimeter and knock down spot-up jumpers produced through ball movement as a team.

Fortunately, Prigioni and Calderon both ranked in the top five for three-point shooting last season at 46.4 percent and 44.9, respectively. Only Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard made more triples than Calderon among all point guards. In stark contrast, Raymond Felton shot 39.5 percent from the field and 31.8 percent beyond the arc as the starting point guard last year.

Despite their gaudy long-range shooting, which meshes very well with the triangle, Fisher will look to isolate one aspect of both Calderon’s and Prigioni‘s play which must be addressed. 

 

Mask Calderon’s Defense

The primary difference between Calderon and Prigioni consists in their defense. Prigioni plays like an effective agitator for his age, invading passing lanes and pestering the ball. Calderon, on the other hand, has mainly been a practitioner of the “matador defense” sometimes observed in previous seasons by Knicks announcer Walt Frazier.

The book on Calderon’s D remains that he’s an intelligent player who can get to the right spot, but he lacks both the athleticism and the quickness to prevent most guards from blowing by him.

Tim Cato from Mavs Moneyball phrased it well for Knicks blogger Scott Davis of Posting & Toasting

Calderon has been a slow player ever since he entered the league, and the years haven’t done any favor. He just can’t keep up. His foot-speed is often several steps behind the player he’s guarding.

Once upon a time, Fisher also knew the pain of playing against much younger, much quicker guards. The challenge for the new coach will not be coming in trying to convey loads of defensive know-how, but rather in masking Calderon’s slow pace on the defensive end. He cannot get quicker, so the D will have to compensate. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Iman Shumpert will be crucial factors in Fisher’s ability to help Calderon when the other team has the ball. Hardaway showed plenty of offensive spark as a rookie, but his defense made him a liability when his shot wasn’t falling. Shumpert makes a living off of his defense, but his field-goal percentage has dropped with each season, from 40.1 percent to 39.6 to 37.8 in 2013-14.

In the middle, Dalembert can still play effective defense, but the team lost a former Defensive Player of the Year in Chandler. Fisher will have to preach plenty of help on D with Calderon in the starting five, all while coaching up Hardaway to be a two-way player and helping Shumpert find a shooting rhythm. 

 

Teach Prigioni the Joy of Shooting

Prigioni served as an effective contributor in 2013-14, as the Knicks netted four more points per 100 possessions than opponents with him on the court, per Basketball-Reference.

He also has something of an awkward-looking three-point shot despite hitting 46.4 percent of them. Within his shooting motion lies absolutely none of the grace of Ray Allen’s stroke and not even a hint of Steve Novak’s sweet form.

Instead, Prigioni seems to push the ball rim-ward, leaning and leaping forward with hesitation and hope in equal measure. Worse still, he’s gun shy. 

Carmelo Anthony talked about it back in December 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal‘s Chris Herring (subscription required): “Sometimes he turns down shots, and I be like, ‘What the (heck), man? You’re wide open; shoot the ball!’”

Somehow, through two NBA seasons, the Argentine has managed to become one of the league’s most proficient three-point shooters while maintaining a staunch pass-first mindset. Teams often left him on an island to instead bracket Carmelo, giving Prigioni plenty of open looks, but he hardly made a meal of them and passed up copious opportunities. 

Fisher knows a thing or two about hitting big-time shots, and he can persuade Prigioni that sometimes you have to think “shoot first” if you’re open. The triangle will require trust in the system to produce high-quality looks, and Prigioni proved proficient at that when he pulled the trigger. Of his 191 field-goal attempts, 140 came on three-pointers, and only Kyle Korver hit them at a higher percentage.

But Prigioni only attempted 3.9 per 36 minutes last season, via Basketball-Reference. Calderon’s per-36 average of 6.2 three-point attempts will give his teammate something to shoot for. 

 

Mold Larkin into a Consistent Contributor

Larkin, who will be 22 when the season begins, stands just 5’11″ with 176 pounds on his frame. Fisher measured only 6’1″, proving that small guards can excel in the triangle and at the highest level of NBA competition. Larkin can meditate on that as he attempts to forge an NBA career from his wealth of potential. 

He showed his ability to dominate inferior competition over four games in the D-League, averaging 15.3 points (on 47 percent shooting and 57 percent from three-point range), 8.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds over 35.8 minutes per game.

He also showed solid per-36 stats as an NBA reserve in 2013-14, via Basketball-Reference, but inefficient shooting (38 percent from the field) and too many turnovers (2.9 per 36) helped limit him to 10.2 minutes per game over 48 tilts with the Mavericks.

Fisher will have to harness all the versatility and skill Larkin has to offer, while also shaping the game of a point guard with a little more than half a season of experience. 

As Aldridge put it:

For a young point guard like Shane Larkin, who’s used to defaulting into screen-and-roll action with a big when the shot clock is winding down (instead of moving the ball and cutting through), the triangle is such a different animal. You must learn quickly that it’s not your pass, but the next one, that might lead to a basket.

Based on the summer league results, Larkin will undergo a lengthy learning process. Expect plenty of “rookie moments” like these:

As the young guard irons out the foolish turnovers and ill-advised shots, among other things, the Knicks could possibly have a slightly smaller, much younger version of D-Fish in the making.

And Larkin will have a supremely qualified tutor to learn from. In the terms of ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk: “Even though he is coaching for the first time in his career, Fisher brings a wealth of championship experience, toughness and leadership.” 

Add that coaching to his team’s increasing grasp on the triangle, and the Knicks could look back fondly on the decision not to send Larkin to Sacramento.

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Why Team USA Needs Every Point Guard They Have for FIBA World Cup

No more cutting point guards. We’re good now. Let’s move on. 

The John Wall cut leaves USA Basketball with Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard as the remaining starting NBA point guards. And hopefully that’s how it stays.

There’s no sense in cutting one of them just to shave down the position, especially when they can afford to keep all four. 

And not only that, but they could each serve a legitimate purpose. 

With Kevin Durant pulling out and Paul George out with a broken leg, Team USA will need as much offensive firepower as it get can get. 

And that might mean playing small ball. Given the versatility of USA’s guards and forwards, coach Mike Krzyzewski should be able to pull it off. 

USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo gave his views last month on his guards and their versatility.

“It’s hard to create more than two pure points (on the roster),” Colangelo told USA Today‘s Sam Amick. “Kyrie is a pure point. John Wall is a point. Derrick is a point. Curry can play point, but he’s a two (shooting guard). Harden is a two-three (shooting guard-small forward). Damian is a tweener also – he goes both ways.”

Though Collangelo mentioned he only planned on going with two point guards, he also said that Curry and Lillard both had 2-guard capability. 

And considering the 6’7″ size of Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan, along with the absence of Durant and George, Team USA can play some of their 2-guards at the 3 spot, allowing Curry and Lillard to unleash their perimeter-scoring attack off the ball.

The flexibility Coach K has with the 1-3 positions is tremendous. We could be looking at potent second-unit trios like Irving, Curry and Thompson or Lillard, Harden and DeRozan. I might have trouble sleeping at night if they ended up reducing that flexibility for Kyle Korver.

Right now, Team USA is looking at 15 names. Three cuts have to be made to finalize the 12-man roster.

In terms of the guards, you know Rose isn’t going anywhere. The level of respect he’s earned around the league is just too high. And with Durant going down, it’s Rose, the former MVP, who could now be viewed as the veteran leader of this squad. 

And all reports have been positive regarding his health and performance. 

“He went right at it. The first defensive exchange in the camp, he was all over the ball handler, moving his feet, attacking him,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN’s Nick Friedell. ”There was a buzz right away because it was basically his saying, ‘Look, I’m not just back. I’m back at a level that’s elite.’”

And don’t expect Curry to go anywhere. His passing and shooting ability add value to any lineup or rotation, while ESPN’s Marc Stein calls Kyrie Irving an “inarguable roster lock.”

Stein also dropped an interesting “what if”—”[What if] Krzyzewski decides he simply can’t resist keeping Damian Lillard alongside Rose, Curry and Irving to form a quartet of small speedsters that the rest of the world isn’t equipped to chase around?”

Now that’s what I’m talking about. There are countries out there that can neutralize Team USA’s size inside. Nobody can match the speed, athleticism or firepower offered by the American guards.

If Colangelo did have to cut a guard, it would seem like Lillard would be the odd man out. But he shouldn’t have to.

Of the three centers, you’d like to think Colangelo will cut one, whether it’s DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond or Mason Plumlee

That leaves two more cuts to be made. 

Not to downplay their talent, but based on the roster and its needs, Korver and Gordon Hayward appear a bit more expendable than others, when you consider the presence of Thompson, Harden, DeRozan and Chandler Parsons at the wing positions. 

The fact is that this roster’s core strengths fall in the backcourt. It’s what this team’s identity is built around now that Team USA’s top two wing players are both gone.

Coach K might not use Rose, Curry, Irving and Lillard each in full-time roles throughout the tournament. But having additional playmakers capable of generating offense on demand could provide some valuable extra cushion in case the offense ever gets stagnant. 

Colangelo will be cutting some of the fat on this roster pretty soon, but hopefully he stays away from the backcourt, where USA packs its most potent offensive punch. 

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Best Landing Spots for Former Orlando Magic Point Guard Jameer Nelson

With NBA’s free-agency period officially underway, all sights are about to be set on the wheelings, dealings and whereabouts of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the summer’s top-tier talents.

But while the focus is bound to stay squarely on the big boys, there’s sure to be plenty of movement on the fringes as well.

That includes Jameer Nelson, whom the Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds reports had officially been waived by the Orlando Magic Monday.

“The people, the way they embraced me there in Orlando over the last 10 years, were phenomenal,” Nelson told the Orlando Sentinel shortly after the announcement. “Not too many players can say they played in the same place in any sport for 10 years.”

Nelson doesn’t tout the talent or clout of his free-agent contemporaries. But at 32 years old and with a track record of solid point guard play to his credit, the diminutive Nelson is sure to attract the attention of upper-echelon teams looking for quality backcourt depth.

We’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of 10 teams—some contenders, others on the cusp, still others not so much—that could prove to be perfect fits for Nelson’s unique skill set.

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Irvin: Focus on Sterling comments misses point (Yahoo Sports)

Former Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin and NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Monday said the comments made by ousted Clippers owner Donald Sterling needed to be viewed within a broader perspective of how America faces racism. Irvin and Abdul-Jabbar spoke at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual meeting in Dallas. The NBA has banned Sterling from the league and ordered a sale of the Clippers after a recording surfaced on which he made derogatory statements about blacks.

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