Breaking Down Houston Rockets’ Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

In the Rockets starting lineup, point guard certainly isn’t the strongest spot, but Houston does have some good depth at the position.

Last season, Patrick Beverley took over the starting job and has firmly solidified that role. The Rockets traded away Jeremy Lin this offseason, but they brought in Ish Smith to back Beverley up and also have their lone draft pick from two summers ago, Isaiah Canaan.

Clearly, James Harden and Dwight Howard are the stars of this team. Trevor Ariza at small forward is also a key contributor. Nevertheless, point guard play for the Rockets this year will still be a big factor in determining how well the team can play.

Let’s quickly look back on the point guard play for Houston last year and then preview how the position will fare in 2014-15.

 

Last Season (2013-14)

Coach Kevin McHale’s first big decision of the 2013-14 season was to start Beverley over Lin. The defensive-minded guard paired up more effectively alongside Harden in the backcourt.

Beverley had a good season last year, despite missing a good chunk of games with a knee injury. His hustle on defense earned him second-team All-NBA defensive honors, and he was also a leader who brought mental toughness in the locker room.

Lin also had a productive season. Coming off the bench, he averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists per game. He was effective at creating offense in the second unit for Houston and often times played down the stretch in close games.

Lastly, the Rockets had Aaron Brooks as a third-stringer before he was traded to the Denver Nuggets at the deadline. Before his departure, Brooks had the highest three-point percentage on the team, and he earned some quality minutes while Lin and Beverley dealt with injuries.

It was a solid campaign during the regular season for the Rocket point guards, but unfortunately, they did not carry that success into the playoffs. Beverley was still hurt and could not contain the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard. Lin had a spectacular Game 5, an elimination game for the Rockets, but he committed some costly mistakes in big moments that Houston just could not afford.

Overall Grade: B-

 

This Season (2014-15)

Lin may be gone, but Beverley is still the starter, and he has been able to nurse his knee back to health over the offseason. Canaan is coming off a great summer in Las Vegas, and Smith was very serviceable last season in Phoenix.

 

Patrick Beverley

Beverley is the obvious starter for the Rockets at the point. He’s a top-tier defender among guards in the NBA and fits nicely next to Harden in the Rockets’ system.

Last year, Bev averaged 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He was a defensive nightmare for opposing guards, which landed him a spot on the All-NBA defensive second team. He’s got an excellent chance of doing the same this upcoming season.

Beverley’s offense isn’t anything special, but he is a good partner in the backcourt with Harden. The Beard likes to do the majority of the ball-handling anyway, so Bev can play off the ball. He doesn’t get many assists, but that’s as a result of the system, which usually features Harden facilitating the offense.

His best contribution on the offensive end is his three-point shooting. He shot 36.1 percent from beyond the arc last year, but this season, Beverley should be able to improve. In the preseason, he connected on 45 percent of his shots from deep, a much better clip.

As long as he stays healthy, it should be another solid season for Bev. If he can keep up the three-point percentage and tenacious defense, then the Rockets will certainly end up getting their money’s worth.

 

Isaiah Canaan

After spending the majority of his time in the D-League last season, Canaan is poised to get some NBA minutes in 2014-15. His successful stint in Rio Grande got a lot of attention, and now that Lin is gone, Canaan could potentially be the primary backup.

In limited minutes, Canaan averaged 10.4 points per game in the preseason. Unlike Beverley, Canaan is a score-first guard. He will be counted on to provide some bench scoring like Lin did last season. He can attack the basket successfully like Lin but also is a much better three-point shooter. During the preseason, he shot 50 percent from behind the arc.

Interestingly, for much of the preseason, Canaan did not get the majority of the backup minutes. Instead, Ish Smith played with the second unit; Canaan didn’t check in until late in the games. However, as a result, Canaan has played in some tight games down the stretch, and he has led the Rockets to a handful of wins in crunch time. As it turns out, Canaan has been spectacular in the fourth quarter all preseason long with several clutch plays.

Last year, McHale liked to play Lin down the stretch of several games. This season, Canaan could be a legitimate option late in games. He has the scoring ability and the clutch factor to make an impact.

 

Ish Smith

Throughout the preseason, Smith has gotten slightly more minutes than Canaan. McHale was probably leaning toward Smith to be his backup, but based on Canaan’s preseason performance, we’ll have to wait before a final decision is made. McHale will continue to experiment with the rotation even during the beginning of the regular season.

Smith’s game is a lot more like Beverley’s. He is a defensive-minded guard with tremendous speed and great awareness. He can facilitate the offense better than Bev but is hardly a scoring threat. He is a capable passer but has no discernible jump shot.

Smith and Canaan will fight for minutes behind Beverley. They serve different purposes, so they should each see ample opportunities in varying situations.

 

Final Thoughts

Beverley is undoubtedly the starter at point guard for the Rockets. His forceful defending and improved three-point shooting will play a pivotal role in the Rockets’ success this season.

Canaan and Smith could easily switch off as the backup point guard depending on the matchups against certain teams. Canaan can ignite the offense, while Smith can maintain Bev‘s defensive hustle. They both are pretty much locks to get on the plane to L.A. as part of the final roster.

Point guard is not the Rockets’ biggest strength, but they have three good options on the depth chart.

Grade Prediction: B

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Shabazz Napier Forcing Way into Miami Heat Point Guard Conversation

Shabazz Napier once seemed like another reason for LeBron James to remain with the Miami Heat.

No way u take another PG in the lottery before Napier,” King James tweeted in April.

Team president Pat Riley denied that James actively had anything to do with the organization’s decision to acquire Napier (by trade on draft night), telling reporters, “The point is, if LeBron and I have the same taste in talent, so be it.”

The 23-year-old’s addition didn’t ultimately persuade James to stick around, but it may nevertheless have an immediate impact on a club in desperate need of some playmaking.

Riley got Napier just weeks after starting point guard Mario Chalmers flopped in the Finals, averaging 4.4 points and 33.3 percent shooting in five games against the San Antonio Spurs. Miami ultimately elected to keep Chalmers—a free agent this summer—but it’s become no secret this team needs improved play from its floor general.

Chalmers and reserve point guard Norris Cole have had solid, if uneven, preseasons. 

Napier has been the story instead, making an increasingly strong case for heavy minutes in Miami’s rotation this season—perhaps starting from day one.

The Connecticut product has averaged 16.8 points through his last four preseason contests, a marked improvement over the nine combined points he scored in the first two games.

As the Miami Herald‘s Joseph Goodman recently noted, “With each passing preseason game, Heat rookie point guard Shabazz Napier is providing more and more proof that LeBron James’ skills as an evaluator of talent might be better than previously thought.”

Something seems to be clicking for the 24th overall pick.

After a woefully inefficient performance during NBA Summer League play, Napier is now demonstrating a steadier shot while adding some passing, defense and a knack for getting to the free-throw line (where he made 12 of 14 attempts in a preseason meeting with the Spurs).

Napier chalked up the rough Summer League debut to the basketball.

“I just want to continue to get better at everything,” Napier told reporters in August. “But my biggest thing is getting comfortable with that basketball. 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.”

Sounds plausible enough. 

“The funny thing is, I never really touched an NBA ball until I left school,” he added. “I told myself I never wanted to. I felt like it was superstitious, like something bad was going to happen, like I had to earn it. I never touched it and it’s definitely different. This ball is leather and the biggest thing for me now is getting comfortable with it.”

It just one of the learning curves for the young pro. While a small sample size of preseason work may inspire optimism, head coach Erik Spoelstra hasn’t been convinced of much—even after Napier’s 25-point outburst against San Antonio.

“He just needs to keep working,” Spoelstra told reporters this week. “That’s the only message I’ve given him. We have seen a residual from all the time he has put in, but we’re not drawing any conclusions at this point.”

It’s a conservative approach made possible by Chalmers and Cole, both of whom are already familiar with Spoelstra’s system.

There’s not yet any guarantee Napier cracks the rotation, much less the starting lineup. But four seasons at UConn and a national championship may have prepared him to seize a moment like this and compete for minutes at a position of renewed importance in Miami.

Without James’ leadership on the floor, the Heat’s platoon of point guards will be responsible for running the offense.

“We’re going to be reliant on those guys to handle the ball a lot more for us,” forward Chris Bosh explained to media this week. “Before, we had the luxury of having LeBron be that big point guard and get us into our sets, and [Cole and Chalmers] could kind of take it off a little bit and get in the corner and make plays.

“But now they’re going to have to be the ones calling the plays, getting everyone set, making that extra pass and making the game easier for everybody else.”

Napier has shown flashes of those playmaking instincts during the preseason, tallying seven assists against the Cleveland Cavaliers and twice recording four dimes. That’s the kind of poise and production that could make playing time at the 1 spot a three-man race.

Chalmers is going into his seventh season with the club, coming off of a largely successful campaign in which he averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 assists in 29.8 minutes per game. He made a career-high 45.4 percent of his field-goal attempts, solidifying his status as a reliable role player and earning himself a new contract worth two years and $8.3 million.

He started in all 73 of his games a season ago and remains the favorite to retain that status in 2014-15.

Cole averaged a career-high 24.6 minutes per contest last season (his third), but he’s done little to secure a more prominent role. The 26-year-old adds some energy and a change of pace, but problems with efficiency have persisted to the tune of 41.4 percent shooting a season ago.

So there’s a real opportunity for Napier to prove himself an upgrade over Cole, perhaps even a rival for Chalmers’ starting minutes.

If not now, then soon.

Belief in Napier’s ability isn’t simply a matter of reading preseason tea leaves. There’s a reason James and others have praised his upside.

As the South Florida Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman recently put it, “There is something about Napier when it comes to having the ‘it’ factor.”

“I know it’s cliche, but the kid is a winner and carries himself on the court as someone who is comfortable no matter the pressure or surroundings,” Winderman wrote. “I’m not sure he will be a classically consistent scorer, but he has shown time and again the ability to step up to the moment, with his late 3-pointer against the Warriors another of those moments, albeit an exhibition moment.”

Sooner or later, those kind of intangibles could force Spoelstra to make some decisions about his rotation.

“He’s a heady player,” Spoelstra told reporters this month. “He’s playing with more confidence now, playing off his instincts more than he was this summer. I think it was overwhelming this summer. To his credit, he put in a lot of time after that. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work. That’s all we need of him.”

With that hard work and a little opportunity, Miami may get exactly what it needs. In a season that will be defined by what it could have been, Shabazz Napier is one reason to imagine all it still could be.

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Kevin Love Entering Critical Turning Point of NBA Career

Kevin Love‘s NBA credentials include video game statistics, All-Star honors and multiple seasons spent as a full-fledged franchise face.

But as he nears his first campaign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the 26-year-old is still searching for substance. For everything his resume says he has accomplished to date, there are those who believe the versatile big man hasn’t really accomplished anything yet.

Notably absent from Love’s body of work is a single postseason appearance. And while the remarkably revamped Cavaliers will undoubtedly mark that item off his checklist, the process will force him into a role he has never before held at this level.

Cleveland targeted him for his far-reaching skill set and the jam-packed box scores he leaves behind, but both the player and franchise understand Love’s NBA existence is about to change.

“I’d be lying to myself and everybody here if I was telling you I didn’t have to sacrifice,” Love told reporters at the Cavs media day, per The Washington Post‘s Michael Lee. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes for this team to win because at the end of the day, that’s what we want, is to win.”

Winning is just about the only thing Love hasn’t done at the professional level.

He finished the 2013-14 season ranked fourth in scoring (26.1), third in rebounding (12.5), third in player efficiency rating (26.9), per Basketball-Reference, and third in total win shares (14.3). He also has the second-most double-doubles over the past four seasons (191) despite having missed 89 games due to injury during that stretch.

Still, his individual success never carried over to the Minnesota Timberwolves as a whole. The team compiled a dismal record of 153-323 across his six seasons spent in the Gopher State.

Again, that part of Love’s story should change in a major way this season.

The best teammates he has previously had on this stage (in terms of scoring average) have been Al Jefferson (23.1 points per game in Love’s rookie year) and Michael Beasley (19.2 in 2010-11). Now, Love will be working alongside four-time MVP LeBron James (a career 27.5 points-per-game scorer) and 22-year-old two-time All-Star Kyrie Irving (20.7).

The talent level in Cleveland is incredible, both from an individual standpoint and how it figures to blend with one another. That’s how the Cavaliers, who won just 33 games last season, are now on track for 65 victories, according to the projections of FiveThirtyEight.com’s Nate Silver.

Whether this team comes close to hitting that total will depend on a number of different factors, but one could argue that Love will have the biggest say in this group fulfilling its potential. He is, after all, facing perhaps the most dramatic transformation of anyone on the roster.

In terms of style, the Cavs won’t be asking Love to do things any differently.

Both his three-point stroke (career 36.2 percent) and low-post proficiency will be safety nets for this offense. With defenses having to focus so much attention on the penetration games of James and Irving, Love should find cleaner scoring chances than he ever has before and help his All-Star teammates do the same.

His generational gift for outlet passing is another weapon on which the Cavs should utilize. Cleveland has a nice collection of athletic slashers, unselfish setup men and dead-eye shooters—all lethal weapons in the transition opportunities Love’s crosscourt heaves can create.

And Love’s rebounding is sure to be another key ingredient of Cleveland’s (potential) championship recipe. No one has averaged more boards over the past four seasons (13.7), and the big guy could be getting better as he nears the time when both his body and his basketball mind are operating at peak levels.

The Cavaliers aren’t going to ask him to change, but they will have him do everything on a smaller scale. In other words, no more averaging 18.5 field-goal attempts or amassing a 28.8 usage percentage as he did last season.

Through four preseason games, Love has put up 8.8 shots a night. Playing just 21.8 minutes a night has certainly been a part of that, but it only climbs to 14.5 when viewed under a per-36-minute lens. It’s still enough for him to play a significant role, but the serving is much lighter than what he’s used to receiving.

It’s also a similar number to the amount of shots Chris Bosh fired off during his four seasons with James for the Miami Heat (13.7 per 36 minutes). As Bosh told Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick recently, it’s a challenging, complicated transition to go through:

Yeah, it’s a lot more difficult taking a step back, because you’re used to doing something a certain way and getting looks a certain way. And then it’s like, well, no, for the benefit of the team, you have to get it here.

So even if you do like the left block, the volume of the left block is going to be different. Now you have to make those moves count. So with me, it was like a chess game. I’m doing this move and thinking about the next move and trying to stay five moves ahead. You’re not getting it as much. If you got one or two a game, it’s a lot different.

With the Timberwolves, Love had an offense built around his strengths. Minnesota’s best play was anything that put him in his most comfortable spots.

Things won’t be the same in Cleveland.

James is not only the returning prodigal son, he’s also back in town sporting some legacy-cementing championship bling. He will be the focal point of head coach David Blatt’s offense, leaving Love and Irving to find their niche as support players to James.

If everyone finds and embraces the right roles, the upside of this team is incredible. But that means players like Love, who has tallied some tremendous numbers on his own, will need to take a step back—or several of them—in order to pursue a greater common goal.

“Love has wanted to win year after year after year in Minnesota, and now he’ll win,” wrote CBS Sports’ Matt Moore. “But that’s going to come at the cost of not only possessions, points and rebounds, but his comfort level. How he adjusts to that will be key.”

And not just key for the Cavaliers, but also key for Love himself.

The basketball world knows he can stuff a stat sheet like a Thanksgiving turkey, but it hasn’t yet seen him perform under the brightest lights. His most meaningful moments since leaving UCLA have been reserved for the international stage and his three All-Star appearances.

The Cavs have realistic championship aspirations in front of them. This will be Love’s first involvement with an NBA title chase, but he has to act like he’s been here before.

“Despite Love’s lack of playoff experience, the Cavaliers need him to play like a playoff veteran this season,” wrote USA Today‘s Jeff Zillgitt. “His willingness to learn from teammates—guys who have won titles—such as LeBron James, Mike Miller, Shawn Marion and James Jones will be critical.”

This road could be rocky for Love, but the Cavaliers have given him all the tools to successfully traverse it.

Cleveland’s championship-experienced core includes the innovative Blatt, who stockpiled league and international titles in Europe before coming stateside this summer. It also has James, who heard similar criticisms about being unable to win the ones that mattered before his successful four-year stay in South Beach. The King also understands what it takes to make the Big Three model work.

It’s impossible to tell how Love will do on this journey, but it’s hard to imagine him finding a better guide than James.

“He’s been where I want to go and a guy like Kyrie wants to go and guys who haven’t made it to the Finals or won a championship,” Love said of James, per Zillgitt. “He has an ability to teach us all, and we’re all in a position to really learn from him.”

If Love is as receptive and adaptable as he says he is, this should be the most satisfying, successful stretch of his career. Pair his aforementioned individual credentials with some postseason triumphs, and his legacy could reach a historically significant place.

Opportunity is pounding on the door and all Love needs to do is answer it. This will be a time of sacrifice and change, but if he welcomes both, it will ultimately be the point his career turned from goodness to greatness.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Milwaukee Bucks: Point guard depth changes player rotation

A good backup point guard is under-valued in the NBA. When the most reliable starters need a rest, a good point guard can take control of a game. They can keep or change the game tempo and even help settle down a rattled team. Good bench production is the kind of thing that helps win championships.
While Brandon Knight is the obvious starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, it will be interesting to see how head coach Jason Kidd distributes playing time to the rest of the backcourt.
Second-year player Nate Wolters will hope to build upon a solid rookie year. Wolters was put into the starting lineup at the beginning of the year last season due to a Brandon Knight injury. He played well as a rookie, and should greatly benefit from a full season in the NBA. Wolters didn’t do anything extremely impressive his rookie year, but he proved he can be a reliable backup point guard with the talent to grow into a consistent starter later in his career. Wolters can score, pass well and is even a decent rebounder. W

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Jabari Parker Puts Exclamation Point on Bucks’ Preseason Win with Spin and Dunk

Seeing plays like this from Jabari Parker should have Milwaukee Bucks fans very excited about the future.

Sure, it happened during the preseason. But it shows just what the rookie is capable of.

With his team clinging to a 97-96 lead in the final minute of Friday’s preseason game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Parker took control. He received a pass, spun in the lane and threw down what turned out to be a game-sealing dunk.

Oh, and who is the defender he dunked over? That’s Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft—no slouch himself.

Here is another angle of the dunk from behind the backboard:

Milwaukee held on to win, 105-98. Parker finished the game with 21 points and 11 rebounds.

[Milwaukee Bucks, Vine; h/t Dime Magazine]

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Lakers News: Rounding Up Latest Buzz Surrounding Point Guard Position

The Los Angeles Lakers are attempting to rebound from the worst season in franchise history, and as we saw last season, the team’s health will play a crucial role in that endeavor once again.

Things didn’t exactly begin in flawless fashion for the team in 2014, as Nick Young suffered a thumb injury that required surgery. Here’s a look at the cast he’s currently wearing on his shooting hand, courtesy of the LakersScene Instagram account:

While that injury is a bit unsettling for Lakers faithful, there’s more recent injury news that could potentially shake up the team’s starting lineup.

Veteran Steve Nash was once expected to start at the point guard position for the Lakers this season after an injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign in which he only saw action in 15 games (10 starts). Well, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, the guard is still dealing with the same ailment:

Those injuries began to affect Nash’s status in the preseason. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported the guard asked to be held out of Sunday’s contest against the Golden State Warriors.

With Nash already missing time on the floor, we’re already seeing shades of last season, and that’s not exactly comforting.

Luckily, the Lakers made a very smart decision to bring in Jeremy Lin over the offseason.

Since Lin arrived in Los Angeles, he’s taken on the role of Kobe Bryant‘s understudy and has been attempting to soak in as much knowledge as possible from the all-time great. During an interview with Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding, Lin spoke of what he’s learned:

He cares about all the little things. It’s like the stuff that he talks to me about, I didn’t ever think about it. Little stuff. I’m, like, ‘Oh, OK. That’s one way to look at it.’ He’s challenging me to expand my perspective. I think that’s really important, and that’s something that I love doing. It’s a blessing that he’s here in the same locker room.

It’s apparent that Lin is improving under Bryant’s tutelage. Through two preseason games, he’s scored 15 points, accumulated 14 assists, seven boards and just two turnovers. He’s handling the ball better than he ever has, and he’s shown the ability to facilitate effectively.

Perhaps those performances is all head coach Byron Scott needed to see, as Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reported a potential switch on the depth chart:

That may be a brilliant decision. While Nash (when healthy) is a great option due to his lengthy experience, ability to see the floor and skill at creating shots for his teammates, a role on the bench could be very beneficial in regards to maintaining his health throughout the season.

Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News spoke with the guard and tweeted what he had to say about a possible change in his role:

It certainly appears as though the writing is on the wall. Nash’s health continues to deteriorate, Lin has shown reasonable improvement over the offseason, and Scott is considering a switch at the position.

Bryant could wind up benefiting greatly from mentoring Lin, as it looks like he may be starting in the backcourt with his pupil this season.

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Damian Lillard Is Next in Line to Climb the NBA’s Point Guard Ladder

When it comes to Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, superlatives are hardly superfluous. The 24-year-old has unequivocally earned the right to traits like “clutch” and ”All-Star” entering his third NBA season, and while “superstar” is a title that’s always up for debate, there’s no denying the youngster is knocking on the door of the game’s best floor generals.

While player rankings are almost always subjective in nature, ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle (subscription required) has created his pre-season hierarchy of point guards based on projected Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP). Consider Lillard’s spot on the list:

  1. Chris Paul
  2. Russell Westbrook
  3. Stephen Curry
  4. John Wall
  5. Kyrie Irving
  6. Kyle Lowry
  7. Damian Lillard
  8. Mike Conley
  9. Ricky Rubio
  10. Ty Lawson

Looking at the names above, a few things come to mind. For starters, only Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio and John Wall are younger than Lillard. The three are 22, 23 and 24, respectively, and while the Blazers guard is also 24, he’s a couple of months older than the Washington Wizards point man.

The next thought—not completely unrelated to the first—is that the only direction Lillard is moving on this list is up. With no disrespect to a guy like Mike Conley, whose personal efficiency rating (PER) was higher than Lillard’s in 2013-14, according to ESPN.com, we shouldn’t anticipate a surprise leap in his eighth season.

Similarly for Ricky Rubio and Ty Lawsonalthough there’s still room for both to growwe’ve yet to see from them the kind of production and team impact Lillard has displayed two years into his career.

The final thought that comes to mind isn’t who’s behind Lillard in the rankings, but who’s ahead of him. It’s an elite list of NBA point guards vying for the No. 1 spot, and that’s including notable omissions like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker and Goran Dragic.

Keeping that in mind, it’s important to note that the point guard position is as stacked as it’s quite possibly ever been, but Lillard isn’t merely competing against the top floor generals. He’s part of the reason the position has become so competitive, and the question has to be: How does he stack up against the top players at this point in the process?

Admittedly, Lillard is a step behind in a few categories. For starters, defense must improve.

According to 82games.com, Lillard gave up a PER (per 48 minutes) of 17.2 to opponents as a sophomore. Even the eye test is tough to defend, as it’s clear watching him that pick-and-roll defense has been problematic.

Additionally, as elite as he is at putting the ball in the basket, finishing inside the three-point line needs to be more consistent based off his 42.4 percent field-goal shooting. You know the team also wouldn’t mind seeing a few more assists per contest, as his average of 5.6 last season was a dip from his Rookie of the Year campaign.

The good news here is that these deficiencies mean Lillard, an All-Star just two years into his career, can improve upon his already-established star status. Last year he ranked third in scoring (among point guards), third in three-pointers (among all players) and fifth in clutch points (among all players).

If he can improve the necessary categories without sacrificing buckets, he’ll begin to officially scratch the surface of his ceiling.

On top of all else, being a star means standing out on a grander scale than the rest. Individual production is a must, but stardom is enhanced when you can win games.

As an added bonus, marketing yourself successfully can sway opinions your direction, and as it turns out, Lillard’s got that covered.

Not only did the Blazers guard help Portland get to the second round last season for the first time in 14 years, but he’s become one of the most marketable players in an incredibly star-driven league. 

Remember when he starred alongside John Wall and Jrue Holiday in Adidas’ #quickaintfair campaign? Or how about when he stole Dave Franco’s girlfriend in a promo for Madden 15?

Then there’s the “Boost or Bust” commercial he did with CNN’s Rachel Nichols, as well as the cover of NBA Live 15

Lillard even found himself alongside a few legendary sports figures in a Foot Locker commercial, and if none of these appearances matter to you, he also became the first player in league history this past season to perform in all five major events at All-Star Weekend. 

All that considered, don’t think Lillard lucked into this celebrity status because he’s a world-class actor. His leap toward stardom begins on the court, and it’s fitting that he’ll be tested in a showcase against Russell Westbrook on Portland’s season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Although surpassing stars at the point guard position is an onerous task, Lillard is accustomed to proving he’s worthy of high recognition. As a senior in high school, he was rated by Rivals.com as a two-star prospect, and when no big programs came calling, he dominated his way to the NBA through four years at Weber State.

Moral of the story: Lillard isn’t content. With his status creeping near the top five at his position, it’s unlikely we see him let off the gas, as the first two years have seemingly been a taste of what’s to come. 

After all, don’t forget what the then-sophomore said following his series-clinching three-pointer against the Houston Rockets in the 2014 playoffs. 

“It’s definitely the biggest shot of my life,” Lillard said, according to The Oregonian‘s Sean Meagher.

But he couldn’t let that sentence go without one last peak ahead.

“So far.”

 

*”Clutch Points” are courtesy of Stats.NBA.com and are defined as points scored when the game is within five points and there is five minutes or less remaining on the clock.

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Can the 6’11″ Greek Freak Really Play Point Guard in the NBA?

CLEVELAND — With Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Knight currently nursing a strained right groin, head coach Jason Kidd had a golden opportunity to experiment with an unlikely replacement on Tuesday night: 6’11″ guard/forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Kidd announced the move on Monday, the day before the Bucks were set to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in a preseason game:

Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd said after Monday’s practice he plans to start the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo at point guard in Tuesday’s preseason game at Cleveland. Antetokounmpo played the entire fourth quarter at the point Saturday in the Bucks’ 91-85 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

Kidd said he will go with a big starting lineup including Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia when the Bucks face the Cavaliers.

While he possesses the height of most centers, Antetokounmpo is able to handle the ball due in large part to his gigantic hands, rumored to be 15″ in length. He’s a matchup nightmare waiting to happen at any position, but the learning curve at point guard differs from other NBA positions.

Still just 19 years old and entering into his sophomore season, there’s little reason to doubt the Greek Freak. But Tuesday’s first test left something to be desired, to be sure.

 

Comfort Level, Experience at Point Guard

Last season under Larry Drew, Antetokounmpo was used almost exclusively at small and power forward. The Bucks rarely used him as a facilitator, if ever.

Even with his athleticism, hands and length, Antetokounmpo averaged just 1.9 assists in his 24.6 minutes a game.

So when exactly did the idea of him playing point guard come up?

“Summer league,” Antetokounmpo told Bleacher Report before the Bucks tipped off their preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. “Coaches came to me around the second game. I’m not sure what I did, but they told me I deserved a shot to play point guard.”

In four summer league games, Antetokounmpo averaged 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. During the third game after coaches had approached him about running some point, Antetokounmpo registered five assists in a loss to the Utah Jazz.

Before that time, Antetokounmpo had never played the 1, at least, not in America.

“When I was younger, I played (point guard) growing up in Greece, but I’ve never played it here,” Antetokounmpo said.

Now that he’s had a few months to learn the tricks of the trade, Antetokounmpo said that his comfort level as a floor general was quickly growing. He didn’t know, however, how long his new position would last.

“Day by day, I’m getting more comfortable there. I’m just trying to do my best, and whatever coach asks me to do,” Antetokounmpo told Bleacher Report. “Whatever my coach says to do is what I’m going to do. (Smiling) If this is the last time I play the point guard position, then that’s OK. Whatever coach wants me to do.”

Antetokounmpo did note that given his 6’11″ height, he had a certain advantage both on offense and defense.

“It gives you an advantage. Being so tall, and with all the guys at that position being small, I can see who’s open and see all my teammates and where they are. I can also go in the post, too.”

When asked about possibly struggling against smaller, quicker guards, Antetokounmpo said, “Guys in this league, are very strong, very good. It’s hard to guard them. I’ll try to use my length against them.”

Heading into his first true test at a new position, Antetokounmpo seemed very calm and relaxed. His big grin hid any potential fears that may have lingered heading into the game.

 

A Work in Progress

Antetokounmpo did indeed start against the Cavs, and looked very much like someone who hadn’t played point guard at the NBA level before.

Cleveland was without Kyrie Irving, and instead started second-year guard Matthew Dellavedova in his place. Dellevadova gave up seven inches, but was noticeably quicker than Antetokounmpo from the moment the ball was tipped.

The Bucks used Antetokounmpo very cautiously, allowing him to bring the ball up the floor before quickly passing off to a close teammate. Milwaukee would often follow an entry pass by running Antetokounmpo into the post, where he tried (unsuccessfully) to box out the 6’4″ Dellavedova.

Throughout the entire first half, Antetokounmpo seemed very uncomfortable, as if thinking too much before every pass, shot, or dribble.

He finished the first half with a combined zero points, rebounds and assists in 12:54 minutes of play. While Antetokounmpo did a nice job taking care of the ball (just one first half turnover), this was more attributed to the types of easy passes he was throwing.

Too often Antetokounmpo would stand waiting for a teammate to post up, then try squeezing the ball into whatever small window was available.

The offense, when run through Antetokounmpo, stalled mightily. After being replaced by Nate Wolters around the seven minute mark, Antetokounmpo watched the Bucks go on a 20-19 run.

The pace was quicker, and the offense flowed much more smoothly with Wolters running the show.

By the second half, Milwaukee had switched to Wolters as their starter at point guard, with Antetokounmpo moving back to his more comfortable position of small forward.

The result?

Antetokounmpo attacked the basket less than 20 seconds into the second half, earning a trip to the line and his first two points of the game.

Already, he seemed more at ease.

Antetokounmpo remained at shooting guard and small forward for the remainder of the game, registering four points, four rebounds and a blocked shot.

In his first game as a starting point guard, Antetokounmpo finished the game with zero assists and a single turnover.

Dellavedova, despite being seven inches shorter, seemingly won the first matchup at point guard.

He finished with just two points, but recorded nine assists and five rebounds in the Cavaliers’ win.

When talking to Dellavedova after the game, he seemed surprised when told of the exact amount of height he was sacrificing in the matchup.

“I just try to get around him and force him to catch it out when he tries to post me up. It’s very unique having a guy that size playing the point. He’s definitely improved from last year and I’m sure he’ll continue to improve.”

Dellavedova also said he wasn’t sure why Milwaukee pulled the plug on Antetokounmpo at point guard for the second half.

“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask the coach. It’s the preseason so everyone’s trying different things.”

If Kidd truly wants Antetokounmpo to play point guard this season, he’ll still require quite a bit of work.

On this night, Antetokounmpo looked uncomfortable and very out of place in his new position. The offense clearly flowed better with the ball in Wolters’ hands.

At 19, Antetokounmpo does possess the size, skill and time to develop into a quality floor general.

The question is, how long are the Bucks willing to wait?

 

Greg Swartz has covered the NBA for Bleacher Report since 2010. Connect with him on Twitter for more basketball news and conversation.

All stats provided by NBA.com.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 6’11” point guard now

New Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd comes into training camp with a maverick chip on his shoulder. After spending his first year leading the…

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San Antonio Spurs Rolling Dice with Short-Term Point Guard Depth

The final spot on the 2014-15 San Antonio Spurs roster is officially occupied by center Aron Baynes, leaving the defending NBA champions with three point guards on the 15-man roster.

Providence product Bryce Cotton was a serious candidate for the last seat, but the Spurs ultimately decided to retain familiarity over addressing short-term depth.

Passing on the 22-year-old leaves San Antonio somewhat shorthanded at point guard since a shoulder injury to breakout three-point specialist Patty Mills will reportedly sideline him until January, per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News (subscription required).

Consequently, Gregg Popovich’s team must rely on longtime leader Tony Parker and reserve Cory Joseph to stay healthy until Mills’ return. His surgery provides Joseph a major chance during his contract year, as noted by Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News.

To call his fourth NBA campaign make or break would be hyperbole. But with his contract up after this year, and an opportunity to serve as Tony Parker’s backup for the first half of the season while Patty Mills recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, this will be his best — and perhaps last — chance to prove himself to the Spurs.

Joseph served as an occasional starter during the 2013-14 season, averaging 8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists on nights Parker did not play.

Though the fourth-year reserve will never replicate Parker with the ball, Joseph is a better defender. Of course, he’ll be particularly important when his superior takes a night off, being tasked with running the pick-and-roll offense despite being a mediocre shooter.

Parker will definitely not participate in all 82 regular-season games, healthy or not. How many outings he’ll rest while Mills is sidelined, though, is a question that can’t be answered right now.

Admittedly, the 14-year veteran should be more fit than previous years because he elected to forgo playing for France this summer. ESPN’s Matthew Tynan believes the additional rest will pay dividends for Parker’s production.

Manu Ginobili sliding into the role of the primary ball-handler is almost certain, considering the sixth man has occupied that spot in the past. Of course, he’s the Spurs’ best offensive creator sans Parker.

The downside, though, is Ginobili would play fewer minutes alongside Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw in the NBA’s best bench, per Hoops Stats.

San Antonio can survive a scheduled rest day for a star, yet the undermanned unit remains a concern should injury strike. While Danny Green and Belinelli are definitely valuable on the offensive end, neither player can be relied upon to protect the ball.

What about Kyle Anderson?

The Spurs drafted the UCLA star with the 30th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, but how he will be utilized remains a mystery. Two things are for certain, however: Anderson will never be accused of being fleet-footed, and he wasn’t dubbed “Slow-Mo” ironically.

Anderson plays a deliberate style, showcasing a superb passing ability because of excellent court vision. The 6’9″ swingman doesn’t get anywhere quickly, yet his skill set justifies an opportunity to run the point.

Per Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times, back in March, Anderson said critics suggested his “slow, methodical game wasn’t going to work at the college level,” but ”I pretty much do whatever I want on the court this season.”

As a sophomore, he tallied 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game, so it’s hard to disagree with him. Granted, there’s zero chance the first-round pick can do whatever he wants in the NBA, especially under the watch of the fire-breathing basketball genius Popovich.

For all the talent and potential surrounding Anderson, he still must react to game situations and not play outside his limits, especially in the Spurs system.

In other words, Anderson is unproven. He should be a decent ball-handler. He probably will be an efficient reserve. But San Antonio doesn’t know either as fact quite yet.

Although the Spurs are capable of overcoming a starter going down, they’d be pressed into a situation they hoped to avoid, removing a key piece of the stellar second unit or throwing a rookie into the gauntlet.

It’s certainly not a make-or-break outlook; San Antonio has replaced hobbled pieces for years. However, opening the season with just two healthy point guards is a considerable hazard, even if the risk isn’t a debilitating one.

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Follow Bleacher Report NBA writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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