NBA / Feb 28, 2014 / 3:30 pm

Why Having A Scoring Point Guard Is Super Overrated

(Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports)

(Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports)

The point guard position is commonly referred to as the player who initiates the team’s offense, the floor general. In recent history, the NBA’s infrastructure has undergone a makeover. Now, it’s all about a lightning quick pace and guards that can score the ball at will. While this has produced some exciting and flashy play, there is one critical argument that needs to be discussed with these point guards.

While these scoring “point” guards can produce huge numbers and exciting play, they don’t win championships. Whenever a discussion is brought up about Hall of Fame caliber players, the ring discussion is always brought up. Winning a championship is the pinnacle of success in the NBA, especially as the point guard. The point guard’s main duties are to will his team to victory–he is supposed to control everything on the floor. Would Magic Johnson be considered the greatest point guard of all-time without his five championship rings?

This is being brought up because many of the NBA’s teams are being led by a new breed of scoring point guards. The old fashioned, pass-first guard is a thing of the past. Enter thoroughbreds like John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook. All five of these point guards are averaging over 20 points per game this season, embodying the role of a pure scoring point guard. When you think about these guards, it’s not Rajon Rondo, chasing triple-doubles and skipping full-court dimes to open teammates. It’s more of a charging to the rack, scoring mentality.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this on the surface. However, let me be straight here for a second. Save Damian Lillard, who appears to be an outlier of this conversation, do you honestly see any of these point guards winning a championship during their careers? Sure, their play is exciting as hell to watch. But in the end, they don’t win rings. The history and facts prove this.

Since Isiah Thomas won the Finals MVP in 1989-1990 with the Detroit Pistons as a point guard, there have only been TWO point guards to win a Finals MVP in the last 21 years. These two are Tony Parker with the Spurs in 2006-2007 and Chauncey Billups with the Detroit Pistons in 2003-2004. Anyone that knows basketball is aware that Tony Parker is more of a facilitator than anything for the Spurs–plus Tim Duncan was the leading scorer during that championship run in 2006-2007, scoring 22.2 points per game in the playoffs.

That Detroit Pistons team that won the Finals in 2003-2004 was a team that was predicated on hard-nosed defense–not one player on the team averaged over 18 PPG in the regular season. This Pistons squad scored only 90.1 points per game (24th in the NBA), while only giving up 84.3 points per game (first in the NBA). Their offense played at a relatively slow pace (87.9 possessions) and wasn’t dominated by one player. Chauncey Billups only averaged 16.4 points per game in the playoffs, shooting 39 percent from the field. Plus, Billups was only taking 12.4 shots per game, compared to 17.6 for Rip Hamilton. Billups was Finals MVP by facilitating his offense and being the floor general in every aspect of the position. Let’s compare this to Russell Westbrook’s playoff run in 2011-2012, when the Thunder made it to the NBA Finals. Westbrook is one of the scoring point guards that has came close to winning a championship, even if his success is predicated by Kevin Durant‘s insane skills.

Russell Westbrook is the embodiment of a scoring point guard. While Kevin Durant is considered the star in Oklahoma City, there is no doubt that Westbrook has been attempting to wrangle that position from him for years. During their NBA Finals run in 2011-2012, Westbrook led the Thunder in field goal attempts per game with 20.4, but only shot 44 percent from the field and 28 percent from deep. Westbrook also boasted the highest usage percentage during the playoffs of 30.7 percent. This equated to A LOT of Westbrook pounding the ball into the ground and a lot of Russell Westbrook shots, which takes up valuable possessions and clock. Westbrook scored 23.1 PPG in the playoffs, which was 5.4 points less than Kevin Durant’s 28.5. Durant also took one less shot than Westbrook per game and had a lower usage percentage, while shooting 52 percent from the floor. Imagine if the Thunder were led by a pass-first point guard–would they have eclipsed the NBA championship hump that year? That can only be tossed up for speculation.

For these other scoring point guards, most of them haven’t reached the type of success that Westbrook has, partially, because none of them have someone named Kevin Durant on their side. Without Durant, Westbrook would arguably be in the same position as Wall, Irving, Thomas and the others. What position is this? Being the leading scorer and arguably best player on a team that isn’t winning. These guards break people down by driving and getting to the rim. They dribble and dribble and use up a lot of clock to get their shots up. Whenever the point guard is leading the team in shots, it usually equates to a lot of stagnant offense, which explains the low shooting percentages coupled with high usage ratings. And these players aren’t just not winning championships; they are barely winning games in the regular season. The Wizards are the only team over .500 at 30-28. The Cavaliers sit at 23-36 and the Kings are at 20-37 and the second-worst team in the Western Conference. Let’s look at John Wall and the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards currently hold the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, but are only a few games away from falling out of playoff contention. Wall is taking 16.8 shots per game, which leads the team. Wall also has a usage percentage of 27.7, which also leads the team. Even though Wall is leading the team in shots and scoring, he is sixth in offensive rating at 106. It’s also significant to point out that while Wall is leading the team in scoring, he is eighth on the team in field goal percentage at under 43 percent.

Even though Wall is essentially a scoring point guard, he might be the best facilitator out of the bunch–throwing 8.6 dimes per game. Per NBA.com/stats, Wall is taking up 97.8 touches per game, with a total of 5,672 touches this season. Wall possesses the ball for approximately 8.0 minutes per game, which is the highest in the NBA. Since we are discussing winning, Wall is only contributing .136 win shares per 48 to the Wizards, which is tied for third on the team behind Ariza, Gortat and Booker. (The graph below includes all games before Thursday night.)

John Wall 2013-14

John Wall 2013-14

Obviously, John Wall is explosive and a scoring threat at the point guard position–there is no denying that. But, his style of play doesn’t translate into winning for the Wizards. He’s fun to watch and his stats will make you believe that he’s an elite player. He might be an elite scorer, but is he really an elite floor general? That’s up for debate.

How can he improve in the win column? Well a start would be to surround Wall with better talent. The Wizards definitely have the least amount of talent between the teams we are discussing here, yet they are in playoff contention. Wall has improved as a facilitator and is close to finding the perfect balance between scoring and facilitating. It will be interesting to watch Wall progress and how he reacts to better talent coming along in Washington.

Keep reading to see a breakdown of Kyrie Irving…

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  • Nick

    What’s the point of this?
    First off, yes I think a Westbrook can win, seeing as how he almost did, and they’re favourites in the west. Rose before he got injured was also on one of the best teams in the league, and the bulls were one of the favourites to win.

    Secondly, what’s the point of Chris Paul, who plays the ‘right way’, on really talented teams, but hasn’t won anything significant? Are you arguing against scoring point guards, or point guards in general? If the latter, change the title.

    Third, when talking about Paul, you completely dismiss Kidd, Rondo, and Tony Parker, as if their just throw in scrubs that don’t hold a candle to Paul.

    And speaking of Tony Parker, you might want to check his stats and his record…

  • Nick

    Just some end of week trolling…

  • UncheckedAggression

    Very poorly thought-out article. I do think there is a way to make an argument against PGs that focus too much on scoring, but John Wall is not an example of that and does not belong on that list. In fact, I’d replace him with Derrick Rose.

    Not to mention Tony Parker, while always having been a willing passer, is actually more of a scoring guard. So much of the argument (RINGS) lies on categorizations the author made himself and do not reflect actual style of play. Besides, the championship basis for an argument is beyond tired. Using that as the sole reason for criticizing scoring PGs is pretty silly.

    Also, there’s no question Thomas falls in this category. He did fine. He also happened to have a really good team surrounding him, which is a much better predictor of winning championships than whether your PG is score-first or not.

  • Jose

    Reason why i hate advanced stats based arguments.I agree Wall doesn’t belong on the list.Weak article all around.It’s all ready been proved you can win with any position as your leading scorer and there isn’t a fixed formula to winning championships barring the return of the true dominant big men of the game.It’s just a matter of who has the best players and who he is surrounded with nowadays no need for advanced stats for that.

  • SweetdickWilly

    The scoring point guard style of play does have more than a grain of salt when it comes to talk of being overrated. Allen Iverson basically inspired the current culture of that style of play. The law of averages comes into play with them since they have pretty much 100% access to the ball and their numbers reflect that while they usually either don’t win anything or not as much they could have since it’s possible to gameplan against them since they pass only when it’s a guaranteed assist, a highlight, to a specific teammate so they can get it back and or when they can’t get their own shot. The team surrounding them can’t be an excuse most of the time since their game is based on them dominating the ball and shooting at their own discretion in the first place. Dudes like that also tend to either not give you anything defensively or just lunge for steals all game.

  • 2cents

    Interesting topic to write an article about Dime. But agree with the comments here. The greatest assist man of all time (John Stockton) never won a championship and he was a pass first guard. I do however agree that a scoring PG is overrated.

    I’d take a Rondo over a Rose any day of the week.

  • T.O.ThunderFan

    What a rough, incorrect article. Teams win with different kinds of players. San Antonio won 3 titles and made the finals last year with a scoring PG in Parker…

    Until Lebron recently, a team hadn’t won with a SF as their best player since the 80s Celtics. Should someone write an article about how the chance of winning with a SF as your best player is very low?

    Your chance of winning a title is very low unless you have an all-time great on your team. None of the scoring PGs in the league are going to be all-time greats, but only a few teams have such players so…

    If you’d work with me and say that Jordan, Olajuwon, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe and Lebron are all top 15 players (I’d probably have them all top 10), those 6 guys have accounted for 20 of the last 23 championships, with the other 3 going to some other all-timers in Dirk and Garnett, with the one major outlier being the 2004 Pistons. It’s not that “x-style players can’t win” or anything like that. It’s that if you don’t have one of those transcendent talents, your chances of winning are inherently low.

  • Stradio

    I agree with most of the points here. While watching most of these score-first point guards who seem to prefer iso plays run for them (in late game situations especially), it amazes me how often they are willing to take teammates out of rhythm to boost their own shot attempt numbers. For all of the times I have seen Russell Westbrook not even attempt to run a play with Durant and instead take a difficult, contested, or downright forced shot, I have also seen teams win titles by avoiding these types of momentum-killing plays. Jason Kidd (late career), Mario Chalmers, Derek Fisher, Rajon Rondo (early career), Tony Parker, Jason Williams, not a single one of these guys would EVER take their teammates out of the equation like Westbrook did, especially in the Finals. It’s hard not to be results-oriented when it comes to basketball, but that’s sort of what using championships to gauge a player’s value is all about.

  • SweetdickWilly

    Other than Jordan being around, Sloan’s system hurt Stockton’s chances too. Stockton was a great shooter and Sloan should’ve opened up the offense to an extent. He also turned off free agents when they hit the market and he would beef with and or bury what talent they were able to get.

  • tq

    John Wall doesn’t belong on this list, he’s a pass-first point guard by nature who brings the most out of his teammates, and plays defense (unlike Irving and Thomas). Wall’s team is winning and in the playoffs, despite having no All-Star caliber teammates and playing on a team that was 5-28 without him last year.. how is his play a negative again?

    Wall is doing a great job this season. If his jumpshot continues to improve he’d basically be the ideal point guard. Look at his gamelogs.. he can score 20+ when needed, but he can also choose to take a facilitating role and put up 15 points with 12+ assists.. out of all the pgs, really only Rondo, Wall, CP3 and Curry have that mentality. Westbrook, Irving, Thomas, Lillard, etc don’t do that.. they have to get their shots up no matter what.

    Funny that you didn’t want to talk about Lillard. He’s a massive chucker himself, and gets low assist numbers. If he wasn’t lucky enough to be playing next to an MVP candidate, he’d be in the same boat as Irving right now.