Does the ‘New Breed’ of NBA Point Guard Work in the Playoffs?


He can score, but can he win?

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last couple of months, but it turns out keeping up a blog full time is a little more difficult when you’re not unemployed.

Anyway, this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and this article by the brilliant folks over at TrueHoop forced me to finally write about it.

Basically the article points out the fact that Oklahoma City scored 133 points the other night in triple overtime, but only racked up 16 assists. For those of you that don’t realize how ridiculous that is, according to the article it’s only happened three times (regular or postseason) since 1985-86.

You can’t put the blame on one person and it means that the whole team wasn’t sharing the ball well, but you can’t help but look at Russell Westbrook.

We’ve watched Westbrook transform from a freak athlete with potential to one of the NBA’s best in a short period of time, but the problem is that he’s turned into one of the NBA’s best scorers. That doesn’t always work when you already have the best scorer in the league on your team.

We watched in Game Three of the OKC/Memphis series when towards the end of the game somehow Kevin Durant went possession after possession in crunch time without even touching the ball. The Thunder lost a game they should have won.

This isn’t to harp on Westbrook, because he’s really a prototype of the “new breed” of point guard that exists in the NBA. The article points to the recent hand check rule that allows guards to penetrate more easily, which allows super athletes like Westbrook and Derrick Rose to use their finishing ability.

But does it work in the playoffs?

Having a shoot-first point guard can be a great weapon, but in the playoffs when defenses tighten up and the game comes down to the final two minutes, will a Westbrook or a Rose be able to lead his team to victory without passing the ball?

Derrick Rose has players on his team who can score, but they’ve looked completely inept because Rose tends to dominate the ball and put up a lot of shots.

A superstar dominating the ball is nothing new. But at least when Derek Fisher brings the ball up and sees Kobe Bryant calling for the ball, he has a choice whether to pass it to him or feed the post. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook bring the ball up themselves, so there are a lot of possessions where they’re literally the only players to touch the ball.

Just a quick look at the NBA Championship point guards in the past few years:

  • Lakers (Fisher) vs. Celtics (Rajan Rondo) twice
  • Lakers (Fisher) vs. Magic (Jameer Nelson)
  • Spurs (Tony Parker) vs. Cavs (Damon Jones?)
  • Mavericks (Devin Harris) vs. Heat (Jason Williams)

So four of those (Fisher, Rondo, Damon Jones, Jason Williams) never even think about shooting the ball. Devin Harris had not yet grown into the shoot-first point guard that he is now, and while Jameer Nelson does score, he did a lot of penetrate-and-kick to all the three-point shooters on that Magic team.

The only possible exception is Parker, who is a penetrator who finishes at the rim, but he rarely led his team in scoring.

This year we have polar opposites in the playoff matchups: Derrick Rose vs. Kirk Hinrich/Jeff Teague, Russell Westbrook vs. Mike Conley, and then we have three other point guards who shoot as a last resort: Rondo, Mike Bibby, and Jason Kidd.

So maybe it’s just that a shoot first point guard hasn’t won recently, and maybe this is the year. But if you ask me, I’d still go with a point guard who sets up his teammates and allows them to finish in crunch time.

But I wouldn’t count on it, since Russell Westbrook’s already proven me wrong once.

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  • I think it’s tough to throw all score-first guys in the same category. As much as I like Westbrook, I don’t think he’s as good as Rose. So maybe Rose will have more success doing what he does by comparison.

    Westbrook is really good, but on some of those deciding possessions, the ball needs to start in Durant’s hands and it’s not. OKC knew what they were doing when they drafted Westbrook — he’s always been a score-first guy — so this is what they get. That said, they would not be anywhere near this good without Russell.