Wednesday, August 25, 2010

TBTEW: Point Guards 21-25

25. Derek Harper: Some (actually most) players finish their career with a one sentence biography. In Derek Harper's case, that sentence is "one of the best players never to make an All-Star team." It is often left unclear whether he deserved to make an All-Star team, or if he was just a good player who played forever. The truth lies somewhere in between. While Harper was a good, never great player, who did play forever, he was an All-Star caliber player at his best. The problem was that he just happened to have his best seasons in a conference that featured Magic, Stockton, Terry Porter, KJ, Fat Lever, and Sleepy Floyd's career year (1987).

Harper is also notable for leading the only two non-Dirk Dallas teams to reach 50 wins, the extremely balanced 87-88 Mavericks, who featured an eight man rotation of Harper, Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, James Donaldson, Roy Tarpley, Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf, and Brad Davis-all good players. Since there was no superstar on those teams, and they were prevented from reaching their full potential due to Roy Tarpley's injury and drug problems, they have been somewhat forgotten today, but for a couple years they were very good.

24. Calvin Murphy: Murphy's notable contribution to basketball trivia occurred when he set the NBA record for consecutive made free throws (.892 FT% for his career). Murphy definitely fell into the category of "shoot-first" point guard. The sharpshooting guard, who spent his whole career with the Rockets, averaged over 5 assists only twice in his career, but his effectiveness can't be doubted.

A Rockets team whose only other consistent scoring options were forward Rudy Tomjanovich and (first) guard Mike Newlin and (later) Moses Malone finished 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 6th, 1st, and 4th in Offensive Rating from 1974-1980 (Murphy's prime). Unfortunately, the Rockets' defense was as bad as their offense was good. Some of the blame can go to Murphy, who had a lot of steals, but at 5'9, struggled to guard bigger players. Despite his team's defensive struggles, Murphy helped his team much more than he hurt them, helping some less than talented teams to mediocrity during his best years.

23. Mookie Blaylock: While Murphy's offense covered his limited defense, Blaylock's excellent defense helped make up for his offensive struggles. Mookie never hit more than 43% of his shots, and almost never reached the foul line. He shot the three fairly well during the middle of his career, but when they started falling at 30% rather than 35%, his efficiency numbers turned ugly. But when he wasn't shooting the ball, he was one of the best point guards in the league.

Regularly at the top of the league in steals, Blaylock made 6 All-Defensive teams in his career, often using his defensive acumen to start fastbreaks the other way. Mookie was also an excellent passer, posting a career high of almost 10 assists in 1994, and averaging almost 7 a game for his career.

As a side note, the 1997 Hawks are a very interesting team. Their starting lineup played a whopping 72% of the team's total minutes. The Hawks featured a backcourt of Blaylock (in his best season) and Steve Smith, who led the team in scoring. Mutombo started at center, and the forwards were Laettner (18-9-3) and Tyrone Corbin. There was no bench to speak of, but the Hawks still won 56 games before losing to the Bulls in the playoffs.

22. Gus Williams: Williams is probably the most obscure player (though not the worst) to ever lead a championship team in scoring. Dennis Johnson and Jack Sikma are usually remembered as the leaders of that team, but Williams led the team in USG%, AST%, STL%, and PER. But what was more impressive was his playoff performance. En route to the 1979 title, Williams averaged 27 points and only 2.5 turnovers on 48% shooting in 17 games (this was not an aberration, Williams consistently performed very well in the playoffs for the Sonics).

Williams' biggest weakness was a lack of familiarity with the foul line and three point line, leading to some less than stellar offensive efficiencies, especially by the standards of the offense-happy eighties. But he was excellent defensively, very good at creating shots for himself or his teammates (though he never posted gaudy assist totals), and he committed a surprisingly low amount of turnovers, leading to a very effective all around game.

21. Anfernee Hardaway: It's a shame that Hardaway's career is always punctuated with the sigh, "if only". If only he had stayed healthy, he would have fulfilled the promise he showed in 95 and 96. How good was he? Well the numbers say he was really good-in '96, his best season, he averaged 22-7 with 2 steals and excellent efficiency, and finished 7th in the league in PER, and 4th in Win Shares. If he had stayed at his 95-97 level of play for several more years, then had a normal decline phase, he would be in the top 5 of this list. But the Legend of Penny wasn't just about the numbers, it was about how he got them. But don't take my word for it. There are plenty of Hardaway highlights on YouTube. Start with this one, and go from there. And be happy that we got as much as we did.

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