Monday, August 23, 2010

TBTEW: Point Guards 26-30


30. Stephon Marbury: Starbury holds the distinction of being one of the most maligned athletes of his generation. Much of the criticism is warranted; he was never a good defender, he probably dominated the ball a bit more than he should have, he wasn't especially efficient, and his teams never won all that much.

But let's focus on what he could do. You don't average 19 points and 8 assists over a 13 year career without doing something right, and Marbury could certainly create shots for himself and for his teammates. It's also not true that he always lost; he was the leading scorer (and assist-er) on the 44 win 2003 Suns.

What I consider his most impressive performance occurred on the 2004 Knicks, who he joined through a midseason trade. The Knicks were floundering, at 14-21, when they traded for Marbury, and promptly went 25-22 the rest of the way. That does not seem particularly impressive, but when you consider that the Knicks' other four starters come playoff time were Nazr Mohammed, Kurt Thomas, Tim Thomas (who was replaced by an old Penny Hardaway after he was injured in Game 1 against the Nets), and Shandon Anderson, I think Marbury deserves a lot of credit for keeping that group near .500.

29. Jimmy Jones: The best point guard of the ABA. How good was he? I don't really know. He had some statistically dominating seasons in the early years of the ABA, especially 1969, when he averaged 26-6-6 while leading the league in FG% and PER. He wasn't a one year wonder, averaging 19-5-5 over 7 ABA seasons, and improving on those numbers (and efficiency) in the playoffs.

An efficient scorer, Jones is a difficult player to evaluate because I don't know how his impressive statistical output would have translated to a superior league. It is easy to point to his lack of success in the NBA as proof that he simply dominated a weak league, but it should be noted that he didn't reach the ABA until he was 23, had his best year at 24, had a decent season on a per minute basis in his first NBA season, 1975, and started to decline rapidly when he hit 31-in an era when quick guards did not age well. So, how good was he? I'm still not sure, but the ABA's best point guard deserves a mention here.

28. Doc Rivers: Doc will probably be remembered as a coach more than a player, but he was a very good player as a pass-first point guard in the 1980s. Rivers may be underrated now because he never received big minutes (and put up big statistics), always less than 33 a game, but per minute stats reveal a prolific passer and tough defender.

I was surprised by how much Doc Rivers resembled his protégé, Rajon Rondo, statistically. From 1986-1988, Rivers' best three seasons, he averaged 15 points, 11 assists, and 2.3 steals per 36 minutes, which is pretty close to what I think Rondo can achieve. Add that to decent rebounding and a surprisingly good ability to draw fouls, and you have all the makings for a great, unheralded point guard.

Unfortunately, Rivers fell off after those three years, and only averaged 27 minutes a game over his career, preventing him from climbing any higher on this list, but it should be remembered how great he was for those few years.

27. Andre Miller: He's never been great, but he's been good for a long time. His best season was probably 2002, when he averaged 17 and 11, winning the assist crown, but almost a decade later he was anchoring an overachieving Blazers team, without missing a beat in between (okay, there was that year with the Clippers he wasn't so great, but I think "being on the Clippers" counts as extenuating circumstances).

In making these ratings, I generally favored peak performance over longevity, but quietly consistent performance over a whole decade should be recognized. And I know I didn't realize how many good seasons Miller had strung together until I made these rankings, and I suspect I'm not the only one. I think part of it is that he's always played out of the spotlight. He left Cleveland before LeBron got there, and then swapped teams with Iverson in the Denver-Philly trade, both times ending up on the team with less media attention. Plus he played for the Clippers.

26. Fat Lever: Lever is the other end of the spectrum from Miller. He only had four good years, but they were a great four years. From 1987 through 1990, he averaged 19 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 2.5 steals, and only 2 turnovers. That's right, over a four year period, he almost averaged a triple double, was one of the best defensive guards in the game, and never turned the ball over. If he could only shoot, there would have been no holes in his game. As it was, he gave us four great years of unorthodox domination and someone we could compare to Rajon Rondo while making ourselves feel smart. And isn't that enough?

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