Friday, September 24, 2010

TBTEW: Point Guards 6-10

To see the previous posts in this series click on the "the best there ever was" tag at the bottom of the post.

10: Bob Cousy. Like Isiah Thomas, Cousy is a player whose stats don't quite match his reputation. Or maybe his stats match his reputation, but his reputation doesn't match his statistical "value". Either way, his stats and his reputation agree that he was the best point guard of the fifties, the best passer in the game, and a shaky shooter.

Most of Cousy's perceived value came from his passing, and his ability to run an offense, which was excellent. Even though he was also a prolific scorer, averaging over 18 points a game for his career, he was inefficient, always shooting below 40% from the field. From what I understand, he could score in transition, but was not a good shooter. He was a good rebounder for a point guard, but wasn't much of a defender, in that respect being similar to most of the players from the pre-Russell era. In my opinion, then, he deserves to rank somewhere in between Isiah Thomas (very good passer, inefficient shooter, decent defender) and Kevin Johnson (a more efficient scorer than Thomas).

9: Kevin Johnson. I don't know if people realize how good KJ was. Of course, there's the dunk on Olajuwon which remains famous, but the early 90s Suns are remembered as the team that went to the Finals when Barkley was there. This inevitably means that it is forgotten that the Suns had won between 53 and 55 games the previous four seasons with a core of Kevin Johnson, Jeff Hornacek, Tom Chambers, and Dan Majerle. KJ was the best player on that team, averaging 21 and 11 on a .587 TS% during that span.

Unfortunately, he was hampered by injuries after that stretch, playing at least 60 games just twice after his age 25 season, and he was done by age 31. Offensively, the lack of a consistent outside shot (until his last couple seasons) was his only weakness, and his passing combined with his knack for drawing fouls and finishing inside made him a scarily effective offensive player.

8: Chauncey Billups. Owner of the coveted "best player on a championship team" designation, Billups was similar to Terrell Brandon in that both players played on very slow teams, were great free throw shooters, and rarely turned the ball over. As in Brandon's case, these factors contributed to Billups' "traditional stats" understating his performance. Billups has also been an excellent three point shooter, making him a very efficient scorer despite low field goal percentages, and has been a better defender than his steals would indicate.

Another interesting feature of Billups' career is his current streak of nine straight 50 win seasons over three different teams. The Pistons and the Nuggets had both won 50 games the year before he arrived, but both teams enjoyed greater success after he arrived in town. It doesn't prove anything about his value, but the fact that his teams consistently won argues for a high ranking.

7: Steve Nash. You all know the deal. So much virtual ink has been spilled on Nash during the past five years that anything I say will be extraordinarily redundant. Coming off an age 35 season in which he averaged 17-11 on another 50-40-90 while leading the Suns to the Western Conference Finals, it is safe to say that Nash has broken the age curve. It is sufficient to say that the list of guards who have had a season with a PER of at least 20 (while qualifying for the scoring title) at the age of 35 or older is John Stockton and Steve Nash. If he can keep playing at a high level for a couple more seasons, he could climb a couple more spots on this list.

6: Jason Kidd. The man who could do everything on the basketball court but consistently hit a jump shot. Like Nash, Kidd appears to have beaten Father Time, continuing to rack up the rebounds, assists, and steals into his late thirties, while becoming a much better shooter, knocking down 42% of his threes the past two seasons. In this case, the stats don't tell the whole story. Unlike Nash, a large part of Kidd's value came from his defensive ability. Even though his craftiness still helps him force turnovers, he has slowed down to the point where he can no longer contain quick guards. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, in the 2011 Western Conference, facing a good, quick guard is a nightly occurrence. Kidd remains an effective player, and he is still capable of guarding many 2's and 3's, but he is no longer as valuable as he was several years ago, despite what his statistics may indicate.

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