Smaller Guards Get No Respect in the Modern NBA

The traditional NBA point guard is almost an afterthought these days. By traditional I mean, smaller point guards, for the most part. The Kemba Walker’s and Damian Lillard’s of today. Guys under 6-foot-4 would qualify. There was a time when the little man was respected as the floor general and unquestioned coach on the court for just about any basketball team that aspired to championships and tickertape parades. This history of the NBA is littered with such diminutive dynamos as Bob Cousy, Isiah Thomas, Mark Jackson and Jason Kidd, players who were able to control the game, no matter the pace, and come up big when needed. 

Top 10 Greatest Point Guards In NBA History

Top 10 Greatest Point Guards In NBA History The list of great floor generals in the history of the NBA is very long. The game has seen eras dominated by great point guards, and many great basketball dynasties have consisted of a skilled big man, paired with an equally talented distributor.

These days, due to evolving training methods as well as the increased openness of the game, players who were once relegated to roaming the paint like mighty carnivores have grown wings. Now, they fly fancy free, chucking threes, leading the break, crossing dudes over. Indeed, anything a little man can do, there seems to be a big man out there whos able to perform that same task, with just as much flair.  

The most obvious player to point to when considering the evolution of skills and size is Ervin Magic Johnson, a six-foot-nine point guard.  He was drafted back in 1979. So, this era were witnessing has been long coming. Scottie Pippen, picked by some as the one of the top five small forwards in the history of the National Basketball Association, was shooting threes and leading the break in the mid-90s. Back then, his skillset seemed like something out of a Frankenstein story; one part shooting guard, one part point guard, add a seven-foot-wingspan and a first step. Then, voila, you get an athletic big with the skills of a guard.

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When James Harden first moved to point guard at the start of the 2016-17 season, I immediately thought it was a bad idea. However, Harden was able to lead the NBA in assists at 11.2 helpers per game while scoring 29.1 points per game.  So, on the surface, the numbers say he did a pretty snazzy job. But Harden is a scorer at heart.  So, some of the nuances of the game that seem obvious to a natural-born point guard may have been lost on the lefty gunner of the Houston Rockets.  

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He established a new NBA record of 6.2 turnovers per game. Turning the ball over nearly seven times per game on average puts dookie-stank on anything, including a player averaging nearly 30 points and over 10 assists per.  Over the course of his 13-year career, Magic average more than four turnovers per game five times.  By comparison, Isiah Thomas accomplished the same feat four times, and Jason Kidd only averaged four turnovers per game once in his career. 

You want more? We got more! John Stockton never averaged more than four turnovers per game! Before you start talkin all the crap about usage and pace, just remember that ol “Johnny Short-shorts” lead the league in assists nine years straight and was meticulous with the rock! And, while the Jazz could slow it down, they could run you out the gym as well.  

Finishing off the thought, Harden is on the verge of four years straight averaging more than four turnovers per gamethe time spans two years prior to him moving to point guard as well as this season.

If given the opportunities, an individual with such physical gifts as Harden can stockpile assists all day long.  But his historically-high penchant for turning the ball over is indicative of how natural point guard acumen is crafted over the course of decades, not months  But were all caught up on the theatrics inherent in big numbers from freakishly large people or those playing out of position; players, coaches, general managers, fans and even the media.

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But theres far more to being a point guard than simply having the ability to play the position.  As they say, NBA basketball is fantastic, and part of that is seeing men with incredible physical attributes perform feats of athleticism, skill and stamina that physics tells us such men shouldnt be able to perform.

We need only look at LeBron James for an example of one who fits that bill. Perhaps the most physically imposing specimen in the history of the league. Yet, he can manipulate the game with subtlety and skill rather than the brute force employed by anyone else with his size.

LeBron James, and the fact that he only has two seasons in which he averaged four turnovers per game in his career, is indicative of how much of an outlier to the previously stated thesis he actually is. But, over the course of the last two decades, players occupying the point guard position have been pushed to the margins due to the evolution the game. I believe Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving was grossly undervalued by the Cleveland Cavaliers because, in part, LeBron does the lions share of the ball-handling. 

Imagine, being trained your entire life to be one of the illest point guards who ever lived, only to get to the NBA and have your team give most of the ballhandling responsibilities to a small forward? No shade intended, but shoot, Id wanna go get mines too! Point guards are taught since primary school that they are the focal point of the offense, defense or both, and that they also must lead there teams irrespective of individual talent levels.  That was just how it was supposed to go.  But, evolution tells us that things change to make room for circumstances and situations that are considered advanced.

In searching for the next big mismatch, some coaches are forgetting about the mismatch maker they already have at the point, and some fans are simply becoming enamored with “pretty” things like, the running gait of the Greek Freak. 

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“Boy,” some commentators wondered last season “I bet he’d be great at the point.”  Based on what? Size and athleticism most likely.

But where does that leave your traditional point guard? You know, youre under six-foot-four point guard of normal size but extraordinary ability? Well, if they’re not bombing away from 30-feet like Steph Curry, the cool kids aren’t checking for them. 

Damian Lillard has been in the National Basketball Association for five years, with three straight years of averaging over 25 points per game while dishing out six helpers. Top that off with how he has never averaged more than 3.2 turnovers per game, and youd think that Lillard would be regarded as one of the best at his position, hands down.

So, why are we going into yet another all-star break with Dame feeling some kinda way about possibly being snubbed for the All-Star team?  Its spelled r-e-s-p-e-c-t. 

Ive gotten frustrated just for the fact that it feels like I always got to be the fall guy and every other guy has been deserving.

In the past, the thing has been, All right, my team has been 10 games under .500 or not in the playoffs, but every year weve found a way to be in the postseason, and this year I think were in much better position than we have been in the past two seasons that I didnt make it.

I think Ive gotten over the emotional part of it the last few times that I didnt make it. Now Im kind of like expecting it to go that way, but I feel like I should be there.

Though Lillard might feel the slight is personal, I feel like this type of disrespect for more traditional looking point guards has been long coming. For example, Chris Paul is barely six-feet tall and maybe a little over 200 pounds. Though extraordinary, he gets slighted for not being able to close the deal. They look at all those seasons he averaged around 20 points and 10 assists per game like it was some kind of fluke. Those numbers were indicative of how herculean he was, yet are often used to earmark where he failed.

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Check out Clippers supestar Chris Paul as he gets the assist against his former team on the pass to Blake Griffin, giving him 5,000 for his career but he doesn’t know he reached the milestone as he asks around while the Clippers fans give him a standing ovation!

Meanwhile, some of these very same people will praise the versatility of Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons.  A physical specimen at a legitimate six-foot-ten, 230 pounds, Simmons often looks clueless in basic halfcourt sets and is virtually neutralized as a primary scorer in halfcourt sets. The rookie is averaging 16 points, seven assists and eight rebounds, a testament to his incredible versatility. However, his four turnovers per game kinda tells you hes already off to a bad start as far as running simple halfcourt sets is concerned.

Right about now there are reports swirling that have Charlotte Hornets are shopping around PG Kemba Walker. Walker, one of the quickest point guards in the game, could easily be one of the primary pieces to any team looking to make a deep playoff run.  At 18-25, the Charlotte Hornets are harboring no illusions about this roster.  Everyone is reportedly fair game for trade consideration. But one can say a significant amount of Walker’s shine was dulled because Nicolas Batum handled the rock a ton, averaging nearly five assists per game.

I simply cannot remember a time in history in which teams were so willing to have someone other than the point guard run the offense and make critical decisions. Whether its Giannis Antetokounmpo  running the point for the Milwaukee Bucks early in the season or Anthony Davis bombing away from behind the three-point line, even though hes one of the best post players in the game, the game has changed to the point where its almost unrecognizable.  

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We love seeing big people doing amazing things, but thats leaving guards like Lillard, Walker, and even Kyrie Irving when still with the Cavaliers, not being used to the fullest of their abilities or leaving them unable to garner respect from a fickle viewing audience that has become accustomed to circus sideshow acts playing basketball, leaving guards with traditional size, ability and acumen, at a disadvantage from a subjective standpoint. 

Bigger numbers, taller height and more muscle doesnt mean better basketball player.  It never did, despite what weve been seeing from LeBron James. Hes an outlier, an illusion and once in a hundred years type athlete.  Giannis can be four other things, as can LeBron, Simmons and others, but Lillard and Kemba can only be what they are, point guards. So, lets let them be point guards.

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