April 18, 2009

The Point

Frank Deford, in one of his rare relevant and non-curmudgeonly NPR rants, posits the point guard as the most valuable commodity in today's basketball universe. He is both right and wrong at the same time.

He is on the money when he claims the one slot as the most important position on the court. A good point literally runs the game. A big man is no good if no one gets him the ball.

On the other hand, a truly dominant five is extremely rare. Think of a list throughout the years: George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O'Neal. Compare it to the list of good-to-great points active in the game right now: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Jason Kidd, Chauncy Billups, Derrick Rose, Devon Harris, Rajon Rondo, Alan Iverson . . . you can build a good team around any one of these guys. Now, how about a list of elite-level true fives active today: Yao Ming, Shaquille O'Neal (every third game) . . . and that's about it. Tim Duncan is a great player, but not a true five. Ditto for Kevin Garnett. As a matter of fact, Deford's mention of Garnett shows that he's missing the point.

The point? Well, how about this: you have to have a good point guard to have a good team, while you don't necessarily have to have a good five. In that sense, a point guard is more valuable. However, an elite-level true five is extremely rare, and if you get the chance to get one, you have to leap at it. That is why Greg Oden, who is one hangnail away from being a bust, is worth more than any point guard in the draft. Good points, while not exactly a dime a dozen, are easy to find; the center that an uninjured Oden could be is rare. For that reason, a good five is still the most valuable commodity in basketball.

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