Archive → September, 2010
From a team release:
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The Detroit Pistons announced today the addition of Ike Diogu to the 2010-11 training camp roster.
Diogu, the ninth overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, has career averages of 6.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 187 games with Golden State, Indiana, Portland and Sacramento. A veteran of four NBA seasons, Diogu averaged a career-high 7.0 points as a rookie with the Warriors in 2005-06. The 2005 Pac-10 Player of the Year averaged 21.4 points and 8.8 rebounds in 91 career games over three seasons at Arizona State. The 6-9, 250-pound forward missed last season with a knee injury.
Please hold discussion in
the comments for this blog post rather than the Cover it Live application. Patrick and I probably won’t have an opportunity to moderate the CiL comments.
Update: While Patrick and I will be busy, Graham will be hanging out to moderate. He won’t be able to show up until a little after the action starts, so comments may be in limbo near the beginning. If you’ve got anything urgent to say before he arrives, feel free to use the comments.
EVERYONE RETWEET THIS. IM PROUD TO SAY THE DETROIT PISTONS OFFICIALLY SIGNED ME TO THE TEAM TODAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MEDIA DAY MONDAY.
But a couple hours ago, he tweeted:
So I can’t attend Media Day Today because the ukraine offices where I last played have not sent my release to sign with Detroit yet.
Jeremy (Kelowna, B.C.): Who is Vernon Hamilton and what are his chances of making the team? He seems like a great perimeter defender, but we have 15 players under contract, so what is the purpose of inviting him to camp?
Langlois: Hamilton, who like Pistons coach John Kuester is out of Richmond, Va., came to training camp with Cleveland two years ago when Kuester was an assistant coach there. Hamilton wrote on his Twitter account over the weekend that he had been signed to a contract and would be at Media Day. The Cavs loved his on-the-ball defense there and felt he made training camp a more competitive environment. Since the Pistons only have two veteran point guards on the roster (Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum), they might have decided for numbers purposes it would be best to have another body at that spot in camp. We’ll find out more later this afternoon at Media Day. Check back with Pistons.com during our live chat.
Looking at Hamilton’s EuroBasket profile, one thing stands out: his steals. He averaged five steals in eight games in a Swiss league (which Patrick said isn’t a great league). Hamilton also averaged 1.7 steals in three games in what Patrick called a really good Ukrainian league.
My first thought was Hamilton gambles too much, and that might be the case. But give that Langlois said the Cavs loved his on-ball defense, maybe not. I’m certainly intrigued.
When Joe Dumars talked this summer about transforming his team for the new NBA, I was a little put off. Dumars talked about the importance of getting to the basket off the dribble and wanting to get players who could do that. What about guys who can prevent the opponent from getting to the basket? Isn’t that valuable? If the Pistons are a defense-first organization, why didn’t Dumars emphasize that side of the equation?
Maybe Hamilton, a 25-year-old point guard from Clemson, will have value as a stopper for the league’s deep crop of young and talented point guards. Or maybe he’ll just be an extra body for training camp. My bet is on the latter, but because I love defense so much, I’m hoping for the former.
Now that this is old news, why not delve into those rumors about Denver’s alleged interest in Rip Hamilton, shall we?
Over the weekend, David Aldridge had this graph in a story he wrote about the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors:
The Nuggets are still trying to figure out some way to keep the 26-year-old Anthony in the Mile High City, despite his clear desire to leave. A league source said Denver had made a recent attempt to pry Detroit guard Rip Hamilton from the Pistons without success to show Anthony that the organization could still put talented players around him. But if the Nuggets can’t add to their personnel, keeping Anthony happy becomes a near-impossibility. According to another source, Anthony was not thrilled that the Nuggets were not able to do more than sign free agent Al Harrington this summer while other teams in the Western Conference made bigger moves.
Not thrilled with signing Al Harrington for 5 years/$34 million? Who does Melo think he is?
As far as Hamilton, I think most would assume the Nuggets had interest in him because they have already stolen two productive players from the Pistons in Chauncey Billups and Arron Afflalo, why not grab a third one?
But there is also another reason they may have targeted Hamilton, and unfortunately since I can’t find a link to video of this, I’ll have to just set the scene from memory. Anthony was at a NBA playoff game before he 2003 NBA Draft. As the biggest star in college hoops at the time, coming off one of the best NCAA tournament runs any player has ever had, and on the cusp being a part of one of the best draft classes in league history, the cameras were obviously focused on him.
He was interviewed during a stop in the game by the sideline reporter, who asked all the typical questions, but what was most interesting: they asked him about possible teams in position to draft him. He didn’t say specifically he wanted to play for any team, but when talking about potential places he could end up, he said (paraphrasing) that he’d love to play in Detroit because Rip Hamilton is his favorite player.
Now, I’m sure as one of the top players in the league since he entered the NBA, he doesn’t have “favorite” players anymore, but perhaps he still does respect Hamilton’s game enough that Denver thought it would be worth it to try and pry him away from the Pistons.
Which brings me to what Denver could give up. Short answer: a lot.
Anthony is obviously heavily involved in trade rumors right now, but Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that basically every player on the roster is available save for Billups and Ty Lawson.
The Nuggets have two major expiring contracts in Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith. While the Pistons don’t have much use for Smith, him paired with another player (Chris Anderson, perhaps?) could give the Pistons a big and they could use Smith’s contract in another trade down the road. Martin, on the other hand, would provide salary relief and be a huge frontcourt upgrade. He and Ben Wallace would make the Pistons very formidable defensively up front.
And although it would seem unlikely Denver would trade Nene, he and Hamilton’s contracts match almost perfectly if the teams did a one-for-one trade. These scenarios are nothing new — I already Tweeted them over the weekend shortly after Aldridge’s article came out. Considering Denver is really limited with only a few contracts they could offer to match Hamilton’s, it’s a bit frustrating to think the Pistons may have heard from Denver and were not willing to discuss a deal. Which brings up my next question: did the Pistons hear from Denver?
But there are at least a few reasons to consider that maybe there was more to this:
• David Aldridge is as well-sourced and accurate a NBA reporter as there is working today. I trust his information. That’s not to say I don’t trust the local guys, but Aldridge, as a league-wide reporter, is as good as it gets and he does have some advantage because he’s been covering the league on multiple platforms for much longer than any of the Detroit guys.
• Joe Dumars has a reputation (fair or not) of over-valuing players (except, inexplicably, for Billups) a bit. It’s not a stretch to think he’d like to get more than an expiring contract, even if it is a player like Martin who could help in the interim, for Hamilton. To some extent, I understand the philosophy — giving away players for expiring deals rarely pans out (see: Iverson, Allen). But this is the third offseason in a row that the Pistons have reportedly been ‘open for business’ when it comes to trades, and save for Billups-Iverson, which didn’t even happen during the offseason, the team has yet to make a major trade.
• It’s believable Denver would call. The team seems to be going in a few different directions. They’re gonna trade Melo. They don’t want to trade Melo. They’re gonna have a fire sale and rebuild. They sign Al Harrington long term with an eye on winning now. Nothing they’ve done of late has made a lot of sense, so it should shock no one if they were willing to deal a useful big for a player like Hamilton, who is a good player, but also has contract/injury questions that I would assume less panicky teams than the Nuggets would prefer to evaluate before dealing for him.
I’m not saying the Pistons’ denial that Denver ever called is a lie, but I don’t just automatically assume it was a lie because a team source or two told the local beat writers it was. It’s all hypothetical anyway, as it now appears imminent that Anthony will get dealt somewhere soon and Denver seems resigned to the fact that even if they add to the roster, he’s probably not signing an extension.
They’re definitely a team to keep an eye on though, if they are as willing to deal anyone as Wojnarowski reports. Martin and Nene would be major upgrades in the frontcourt to most teams in the league.
Detroit Pistons interested in Earl Barron, a 7-foot free-agent center who averaged a double-double for the New York Knicks last season
The Pistons are in contact with free-agent center Earl Barron’s people, Christopher Reina of RealGM wrote. (Hat tip: gmehl1977 in the comments)
Barron averaged 11.7 points and 11.0 rebounds in seven games with the Knicks late last season. He even had 17 points and 18 rebounds against the Celtics! I don’t think the 29-year-old is as good as his numbers were last year, but I’d like to know how close he is.
In his interview with Keith Langlois of Pistons.com, Joe Dumars said he was looking at inviting a big man to training camp. I guess that’s Barron. Dumars:
I also think the one thing that we’re missing with our team right now is the big, the oversized, 7-foot guy you can stick in the middle of your defense, in the middle of your offense, and play. We don’t have that particular guy yet, but I like all the other parts that we have.
The Pistons have 15 players with guaranteed contracts, so someone would have to go for Barron to make the team. But Detroit kept training-camp-invitee Chucky Atkins over Deron Washington last year, so that might give Barron confidence to pick the Pistons over the other teams likely to extend him an invite.
It won’t be anything season-changing, even if he signs, but getting Barron to camp would be a plus.
Aaaaaaand, we’re back.
If you’ve tried to visit the site in the last few days, you’ve no doubt noticed that we’ve been having some technical difficulties. Dan’s tweet last week tried to shed a little light on the subject, allowing Twitter to prove it’s utility (really, you should follow us), but allow me to explain…
Presumably because of you, our ever-increasing band of loyal readers, our former webhost decided that we were using too many resources and suspended our account last Wednesday. It was not the first time they shut us down, but we’ve made sure it will be the last. To do our best to prevent future downtime, we decided to switch to a new host and in doing so learned even more reasons we should have made the change long ago.
Without getting into the gory details, it was a complicated process that probably shouldn’t have taken as long as it did. We’re still learning as we go with some of these things. Unfortunately, some comments posted Wednesday evening on Patrick’s undisputed stance on the ‘Mr. Big Shot’ moniker weren’t able to be included in the move. I was able to track down copies of them, however, and have reposted them under the article (here).
Though a bit painful, ultimately this is a good move. We appreciate your patience.
It’s good to be back.
Welcome to the last installment Myth Week.
Arguably no Detroit Piston player in this era has provided more signature moments than Chauncey Billups, most notably that halfcourt shot against the New Jersey Nets in the 2003-04 playoffs (although the Pistons eventually lost that game in overtime). The guy had a knack for the buzzer beater, it seemed.
The first time I remember the ‘Mr. Big Shot’ moniker he so famously wore for most of his Pistons career was in the 2002-2003 season. Billups was in the midst of one of his strongest stretches of play for the Pistons in March, averaging 26 points per game over the first nine games of that month. What sticks out to me the most is the game on March 9 of that season when, down one with seconds remaining, Billups calmly pulled up and drained a three-pointer over Chris Mills at the buzzer. Rick Mahorn almost peed his pants in excitement (a big accomplishment considering the monotone announcing stylings of Mr. Mahorn) and kept yelling “Mr. Big Shot!” over and over.
What I don’t remember, and I expect most others don’t either, is that just days before, Billups missed a shot that would’ve tied the game in the final seconds against those very same Warriors.
Now, this isn’t about me trying to claim Billups wasn’t a good player or I didn’t want him taking shots in the final minutes of close games. I think he’s still one of the more criminally underrated players in the league. I always loved his demeanor, loved the confidence he exhibited and loved how his personality was the Yin to Rasheed Wallace’s Yang (or is it the Yang to Sheed’s Yin?) on those Pistons teams. But I must admit, I’ve always wondered this: did Billups coast on reputation as a big shot maker because of a few really memorable ones that overshadowed big misses in crucial situations?
There aren’t end-all, be-all stats for defining what ‘clutch’ is. And the importance of clutch is a little overrated. After all, Flip Murray and Travis Outlaw were a combined 11-for 11 on game-winning shots between 2004 and 2009. I would still much rather have Dwyane Wade and his 27 percent shooting on game winners than either of those guys.
I’m going to use what we have, relying heavily on 82games.com. The site has a ‘game-winning shots’ stat that has data for the 03-04 season through 08-09 (Note: Billups was in Denver most of that season). Here’s their definition of a game-winning shot opportunity: “24 seconds or less left in the game, team with the ball is either tied or down by 1 to 2 points.”
The stat is not kind to Mr. Big Shot.
Something all Pistons fans would probably guess — Billups liked the ball in those situations. During those seasons, he took 37 shots that fit that criteria. Only seven guys — LeBron James, Vince Carter, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Dwyane Wade — have attempted more.
Billups has hit just six of those attempts, a 16.2 percent clip. Keep in mind, that the league-wide percentage is only 29 percent during those seasons, but Billups is still pretty significantly below that.
Of the four best offensive players on the Pistons, Billups had the worst percentage in those situations of the four. Here’s how they stack up:
• Hamilton: 8-for-22 (36.4 percent)
• Prince: 6-for-17 (35.3 percent)
• Rasheed Wallace: 5-for-30 (16.7 percent)
Sheed, obviously, isn’t much better than Billups when it comes to percentage. There are other arguments that despite his poor percentage, Billups did other things in those situations that were important. He had six assists and only two turnovers and got to the line for 19 free throw attempts. Compare that to Hamilton (4 FTAs, 3 assists, 3 turnovers), Prince (2 FTAs, 5 assists, 1 turnover) and Wallace (2 FTAs, 0 assists, 2 turnovers), and it’s clear that Billups did other things well in those scenarios in the final seconds. Shooting just wasn’t his forte at those points in the game.
Why the nickname?
As I alluded to above, we remember great plays often at the expense of not so great plays. Billups was a well-below-league-average shooter in game-winning situations, yet his ‘Mr. Big Shot’ nickname stuck because he hit four or five really memorable shots as a Piston.
Billups is certainly a player I wouldn’t mind having the ball in the waning moments of a close game. He’s a good decision maker, adept at drawing contact, he’s not scared of the taking the shot and he doesn’t turn it over much. But when he was on the Pistons, the general assumption became, “Billups has to get the ball late in close games.” Statistics show that the Pistons had other options on their team — Prince and Hamilton — who were much better bets than Billups to knock down that game winner if it was needed.
I love everything about Billups’ game. But Mr. Big Shot is a myth.
- Detroit Pistons picking Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft was an avoidable blunder
- Bill Laimbeer should coach the Detroit Pistons
- Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva were horrendous signings by the Detroit Pistons
- The Detroit Pistons need a pure point guard to be an elite team again
- The Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson trade made no sense
I’m glad everyone enjoyed Myth Week, so we’ve extended it a bonus two days.
I don’t know exactly why the Pistons traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson.
Maybe they thought Iverson was a better player.
Maybe they wanted to create cap space.
Maybe they believed it was necessary to break up their core and took the first viable deal they found.
I think there’s a good chance all three of those pieces of logic played a role. But in hindsight, the trade was a disaster. Billups has been astoundingly better in Denver than Iverson was in Detroit. The Pistons’ cap space hasn’t paid dividends (although I haven’t given up that it might). And the Pistons core probably could have contended for another season or two.
The Pistons traded a star for dead weight. But when they made the trade, if I had to assign labels to each of those players, Iverson would be the star and Billups would be dead weight.
Billups got better when he arrived in Denver, and Iverson got worse in Detroit. There weren’t strong signs either of those transformations would occur, and that’s why I don’t completely blame Joe Dumars for the trade.
Allen Iverson: Star
Allen Iverson is only one year and three months older than Chauncey Billups. When traded to Detroit, Iverson had only played 26 more career games (including playoffs) than Billups.
Iverson’s playing time also indicated he was far from washed up. He led the league in minutes, minutes per game and games the season before the trade.
And that was arguably the best season of his storied career.
With a team-best 11.6 win shares, he led the Nuggets to a 50-win season. His adjusted plus-minus was 28th in the league. (And that’s an even more valuable contribution than it appears, because the stat is based on possessions, and Iverson played more than his adjusted-plus-minus peers.)
Known as a volume shooter, Iverson took his fewest shots per game since his second season in the league. But by posting career highs in true-shooting percentage and effective field-goal percentage, he still averaged 26.4 points per game.
That reduction in offensive output also made it more likely Iverson would reach his potential on both ends of the court. From a Jan. 25, 2008, USA Today article by Jon Saraceno:
Karl describes Iverson as a "very good" defender "at times" but adds he "doesn’t make the defensive commitment with an every-possession mentality." That is "not only psychological, it’s subconscious."
"Here’s a guy who has made his career scoring, and with big numbers," Karl says. "All great players figure out how to pace themselves and save their energy for what they do best. My feeling is, at times, (Iverson) ‘cheats’ the defensive end.
"I had Detlef Schrempf (in Seattle) and Sam Cassell (in Milwaukee), who took possessions off. But they had this great instinct when to take them off. AI, sometimes, doesn’t have that instinct. Sometimes he takes off a possession that I wish he wouldn’t. But when you’re asked to play as many minutes and score as many points (as he is), I don’t know if Superman could play hard every possession."
His off-the-court reputation was gaining steam, too. From that same USA Today article:
Karl says he "never has had one headache" with Iverson — unlike fellow North Carolina alumnus Larry Brown, who had everything but migraines trying to rein him in.
Playing at altitude, it is Iverson’s attitude that seems to have undergone a humbling transformation. Unlike when he chafed during frantic-filled days under Brown’s coaching in Philadelphia, Iverson appears more pliable, more coach-friendly. Talk of suspensions and fines have vanished into thin air.
Iverson’s increased maturity led him to observe in The Denver Post last month, "I’m just happy I got it before it was too late, before I was out of this league or dead or in jail."
The biggest misconception he says people have is, "I don’t care about nothing but myself."
"I think that’s my biggest problem — I care about other people too much," Iverson says. "At times, more than I do myself."
His controversial lifestyle as a young player, his scrapes with the law and some of his questionable relationships and bad decisions have prompted Iverson to rethink his life as the married father of four.
Perhaps most encouraging, he was reaching these heights without showing signs of aging. Saraceno wrote “the guard still vigorously attacks the rim with vengeance, creating havoc in the paint and getting to the free throw line.” Entering the season he was traded to Detroit, Iverson said he planned to play six more seasons. Chris Tomasson, then of Rocky Mountain News:
Why six seasons? Because that would take Iverson to his 39th birthday, the age he has said he wants to retire.
But now Iverson seems more open about playing until 40 and beyond. After all, Jordan did that.
"I don’t want to say (Iverson will be retired at) 40," said Iverson, who could move up to No. 2 on the all-time steals list before he’s done. "If I’m healthy, I’m going to play. I know it will be hard to hang the sneakers up because I just love the game so much. . . . But I’m not going to play if, when you look at the roster and (the opponent) is calling everybody’s name out, and they get to the seventh or eighth name before they mention me."
It figures to be a long time before that happens.
Chauncey Billups: Deadweight
The Pistons went from winning a title, to losing in the Finals, to losing a six-game series to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, to dropping four straight to the Cavaliers in the conference finals, to falling to Celtics in the Conference Finals.
At best Detroit was treading water. At worst, it was in decline.
Either way, Chauncey Billups was a big reason the Pistons weren’t moving forward.
In his last year with Detroit, his playoff performance dipped across the board from the regular season:
- PER: 23.6 to 20.8
- Offensive rating: 127 to 122
- Defensive rating: 105 to 109
- Win shares per 48 minutes: .257 to .202
- Points per game: 17.0 to 16.1
- True-shooting percentage: .619 to .564
- Effective field-goal percentage: .526 to .471
- Assists per game: 6.8 to 5.5
- Assist percentage: 34.7 to 30.8
That trend was only a continuation of the previous season:
- PER: 21.3 to 18.7
- Offensive rating: 123 to 117
- Win shares per 48 minutes: .216 to .183
- Assists per game: 7.2 to 5.7
- Assist percentage: 32.9 to 25.8
- Turnovers per game: 2.0 to 2.9
- Turnover percentage: 13 to 15.9
Playing tougher opponents, along with their being a slower pace, in the playoffs certainly contributed. But I don’t think those factors completely explain Billups’ playoff problems.
Injuries were a factor both years, too. But I think that speaks to the point. Billups played like someone whose body was breaking down. There are good regular-season players, and there are good playoff players. Billups appeared to be the former, not the latter.
When the Pistons made the trade, they still had a quality playoff core in Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Antonio McDyess (who was a lock to return after the trade). Adding Iverson – at least the Iverson who showed an unprecedented-for-him combination of talent and maturity the previous year – gave Detroit once last chance to salvage a shot at title, even if it was unlikely either way.
Allen Iverson wasn’t a star, and Billups wasn’t dead weight – as much as those appeared to be the cases when the trade was made.
Iverson was a malcontent with the Pistons. There were rumblings of problems at Detroit’s casinos. He wouldn’t come off the bench. His legs had given out, leaving him unable to finish on drives to the rim – essentially destroying his game.
Billups had the opposite experience. He was rejuvenated in his hometown. I don’t think Detroit could have had the Billups Denver got.
The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often askew. Let’s not beat up Joe Dumars because of it.
- Detroit Pistons picking Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft was an avoidable blunder
- Bill Laimbeer should coach the Detroit Pistons
- Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva were horrendous signings by the Detroit Pistons
- The Detroit Pistons need a pure point guard to be an elite team again
On paper, we are the best team in the League.
Somehow, Stuckey found a way to make the Pistons the center of attention of NBA followers on a Monday afternoon in September. So, at least he has that going for him.
I don’t want to be known as the Randy Orton of PistonPowered, so I’ll move away from the ‘legend killer’ reputation I may have established for myself a couple days ago with my first foray into this little ‘myths‘ series, and focus on a more contemporary topic: the Pistons point guard situation.
I’ve already weighed in this offseason with my argument that Will Bynum should start over Rodney Stuckey. But this post isn’t so much about who plays that "position" but rather whether that "position" even exists.
Point guards are romanticized so much. The greatest masters of the position are guys like Magic Johnson or John Stockton, who we associate with unselfishness, with leadership, with a poetic fluency in the offenses that their teams ran. They are guys who were fully capable of taking over a game with their ability to score, but instead they sacrificed so that their teams’ offenses had more fluidity, everyone stayed involved and the ball kept moving. Their styles of basketball were beautiful to watch, so it’s completely understandable why fans want their team to always be looking for that pure point guard. Pistons fans are no different, which is why Stuckey has faced an almost constant storm of "he’s not a point guard!" comments since he moved into the starting lineup after the Chauncey Billups trade.
The problem is, outside of the nearing-extinction Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, true points don’t really exist anymore. And while my preference would certainly be seeing Bynum in the starting lineup, I also believe that a team with Stuckey as its starting point guard can be an elite team. It would just require an upgrade in the talent surrounding him.
Isiah Thomas redefined the position
Isiah Thomas played point guard for the Pistons, but he very often was a scorer first. He took over games scoring the ball the way Johnson or Stockton never or very rarely did. Isiah could go out and get 15 assists on a given night, and on the next night he’d go out and score 40 points aggressively looking for his shot. And if that sounds familiar to current NBA fans, it should.
Look at some of the young crop of guards today — Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Jameer Nelson — all of these players are at different times distributors and primary scoring options. They are budding star players, undefinable by the worn out positional definitions that we insist on giving players in NBA basketball, just like Thomas was. Thomas wasn’t Magic Johnson or John Stockton. He also wasn’t Michael Jordan. He was an extremely unique player whose success fluctuating between scorer and facilitator is the basis for how the position is played in today’s NBA.
Great point guards don’t = rings
If you were to count up the total number of rings Nash and Kidd, the two purest point guards of this era, have won, you’ll see that traditional point guard play doesn’t necessarily translate to championships. They are both winning players, leading their teams to several playoff appearances. Kidd has played in two NBA Finals (albeit in two of the weakest years in modern Eastern Conference history) and Nash has led his team to the Western Conference Finals four times. Stockton was clearly the best point guard of the 1990s, and he has zero rings to show for it. Teams whose franchise player is a pure point guard just haven’t won titles, not since Magic Johnson (remember: guys like Thomas and Chauncey Billups don’t count as "true" point guards in the traditional sense, since they both were responsible for large portions of the scoring load for their teams).
NBA Finals point guards over the last 20 years have included names like Derek Fisher, Ron Harper, Eric Snow, Kenny Smith and John Paxson. Guys like Mark Jackson, Jason Williams and Avery Johnson were "pure" pass-first points, although none would have been considered among the top three players on their respective Finals teams. Jameer Nelson and Tony Parker are guys who can be described as "shoot first" sometimes. Rajon Rondo is not definable by a position because his skillset is so extremely unique.
Having good point guard play isn’t the key to winning. Having a player who dominates some facet of the game, surrounded by a bunch of very good players, is the key to winning. There’s not a recipe anymore that says your point guard has to distribute, shooting guard/small forward have to score, bigs have to rebound and be strong post-up players in order to win. Those responsibilities are spread out all over the place — look no further than Billups, who was arguably the Pistons’ best back-to-the-basket player during their run of ECF appearances.
Many will point to the 2004 Pistons as evidence you don’t need a dominant star to win big. I disagree — Ben Wallace was as dominant as it got. He dominated defensively, altering shots and rebounding, but it was still total dominance of a facet of the game. He was their franchise player, he controlled games routinely, and he was surrounded by a bunch of very good players who did different things well.
In order to win big, teams absolutely need competent players starting at this theoretical point guard position. They need guys who are good spot-up shooters or good defensive players or good ball-handlers. But they do not necessarily need guys who are traditional point guards. Some of these teams have won with "point guards" who spend virtually no time running the offense.
Rodney Stuckey can be that guy
As I said above, it would require an upgrade in the talent around him, but Rodney Stuckey could be the starting point guard on a championship-contending team. He has a unique skillset. He’s a big guard who is potentially one of the better perimeter defenders in the league (he made great strides in his commitment to defense last year).
He handles the ball well enough to initiate the offense. He attacks the rim well enough to be an offensive threat while he’s on the floor (i.e. a guy that the defense can’t completely ignore). He’s versatile enough to defend either guard spot in case his backcourt mate isn’t a strong defender.
For him to fill this role, the Pistons obviously need a guy who they can run their offense through. That person is currently not on the roster (with apologies to Greg Monroe, who I think they will be able to run the offense through for stretches). If they are able to upgrade the roster via trade (assuming that trade doesn’t involve Stuckey) and bring in a go-to offensive player, the criticisms of Stuckey as a point guard would disappear.
Point guard is the new center
In the 1990s, when teams like the Knicks and the Heat were mastering the physical clutch-and-grab defense (and the thrilling 72-66 final scores) the league was known for at the time, big men were all the rage. It’s why stiffs like Eric Montross, Sharone Wright, Yinka Dare, Todd Fuller, Vitaly Potapenko, Adonal Foyle and Michael Doleac were high draft picks. It’s why guys like Jim McIlvaine got $30 million contracts. Teams were willing to gamble and gamble big on size, because if it paid off, the reward was handsome. Of course, what resulted is few teams uncovered hidden big man gems and instead ended up wasting picks and millions of dollars on guys who were good for not much more than 6 fouls a night.
In the current NBA, where zone defenses have made things harder on big men, and tightened hand-checking enforcement on the perimeter have made the league a slasher’s dream, the search for point guards is becoming a trend. It’s why guys like Randy Foye who can maybe kind of learn to play point guard get traded for Brandon Roy on draft day. It’s why Avery Bradley, another guy who occasionally flashed some PG-like skills, shot up draft boards despite a not great one year of playing college basketball. The trend is still relatively early in its stages — the 90s run on big men lasted a good nine years or so. It’s the same principle though.
Because these players only exhibit a skillset that partially resembles how the point guard position was traditionally conceived, I think it’s time for fans to stop thinking about the position traditionally. If you don’t have Nash or Kidd or Paul or Williams, just think of your team as having a couple of starting guards. Just like the big men of the 90s didn’t magically turn into Patrick Ewing or Alonzo Mourning, the point guards of the 90s aren’t going to be Williams or Paul (Or Billups, who Stuckey-as-PG-defenders frequently like to compare him to. BTW, I’m guessing within the first three comments on this post, someone will say, "Well, Chauncey Billups took a few years to become a PG, so Stuckey deserves another year too." It’s going to happen.).
Rodney Stuckey is Rodney Stuckey. He’s not exactly a point guard, but most teams in the NBA could describe their starting PG that same way. Barring a trade, the Pistons have to focus on finding a way to get enough point guard-like skills out of their collective five-man units to become a more cohesive team rather than worrying about whether Stuckey is a full-time point guard or full-time shooting guard. He’s just a guard. Live with it.