Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Examining the point guard revolution, part 1: The Value of Luke Ridnour

I believe that we are in the throes of a point guard revolution. In the summer of 2004, the point guard position had become somewhat of an afterthought. The Dallas Mavericks allowed Steve Nash to walk, and gave his money to Erick Dampier, the clear implication being that it was more important to have someone who could anchor the defense than run the offense, and that Nash's offensive contributions were far from vital. (I realize that Nash's health and age were a factor, but the culture of the time was far more important; would they have even thought about doing this today?) In The Sporting News' season preview, Sam Cassell, a shoot-first, second, and third player, was their top-ranked point guard, and their explanation about him basically said "we're as surprised as you, but where are the point guards?"

Jason Kidd, one of the best pass-first point guards of the last long while (I'm swearing off superlatives for a while), was traded straight-up for shoot-first Stephon Marbury in 2001, and promptly led his team to the NBA finals and almost won the MVP, but was apparently still no Stephon Marbury or Sam Cassell in the eyes of the experts. Then, in the 04-05 season, the rules changed, the Suns happened, Steve Nash won the MVP, and the point guard position was back with a vengeance. But how have teams been handling the revolution? Is it for real? Which type of point guard is the best? These are the questions we'll attempt to answer this week at TBF.

So I was thinking even more about Kevin Durant. Like I said in the earlier posts, I believe that Durant lacks the explosiveness to be a franchise scorer/player like LeBron, Kobe, and Wade, but belive that he could be absolutely deadly if he is used as an off-ball player; if someone was able to get him the ball for open jumpers and get him the ball in the right spots after drawing coverage, his ability to move without the ball, ability to find seams in defenses, and body control could make him a deadly scorer.

Then I realized that unlike Kobe, LeBron, Arenas, and almost every other perimeter superstar in the league, Durant will be paired up with a true point guard from the very beginning, a pass-first guy whose chief skills are the ones described above. Luke Ridnour averaged 8.4 assists per 48 minutes last year; Smush Parker and Larry Hughes, Kobe and LeBron's starting point guards, barely averaged more than that combined.

But has anybody said "Gee, it sure is great that Durant is going to get to play with a distributor like Luke Ridnour right out of the gate, he'll be able to set up Durant with some good looks." No. Around draft time, all we heard about Luke Ridnour was "If the Hawks trade the #11 pick for Luke Ridnour, they should gouge out their own eyes as penance." The Sonics even drafted another distributor, Jeff Green, to supplement Luke.

Luke is supposed to be the exact kind of player who should flourish in the revolution. He was drafted in 2003, the year before the revolution. When he was drafted, Jay Bilas simply said "He couldn't lift the bench press once, and he couldn't guard the chair I'm sitting on." He's not a physical player, and doesn't play a lot of defense. He would always rather pass than shoot. He's not blindingly fast, but is quick enough to get into the lane, thanks to the hand-check rules. He is a tried-and-true point guard, and runs the offense. He can shoot the 3-ball.

So why has he only been marginally effective? Seattle fans are far from unjustified in their indifference towards Luke; Seattle doesn't win a ton of games, and the offense actually plays worse when Luke's on the floor. While point guards as quarterbacks is its own post (coming later in the week), Luke would be Chad Pennington; unexciting, does his job well, but not well enough so that he's considered a permanent solution.

If the Luke-type of point guard is supposed to be the chief benefactors of the renaissance, why are they in low demand? Let's see if we can't find out.

Here are my characteristics of a Luke-type point guard (3 out of the 4 characteristics are enough to get onto the list):

-Good, if not deadly, shooters
-Poor defense
-able to get into the lane

With that said, here's my list, with their +/- on offense next to them:

-Brevin Knight (-1.4)
-Kirk Hinrich (+3.6)
-Steve Blake (+2.5)
-Jamaal Tinsley (-0.1)
-Shaun Livingston (-0.5; only fulfills 2 of the 4 characteristics, but is such a good passer I couldn't leave him off)
-Jordan Farmar (-2.8)
-Jason Williams (+2.2)
-Mo Williams (+2.9)
-Jason Kidd (+8.5)
-Chris Paul (+8.7)
-Carlos Arroyo (-2.0)
-Steve Nash (+12.5)
-Andre Miller (+5.0)
-Jarret Jack (-1.4)
-Sergio Rodriguez (-2.8)
-Jose Calderon (+3.3)
-T.J. Ford (-2.7)
-Luke Ridnour (-1.2)
-Deron Williams (+3.0)
-Antonio Daniels (+1.3)

So when we separate it, here are the point guards whose offenses play better with them on the floor, in order (The numbers are their TS%s and their assists per 48 minutes):

-Steve Nash (.654/15.8)
-Chris Paul (.537/11.6)
-Jason Kidd (.516/12.1)
-Andre Miller (.520/9.3)
-Kirk Hinrich (.559/8.5)
-Jose Calderon (.588/11.5)
-Deron Williams (.535/12.1)
-Mo Williams (.519/8.1)
-Jason Williams (.540/8.3)
-Steve Blake (.491/9.5)
-Antonio Daniels (.572/7.9)

And here are the players whose offenses play worse when they're in, in descending order:

-Jamaal Tinsley (.465/10.6)
-Shaun Livingston (.503/8.2)
-Luke Ridnour (.509/8.4)
-Brevin Knight (.487/11.2)
-Jarrett Jack (.571/7.5)
-Carlos Arroyo (.501/7.4)
-T.J. Ford (.508/12.7)
-Jordan Farmar (.515/6.0)
-Sergio Rodriguez (.493/12.1)

So what does that mean? Well, less than I'd like it to. The "bad" point guards made 90% of the assists per 48 that their "good" cohorts did and their TS% was 90.7% of the "good" PGs. Here's what I'm coming away with:

-I realize offensive +/- is a deeply flawed stat, but it's the one I think best sums up a point guard's contribution to the offense, as no other stat measure's a point guard's ability to "make his teammates better." That being said, it's clearly far from perfect, and several of these point guards (Deron Williams, T.J. Ford, and Jarret Jack in particular) are ranked lower than they should be.

-Jose Calderon may be the most underrated player in the league.

-I would have been interested to see how these PGs were affected by the "pace" of their team, but only playoff "pace" data is available on ESPN insider. Dang.

-Many of these players suffer greatly because of their inability to finish inside-while most scorers in the NBA shoot from 60-65% on "inside" shots, many of the PGs on the "bad" list are under .500, while the top 7 point guards on the list, with the exception of Paul, are very good finishers inside. While we often boil down a player's scoring ability to consist of how fast they are and how well they can shoot, many of these players are ineffective because they can't finish.

-11 of the players are on the "good" list, while 9 are on the "bad" list, but when you take away the bona fide stars (Paul, Kidd, Nash, Williams) the "good" guys are outnumbered 9 to 7, which suggests that an average Luke-type PG isn't always the best investment.

-Defense is important, but the point of this was to try and figure out what makes a point guard good offensively, as that is the chief role of the PG, especially guys like this. Defense will be discussed later in the week.

-Although these are mainly pass-first players, the ability to score efficiently appears to be just as important as the ability to make assists for contributing to an offense.

-And if you don't think I'm dumb enough to write a hole post about PGs who play like Luke Ridnour, then forget to include Ridnour, making me have to re-do my calculations, you don't know me well enough.

1 comment:

RJ said...

Good post. I look forward to part 2 and have bookmarked to come back.

PG finishing ability and lane driving frequency are a key attribute in player quality and team success (sets up other high % shots- interior finishes and the open 3s).

PG defense is a big deal for team +/- too. Who can run the break above average is a factor separating the good from averge or less too.

Not 100% sure where Ridnour rates on running the break or finding guys moving or inside. As A Sonics observer I can say most of assists come from standard perimeter passes to 3 point shooters, rarely anything especially clever or skilled. Maybe he could do more under a different coach or system. Not sure if new regime brings that out of him or not. Durant is certainly a good target for inside curls.

His poor team success marks compared to Payton, Barry, Daniels
make me not a big supporter of the decision to give him the job in recent years. Time to live up to his label as a true point. Last year he seemed to abandon that mindset and tried to become a scoring point and seemed to give up on as much assist effort, especially in second half of season. His assist rate was still decent but down almost 20% from previous year and was 2nd lowest of his 4 year career.

I could say more but I think I'll stop. Look forward to reading more later.