Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Point Guard Question

There's been quite a bit of talk 'round these parts about point guards recently, and it's a topic that deserves the discussion. If there's anything recent drafts and history have shown, it's that a marquee point guard is probably the second-most valuable draft commodity next to a can't-miss big man. Honestly though, NBA teams seem slow to learn this. Let's look back to 2005: knowing what we know now, is there any way the Bucks and Hawks take Bogut and Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams? No way. And the stupidest thing is, many people knew this then--that Paul and D. Williams were the two best players in draft--but the Bucks and Hawks chose to ignore it and draft for size and the all-elusive "upside." Both M. Williams and Bogut have been a'ight, totally serviceable, but both look like busts when held up against CP3 and D-Will, who at this point are inarguably two of the best young players in the League. As stat guru John Hollinger frequently fell over himself to point out (subscription required--sorry), Paul had the third-best rookie season of any guard, period, in NBA history (behind Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan), whereas D-Will showed in this year's playoffs that he too is a franchise player and potential superstar. To Ainge's credit, he seemed to recognize Paul's potential excellence and worked hard to try to trade up and draft him, but in retrospect he should have worked even harder. The massive contributions of Boobie Gibson in the Cavs-Pistons series--who at #42 was the steal of the 2006 draft--further underscores the invaluable nature of a PG who can both run the show and put the ball in the hoop.

This brings us to the Celtics, who, as things currently stand, have no such player. The Telfair trade was an unmitigated disaster and, aside from the great tank, stands as the paramount embarrassment of the Ainge era. We arrogantly gave up a valuable lottery pick (which arguably could have landed us Brandon Roy) for a guy who had never convincingly demonstrated that he could play in the NBA, let alone lead a team. It was a classic case of Ainge foolishly thinking that if only Telfair played for us, he'd be the player Ainge/Brain Doctor/whoever just know he can be. This was the same logic used in acquiring Ricky Davis, Wally, Scalabrine and probably others, btw, but Telfair was an unprecedented disaster, and now will never play for the Celtics again and quite possibly will never see the NBA again, period.

Rajon Rondo is a far more interesting and potentially emboldening case. Ainge has been duly lauded for his draft prowess, and excepting only the timeless heist of Al Jefferson in 2004, landing Rondo at 21 in aught-six might go down as Ainge's finest moment. However, the key word in that sentence is might: indeed, I remain skeptical. Bethelehem Shoals at Free Darko penned a brilliant ode to Rondo's finer points a few months ago, and when I read stuff like this I desperately want to believe that we've landed the second coming of Jason Kidd. Fellow Headbander Tim loves him as well, as you're probably aware if you've been reading this space. I'm going to try and lay out a few of my hangups and see if we can't all benefit by helping me work through my Rondo-related anxieties and hesitations.

First and foremost--and this may have really nothing to do with Rondo, but I am still endlessly perplexed by it--if Ainge has always been so passionately convinced of Rondo's impending greatness, the Telfair acquisition makes even less sense. Granted, the Telfair trade went through before the draft, and there was no real way of Ainge knowing that Rondo would be there at 21, but this wasn't a shocking, Paul Pierce-style inexplicable fall. In this mock draft from last year the estimable NBAdraft.net had him going 25th. So if Ainge has always been so high on Rondo--and by his own account he has been--why the hell do you trade a lottery pick for Telfair? Even if you're concerned Rondo would be gone by 21, why not just trade up to say, 15? Why essentially spend a high lottery pick on a point guard if you're so convinced that the one you'll draft at 21 is an NBA-caliber starter? Granted, this may speak far more to the inconceivable idiocy of the Telfair trade than to the relative worth of Rondo, but I still find it perplexing, particularly when Ainge tosses off comments about Rondo being better than any PG in this year's draft which makes it all seem like part of some elaborate plan.

Secondly, the lack of anything resembling a jump shot bugs the shit out of me. Defenders point out that Jason Kidd couldn't shoot when he came into the League either, which is a fair enough observation, but Kidd averaged almost 12 ppg his rookie year and almost 17 his second year; while Rondo has a moderately higher FG% than Kidd did his rookie year, he averaged a little over 6ppg, and raise your hand if you see him coming close to 17ppg next year. Thought so. I understand that he's incredibly valuable in other ways--as a game manager, as a surprisingly prolific rebounder, as a potentially outstanding defender--but the fact that, at the moment, nobody needs to worry about guarding him is a cause for concern. If Rajon Rondo develops even a semi-consistent offensive game the C's become a vastly different team; if not, well, it's going to become an increasingly large problem.

Lastly--and again, this may not be any fault of Rondo's--a huge problem in terms of potentially overrating/overvaluing Rajon Rondo is the fact that the tank was on in full by the time he started getting legitimate minutes and started putting up those oh-so-enticing 12-8-7s and 13-10-4s. Basically he was throwing up some surprisingly effective numbers in an offensive system that could best be described as non-existent and for a team that was on a mission to lose games. It is important to bear in mind that even on a terrible team someone will fill up the box-score; it's certainly not Rajon Rondo's fault that management decided to junk the season and turn every game into garbage time, but he's really never been asked to run an NBA offense and until that happens I must reserve judgement.

This post has ended up being much longer than I intended, as seems to often happen. My basic point is this: I don't think we should draft Conley at five, and don't necessarily think Rajon Rondo isn't the answer at point for the C's. I need to see some improvement, though, starting next year, and starting with a motherfucking jump shot, dammit. At the moment Ainge's casual assertion that Rondo's better than any PG in this draft strikes me as frustratingly hollow, but that might just be my general and apparently unceasing rage toward management. The absolute best thing for this kid be the opportunity to learn behind a wizened and crafty veteran: it hurts to imagine how fucking perfect Gary Payton would have been for Rajon Rondo. Or how about a Mike Bibby? Nonetheless, I'm interested to watch this kid develop.


tim said...

Great post, Jack. I still have complete faith in Rondo, maybe it's just his ENORMOUS HANDS that do it for me. As for Boobie Gibson - he has the best name of the 2006 second round, but Paul Millsap is still beats him on the court

Anonymous said...

I would just say...

Keep in mind that when Kidd averaged 12ppg and 17ppg in his first two years he was on an awful Dallas team with fellow gunners Jamal Mashburn and Jimmy Jackson. They sucked, had no credible offensive system or discipline to speak of, and Kidd was thrown right in as the starter.

You yourself point out that even on crappy teams someone fills the box score. Jason Kidds Mavs teams were trying and they didn't win much more than last year's C's.

Seems like you need to recognize that.

As for Telfair, Ainge is even on record saying he really liked Telfair and with Telfair/Rondo, his hope was that at least one of them would pan out.

Now, in hindsight, Rondo is a great pick at 21, and Sebustian Telfailure is exactly that, but hindsight asside, it isn't any kind of eggregious blunder to have two guys you're high on compete for a spot since, as we all know, any draft pick/young player in the NBA can dissappoint for any miriad number of reasons.

Too many people seem to think that if you have one guy at a position, you're all set. That would only be true if guys teams picked were 100% likely to succeed.

I'm not defending the Telfair deal at all. it was awful, even if Bassy had been decent, but bringing in two upside PG's when that is your team's biggest need isn't dumb.

Anonymous said...

It's one thing to criticize Danny for the Telfair trade but to insinuate that he could have had Roy is totally wrong. We had the 7th pick before the trade and Roy went to Minn. with the 6th pick!