Monday , Feb , 08 , 2010 Jesse Andrews

The Demise of the Point Guard

Football is a self-important, constipated sport, so I’ll mention this only in passing: on the day that New Orleans won the Super Bowl, New Orleans’s Chris Paul won a bowling tournament.  Perhaps you think this is a coincidence.  Perhaps you are a fool.

Alas, CP3.  Your team should be number one at the one-spot; instead, your left knee and ankle have your team at #2 and falling.  What does it mean, though, for a team to be best in the league at point guard?  Or at any other position?  I say we use a metric from the superb and redoubtable stats site, because I am Captain Rational.  Then I say we prepare and eat an optimally nutritious and environment-conscious stew of kale, millet, and sardines.  It will fuel our calculations long into the cold unblinking night.

Today’s metric is simple—using John Hollinger’s PER stat, we take the per-game average for all of the minutes of point guard played by a team (be it by Chris Paul, Darren Collison, or Other Guy Whose Name Was Not So Much Researched For This Article), and then we subtract the PER played by all opposing point guards, and we have an idea of how much a team outplays, or is being outplayed by, its opponents at that position.

So.  the Hornets are averaging a sumptuous 23.7 of point guard PER—15.0 is league-average—but then they give up a piquant 17.9 to the opposition.  That’s like going against Baron Davis every night.  Do with that comparison what you will.  As a result, the Hornets have a point-guard differential of +5.8, good for second-best in the league.  The one team that does better gets similar production out of their own guys—23.2—but does better on opposing point guards, allowing 16.3.  That would be Nash’s Suns.  Note that the Suns have a negative differential at every other position.  Jesus.

Fun Fact: An anagram of "Phoenix Suns" is "penis ox shun," which sounds like "penis auction."

What about other positions?  The highest differential at any position is Cleveland’s hell-damn-bonkers +11.9 at small forward, which is not surprising; runner-up is OKC, also at small forward, with +10.6.  Then we have Miami at shooting guard (+9.5); Toronto at center (+7.6); Orlando at center (+7.5); Lakers at shooting guard (+7.4).  Toronto actually gives up an extravagant 19.4 to opposing centers, but Bosh & friends’ 26.9 is the highest PER of any team at any position.  I know!  It’s insane.  Um, note also that the Raptors, like the Suns, are losing the battle at every other position.  O Canada.

Interestingly, no team is negative at every position, not even Minnesota (PF +0.3) or New Jersey (C +0.8).  It’s tempting to think that this is a result of what happens on the defensive end—there will always be more opportunity to exploit a team at one spot than at another—but the bad teams are all spared across-the-board negative PER by standout offense, in three cases (MIN, NJN, NYK) from lunky white or half-white big men with short last names beginning with "L."

So that’s probably significant in some way.

Fact: Three of the top four teams by record (CLE, LAL, ORL) have negatives at point guard, led by the Lakers’ astounding -4.9, second worst in the league.  Three other teams in the top nine, however, have their best differential at point guard: Boston, Utah, Penis.  Sorry, I mean Phoenix.  So what does that tell us?

Let me see if I can say this without sounding like a jackass:  Either point guard is important, or it isn’t.  The evidence suggests that there are two general models of success in the league right now:  the point-guard-dependent model, and the multiple-big-men model.  And one of those models seems to be the dominant one.  It was two teams of bigs who met in the Finals last year, and a third one that’s on top of the standings as I write this.  While we’re at it:  who was the last dominant point guard even to make the Finals?  Do we count Chauncey Billups?  Or do we go back to Jason Kidd?

Maybe I’m way off base.  Hit me with comments and let me know what you think.  Also, if anyone has any good blueberry-and-cabbage recipes, please hook that up.  It’s all about antioxidants, son.  It’s all about them.