Is having a dominant point guard a bane to team-building?

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Constructing a team is rather inexact in its science, and though team officials have grown wise to particular trends and the like over the years, there are still countless ways to approach roster construction and just as many ways to fail in creating a championship-worthy roster. Building a solid, long-term team is tough, building a contender is hard, and building a title-winner nearly impossible.

Jesse Blanchard of 48 Minutes of Hell offers one treatise on the subject (reflecting on Zach Harper’s similar work last week on TrueHoop), one worthy of your time and your thoughts. Blanchard wonders: is the dominant point guard, while one of the most coveted NBA pieces, almost antithetical to successful team-building?

…there’s something inherently difficult about building around these players, as each of the above players has managed to put playoff teams together with nothing but spot up shooters and duct tape.

And therein lies the problem. Because a point guard presents so much smoke and mirrors, masking teammates deficiencies, controlling tempo, and inflating statistics, it’s far too easy to get caught up in his success and prematurely go all in, overvalue your own free agents, and ignore the development of the rest of your team while still having success–just not the kind of success every team should aspire to.

A good point guard, by definition, makes the players around him better. In doing so, he can stunt those players’ natural growth, force management to pay them more than they’re worth due to their inflated production, and put an unfortunate cap on his team’s progress. Blanchard goes on to analyze the rather specific impacts of point guards such as Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, and ultimately, it’s a convincing argument.

I just don’t see that it’s necessarily exclusive to point guards, or indicative of a greater approach that should be embraced.

Couldn’t the same be true of dominant big men? Is J.J. Redick’s summer payday independent from Dwight Howard’s on-court effect? Was Derek Fisher’s deal with the Warriors not affected by the influence of Shaquille O’Neal (and, for that matter, Kobe Bryant?)? Smart organizations like the Spurs have kept those kinds of signings to a minimum, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen elsewhere.

Plus — and I know how unfair this card is to play, and yet here I am — what of the Miami Heat? They may not be building around a “point guard,” but their two best players have functionally played in that role. Is it such a bad idea to build around LeBron James or Dwyane Wade in that context? Or, similarly, how about the Heat’s first venture to build around Wade (who is as much  a PG as LeBron is), which ended with a championship?

If we go strictly by traditional positional nomenclature, then yes, it’s hard to find a modern championship team which boasted a point guard as its best player. That said, to disregard the model based on the fact that the Phoenix Suns had a few injuries/bad luck with suspensions, the arbitrary determination that Chauncey Billups doesn’t count, or that various other teams that have come close but fallen just short seems an unfair way to broach such an interesting topic.

Empirically speaking, recent elite point guards may not translate to Finals MVPs, but if we go beyond top players and look instead to competitive cores, I think you’ll find that plenty of high-level point guards were very central to their teams’ titles. Maybe not Derek Fisher or young Rajon Rondo types, but Tony Parker? Chauncey? Wade, serving as a point guard in disguise? That’s some high-level play that was introduced as a pivotal part of the team-building process.

LeBron James admits Warriors pose one of biggest challenges he’s faced in Finals

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LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.

Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.

“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”

The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.

Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.

All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.