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.

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

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The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.