Steve Nash

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.

Kevin Durant on Warriors, Spurs: “We’re not scared of neither one of those teams”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder while facing the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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We’d seen this movie before. Against the San Antonio Spurs. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors offensive machine got cranked up, dropped 73 on Oklahoma City in the first half, led by 14 at the break, and it was about to turn into another rout, and another statement win for the Warriors.

Except the Thunder came back. OKC held Golden State to just 18 third quarter points and got the lead down to two points — the Thunder pushed the Warriors away from the things they like to do (Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll) and made life difficult for them. It was a fantastic performance for OKC, even if Golden State still prevailed with a 116-108 win.

After the game Durant would have none of any moral victory talk — even though it was — and he said the Thunder were not intimidated by the Warriors or anyone else, via Royce Young of Oklahoma City.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Durant said of the comeback. “When we get down, we’re supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here…

“Man, we’re not scared of neither one of those teams,” Durant said, including the Spurs. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play ’em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play ’em. We’re not ducking nobody.”

The NBA isn’t professional boxing; nobody gets to duck anybody.

But a Thunder team searching for respect gained a measure Saturday night. The Thunder picture themselves contenders and for much of the season listened to talking heads (myself included) say the Warriors and Spurs are in a different class. Saturday night was a step in showing that they belonged. There are still questions about how Golden State or San Antonio could exploit players such as Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter is a seven-game series, but the Thunder have two of the league’s top five players — they can beat and hang with anyone.

They have a shot at a title.

If Durant believes that, it would impact his decision this summer, but that is another discussion.

Watch Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant trade shots Saturday night

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Kevin Durant won the one-on-one battle — he dropped 40 points on the Golden State Warriors, while Stephen Curry had “just” 26 and needed 26 shots to get there (but did add 10 assists).

But the Warriors built up a lead thanks to their depth and were able to withstand a late Thunder run to get the win.

Enjoy watching Curry and Durant putting on a show Saturday night in the Bay Area.

Nerlens Noel uses length for ridiculous reverse jam

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Nerlens Noel‘s 7’4″ wingspan can come in handy at times.

Such as when driving on Brook Lopez, and getting forced under the basket, he can just reach around the Nets’ center for the impressive dunk.

Noel finished the game with 18 points, Jahlil Okafor had 22, and the Sixers picked up a win against the Nets 103-98.

Kobe Bryant’s 25 points not enough to upset Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs have watched helplessly as Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has tormented them for the better part of the past two decades.

Bryant did so again in his final appearance in San Antonio, but the Spurs were able to enjoy this one.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a throwback performance by Bryant to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 106-102 on Saturday night to remain unbeaten at home.

“I thought it was great,” San Antonio point guard Tony Parker said. “It was a great game, fans were into it. It felt a little bit like the old days in the playoffs, Spurs and the Lakers.”

Kawhi Leonard added 20 points and 13 rebounds to help the Spurs win their 28th straight home game to open the season. The Spurs’ 37th straight home victory dating back to last season was surprisingly difficult.

Bryant had 16 of his 25 points in the third quarter, going 3 for 6 on 3-pointers in guiding the Lakers to an 81-79 lead entering the fourth.

“I watched him growing up,” said Lakers guard and San Antonio native Jordan Clarkson, who finished with 21 points and four assists. “I watched him kill the Spurs.”

San Antonio has trailed for only two minutes in the fourth quarter at home this season, but the Lakers led for all but 23 seconds in the opening seven minutes of the period.

Bryant finished 9 for 28 from the field, but was 7 for 18 in a dynamic second half that electrified a pro-Bryant crowd.

“It’s like watching Michael (Jordan),” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I was just watching. It was great. It was great. We made some mistakes. He took advantage of it. He’s fantastic.”

After rising to drain a 3-pointer with Leonard squarely in his face contesting the attempt, Bryant turned to an injured Tim Duncan on the bench and shrugged his shoulders.

“He was like, `No way,’ and I was like `Dude,’ ” Bryant said. “What could I do? I miss the easy ones and make some B.S. like that. I don’t even know what to tell you. It was Tim’s version of a yell, so it was a strong whisper.”

The Lakers trailed 101-99 lead after trading 3-pointers following Bryant’s improbable shot, but the Spurs’ were able to hold Los Angeles to just three points in the final 2 minutes.

“Missed defensive assignments,” said Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell, who had 12 points. “They executed their offense to perfection. We were young and that’s an excuse I could give you.”

Bryant had a sore right shoulder, but he was not about to miss one last game against his fiercest rivals. He has faced the Spurs 90 times in the regular season and postseason, his most against any opponent.

TIP-INS

Lakers: The Spurs honored Bryant with a 3-minute video. The Spurs’ Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all paid tribute to Bryant’s competitiveness along with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. Bryant walked over to the Spurs’ bench prior to tipoff and hugged Popovich, sharing a few words with San Antonio’s longtime coach.

Spurs: San Antonio’s 12-game lead in the Southwest is the largest ever since the division was formed in 2004-2005. … In addition to Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs were also without Matt Bonner. The reserve forward suffered a left calf strain Friday against Dallas, which was just his 20th game of the season. … Pop star Selena Gomez sat courtside, wearing a Tony Parker jersey.