The more things change in the NBA, the more they stay the same. This year’s NBA playoffs have proven once again that history does repeat itself in the sport, and predicting its true contenders is a fairly easy task. And its proven, once again, that point guards don’t matter.
This statement is probably a bit of hyperbole – point guards do matter, just not as much as we are led to believe. A more accurate statement is that an elite point guard will not lead you to an NBA title. You have to go back to 1990 to find a team whose best player played the point and won the NBA championship. That was, of course, the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons led by Isiah Thomas. Point guards have won the Finals MVP since this time (Chauncey Billups in 2004, Tony Parker in 2007) but they were not the ‘best’ players on their team that season (that would have been Ben Wallace and Tim Duncan, respectively). Just look at this list of elite playmakers that have laced them up in the NBA since 1990: Jason Kidd. John Stockton. Steve Nash. Gary Payton. Chris Paul. Deron Williams. Allen Iverson. Kevin Johnson. Rajon Rondo. Derrick Rose. None of them were able to drag their team to the promised land of NBA champion (Kidd, Payton and Rondo got rings, but they weren’t ‘The Man’ on those teams).
Chris Paul will go down as one of the greatest point guards (and players) to ever play the game. There is nothing, on either ends of the floor, that he doesn’t do well. And he’s a perfect leader – vocal, aggressive, assertive. Basically your dream point guard. Yet he’s never made it past the conference semifinals, even while playing alongside two elite big men in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan the past three seasons. It’s really quite the phenomenon (which might explain why I write about it every year), and really hard to figure out as the rules of the game (goodbye hand checking) and style of play (less emphasis on pounding the ball inside, less traditional big men entering the league) have tilted the court towards guards. Even elite wing players don’t really lead their teams to titles anymore – notice how Miami didn’t win the big one until LeBron moved into the power forward position.
Which brings us to this year’s NBA playoffs. The four remaining contenders will all be led by superstars that don’t run the point – LeBron James in Miami, Paul George in Indiana, Tim Duncan in San Antonio, and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Just another case of the same ol’, same ol’ in the NBA.