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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Witnessing Greatness – NBA Guards

Last year, the Hat Trick ran a series of articles chronicling the Hall of Fame prospects of current offensive NFL players. We broke down the possible future candidates by position categories – quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive linemen. We will discuss defensive players later this year.

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, the Hat Trick would like to carry that theme over to the hardwood. Who among today’s players can expect a bust in Springfield, Massachusetts five years after they lace ‘em up for the last time? Today were are going to discuss active guards in the NBA.



SLAM DUNK

Jason Kidd, point guard, Dallas Mavericks

A vote for Hall of Fame induction couldn’t be any easier. Jason Kidd is closing in on every significant record for an NBA point guard. Winning his first, ever, NBA Championship last season was the cherry on top of a sweet sundae of a career.

The 10 time all star is second all-time for total assists in NBA history (behind John Stockton), having led the NBA in total assists in three different seasons. Kidd is also second all time in league history for total steals (also behind Stockton). He’s fifth all time in total minutes played (a key stat for a point guard) and 11th all time in total games played. Kidd is first all-time among active players in all of the aforementioned statistical categories.

There couldn't be an easier vote. 1

Steve Nash, point guard, Phoenix Suns

While lacking the coveted NBA title, the South African born Canadian citizen is another no-brainer for the Hall. Nash is a two time MVP and an eight time All-Star. He was named to the first All NBA Team three times.

Nash is in the top ten, all time, in total assists, free throw percentage, and three point percentage. He continues to play at a high level at age 38, averaging a double-double per game with 13 points per game and 11 assists per game in 2012. Other than Kidd, there is no rival to Nash’s career achievements by any other point guard during the span of Nash’s career.

"Is your game M.V.P. like Steve Nash?" 2
Kobe Bryant, shooting guard, Los Angeles Lakers

Not only is Kobe holding a pre-punched ticket to the Hall of Fame, but there are some who may argue that Bryant is the greatest player ever to play the game, greater than Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, or Larry Bird. While I don’t share that opinion, personally, I understand why proponents of that argument think the way they do.

Bryant is a 14-time All-Star and was the MVP of the NBA in 2008. He made the first All NBA team nine times. Last but not least, he is a five time NBA Champions and, in his mind, he is not yet finished.

Bryant is in the top ten, all-time, in career points per game and total points scored. This season, at age 33, he finished second behind Kevin Durant, just short of winning the scoring title.

The Black Mamba doing a little "Faith Hilling". 3
ON TRACK

Chris Paul, point guard, Los Angeles Clippers

Chris Paul is arguably the best point guard in the game today. Paul turns 27 on Sunday and has everything, except for a championship, on his resume right now to make him an automatic Hall of Fame inductee. Paul has consistently been in the top five for total assists each season and has led the NBA in total steals in five of the last seven years.

Paul finished second to future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant in 2008 MVP voting, making the first All-NBA team that season. He has a string of five consecutive All-Star game appearances. Paul is fourth among active players in minutes played per game and first among active players in assists per game. Paul has had occasional injury problems. However, unless his career is decimated by injuries going forward, he is virtually certain to walk into Springfield when his career is over, championship or not.

Lob City 4
Deron Williams, point guard, New Jersey Nets

Williams has not played for teams with a tremendous amount of success, but the value of his individual contributions cannot be questioned. The 27 year old, three time All-Star has been in the top five for assists per game in each of the past six seasons. He also averages 18 points per game for his career.

Williams can augment his Hall of Fame possibilities by leading his teams to greater success than they have experienced thus far. Regardless, should Williams maintain his current level of performance for another five seasons and play productively for another 10, it will be all but impossible to deny him entry to the Hall.

Will Williams be ballin' in Brooklyn in 2013? 5

Dwyane Wade, shooting guard, Miami Heat

Wade is another player who, barring injury, should walk right into the Hall of Fame after his playing days are done. A championship ring in 2012 (to go along with his 2006 MVP performance in the Finals) should seal the deal for Wade, regardless of what happens in the remaining career of the 30 year old guard.

Wade has averaged 25 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1.0 blocked shots per game (uncommonly high for a guard) for his career. Wade has an active string of eight consecutive All-Star game appearances. Wade is #10, all-time, for career points per game.

STOP! Poster time! 6
POSSIBLE BRIDESMAIDS


Andre Miller, point guard, Denver Nuggets

Longevity and consistency can often propel players that lack transcendent dominance in their sport to the Hall of Fame. Andre Miller has played for a long time. He has been consistent. He may never get his ticket punched to the Hall.

The 36 year old Miller was a starter for the first 12 years of his 13 year career. This year, in his second tour of duty with the Nuggets, he has taken a back seat to budding star Ty Lawson. This means that any chance Miller had to boost his Hall of Fame credentials with a championship will likely have to be done as a bench player – a backup.

Miller is among the top ten, all-time in the history of the NBA in total career assists and is third among active players. He averages 14 points per game for his career, solid for a point guard. Miller has four problems, however, that I believe can keep him out of Springfield unless he buys a bus ticket himself.

First, Miller has neither led his teams nor been led to any deep playoff runs. Great players, even surrounded by mediocre talent, always have at least one hot run with their teams over a long career. Miller has never had that. In fact Miller has never played in a game past the first round of the playoffs.

Second, Miller averages 34 minutes player per game for his career. Hall of Fame point guards should average in the higher thirties, often playing over 40 minutes in a game. A great floor general on a basketball team should be a constant presence. Handing the duties to your back up for 14 minutes per night compromises that.

Third, Miller has never been named to an All-Star game. In spite of all of the statistics, longevity and consistency, others should be able to recognize your greatness with the "eye test". Miller never received that honor.

Fourth, his “sharp shooter” statistics – three point percentage and free throw percentage are just okay (21% and 81%, respectively). The point guard is going to get fouled at key moments and is going to get open looks at the basket as a result of defenses adjusting to the offensive scheme. Miller is not a deadly threat to opponents in those situations.

Posterizing Jason Smith of the Hornets, right, isn't exactly the fast track to Springfield. 7

Ray Allen, shooting guard, Boston Celtics

The 36 year old, 16 year veteran and former NBA champion is very worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. Many fans may think that Allen punched his ticket to Springfield last season when he became the all time NBA leader in career three point shots made. Perhaps he did.

One would think that a 10 time All-Star with an NBA Championship ring that holds a significant career record would be a no-brainer. There are some spots in Allen’s track record that could keep him off of the first ballot and may delay, if not deny, his Hall of Fame entrance.

For all of Allen’s greatness, he never made first team All-NBA. He made the second and third teams, in 2005 and 2001, respectively. In 16 years, he seldom received the recognition of one of the three best at his position.

Allen has suffered from durability issues. In six of Allen’s 16 years in the NBA, he has failed to play in 85% or more of his team’s games. While he has played like the perennial All-Star he is when he is on the court, frequent absenteeism could delay his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Third, Allen, in large part because of the nature of his position, has not set up his teammates for baskets very often, but he coughs the ball up as often as some point guards. Allen averages more than two turnovers per night for his career, but only 3.5 assists. This probably will not bar him from the Hall, but depending on who is eligible in the same year as Allen, old “Jesus Shuttlesworth” may have to wait.

That said, I think the odds of Allen never being inducted are slim, but stranger things have happened in sports Hall of Fame voting. Don’t believe me? Ask former NFL wide receiver Cris Carter!


He got game! 8
FUTURE HOPEFULS


Russell Westbrook, point guard, Oklahoma City Thunder

For all of the criticism I hear in sports media about Westbrook – he shoots to often, he doesn’t defer to Kevin Durant often enough, he’s selfish – I see FAR more star power in the 23 year old budding superstar. Westbrook has never missed a game in his career, been to two consecutive All-Star games and was named to the second all NBA team in 2011, just his third year in the NBA.

Westbrook continues to improve as an offensive player every year. He needs to continue to develop as a passer and take better care of the basketball as he progresses. It wouldn’t hurt his cause to win a little championship hardware during his career, either. Still, Westbrook’s future is very bright in the NBA.

9

Brandon Jennings, point guard, Milwaukee Bucks

His team is mediocre and, for that reason, the casual fan may not be very familiar with Jennings. But this kid is wise beyond his years and has “superstar potential” written all over his dossier.

Jennings, a member of the 2010 All Rookie Team, is the reason the Bucks have had any whiff of the postseason, taking the Hawks to seven games in the first round in 2010 and keeping the Bucks within striking distance of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, finishing in ninth place the last two seasons.

Jennings, already invaluable to his team, had career highs in field goal percentage and points scored with 20 points per game. Jennings, who averages 5 assists per game for his career, needs to continue to work on creating shots for his teammates but, frankly, considering what he has had to work with, I doubt there are any complaints from Bucks fans.

10

Rajon Rondo, point guard, Boston Celtics

Once thought of as the fifth wheel in the shadow of the Celtics’ “big three” future Hall of Fame Hopefuls of Kevin Garnett, Paul Piece, and Ray Allen, Rondo has emerged as, arguably, the most important player on his team. Rondo has been to the All-Star game in three consecutive years and is a two time member of the first NBA All-Defensive team.

Rondo led the NBA in assists per game this season and, for the fourth consecutive year in his six year career, has been in the top five in total season assists. Rondo’s only glaring weakness is at the charity stripe; he is only a 62% free throw shooter for his career. Still, his other strengths effectively compensate for that shortcoming.  

Rondo may want to cut down on the ejections and suspensions, too. 11

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