2012 NBA Draft: Evaluating the Point Guards
Of all the positions in the NBA, maybe the toughest one to project is the point guard spot. The pro game is very demanding on point guards, constituting a real leap from college, especially in terms of the defense the players face. The most interesting point guard prospects in this draft class — Damian Lillard, Kendall Marshall, and Austin Rivers — will have to perform right away.
Strength: Pick-and-roll decision making
Lillard is a top prospect based on his ability to create scoring opportunities. He averaged 24.5 points per game, including 40.9 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line. I think his most impressive asset is his ability to read the defense in pick-and-roll situations, generally making the right call between attacking the basket or setting up a teammate. According to Synergy Sports, Lillard posted a PPP of 1.039 when looking to score himself, placing him in the 91st percentile. If you account for his passes out of pick-and-rolls, Lillard’s PPP remains high at 1.083 (87th percentile). The fact that there is so little drop-off between to the two stats confirms his strong decision-making skills.
Lillard likes to play off of ball screens that allow him to create space for his jump shot, which he does 61.3 percent of the time when he actually uses a screen. He ranked in the top 10 of jump shots off the dribble in terms of PPP. If the defense goes under the screen or switches, Lillard will pull up behind it. This forces the defense to go over his ball screens, but this still puts them at a disadvantage given Lillard’s shooting skills. If he cannot get his shot, he is a willing passer with a natural feel for it.
Lillard’s problems come on defense. He shows a lack of focus when working off the ball.
He has a tendency to ball-watch when defending his man off the basketball. Perhaps even worse, he will often turn his back to his man on dribble penetration, attempting wild steals that result in open shots for the man he is covering. He certainly has the skills to be a good defender — he just needs to put those skills to use.
Player Comparison: Better Version of Isaiah Thomas
Lillard has more size and is a better shooter, but he plays off of screens similarly to Thomas, who had a very strong rookie season.
Strength: Isolation Play
Kendall Marshall’s narrative is almost the exact opposite of Lillard. He is known as a “pure point guard,” a “pass-first guy.” But his scoring ability should not be discounted. He averaged only 8.1 points per game, but he averaged just 6.3 attempts. Just because he isn’t scoring doesn’t mean he can’t. I was especially impressed with Marshall’s play in isolation situations (which made up 23.6 percent of his offensive possessions), which is usually when he looked for his own shot. He tries to get to the rim, and when he does, it’s extremely effective. He posted a PPP of 1.031 (89th percentile) on 51 percent shooting while getting to the free throw line 15.6 percent of the time.
Marshall won’t beat a defender to the rim and dunk on him, but he will outsmart him. He knows how to use his size and strength: When he attacks, he leans on the defense, using his body as a shield to prevent steal attempts. Marshall already has many of the crafty moves we expect from veterans. If you are looking for a flaw, he may go to his left too often, though we saw Kyrie Irving make it work.
Weakness: Transition Offense
Marshall scored just 0.857 PPP on the break, placing him in the 22nd percentile. The problem? Turnovers. He turned the basketball over 30 percent of the time on the break, which is, simply, way too high.
His problem may be overconfidence. He always goes for the flashy home run pass or an impressive pass-through through two or three defenders, and sometimes his teammates are ready. After watching his control and intelligence in the half court, it’s hard to believe you are watching the same player in transition.
Player Comparison: Andre Miller
The Andre Miller comparison is almost too easy, but it’s undeniable when you see Marshall using his body in the same way Miller does on a nightly basis.
Strength: Getting to the Rim and Finishing
Every year there is a college player who was a scorer but also dominated the ball, forcing us to ask, Can he play point guard? This year we ask that about Rivers. He has all the skills to be a solid scorer, but he will likely have to do it as a point guard. He really struggled around the rim at the start of his career at Duke. I wrote about it previously, and at the time, Rivers was posting a PPP of 0.588 around the rim, which is very low, but by the end of the season, he got up to 1.138 on 54.5 percent shooting. He improved by finishing through contact and shying away from it less.
He capitalized on his ability to get to the rim by improving the small stuff — jumping off of two feet, getting his shoulders square with the backboard, etc. — which will serve him well in the NBA.
Rivers will have to play point guard next year because of his inability to knock down a shot in catch-and-shoot situations. According to Synergy, he shot just 24.1 percent. There are a number of things wrong with Rivers’s shooting stroke.
You’ll notice a lot of inconsistency, which is not ideal. The best shooters — guys like Ray Allen — repeat the same motion every time they shoot. Rivers has far too many variables: The release point is inconsistent; how high he jumps is inconsistent; even the way he lands is inconsistent. His shot will be difficult to fix since it’s unclear where the real problem is introduced. Once he gets a consistent form, he could be an extremely dangerous player.
Player Comparison: John Wall
This might not be the obvious comparison, but both Rivers and Wall shoot in the 50 percent range around the rim while only shooting in the 20 percent range in catch-and-shoots. Additionally, they both turn over the ball a little too often (Rivers 14.3 percent, Wall 19.1 percent).