As I watch the current NBA finals with the Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, most believe that the most interesting matchup has been the Miami “Big Three” vs. the OKC “Big Three.” However, I have always been interested in the matchup between the two starting point guards, Russell Westbrook and Mario Chalmers.
Most NBA fans and sports media would agree that Westbrook is better than Chalmers but that does not necessarily translate into an automatic series win for OKC. What is more intriguing that the position matchup is the actually concept of the system point guard and the undocumented success of these players in the NBA.
The definition of a system guard in the NBA is a player who is coached to manage the game, limit his turnovers and play solid team defense. Often times, the player flourishes in the system by benefiting from more scoring and assists opportunities which can inflate their reputation as a NBA player. Nevertheless, skeptics often hypothesize the player would be as successful if they were on another team which merits the label “system point guard.” In analyzing the value of a system point guard, it can be said that their success relies heavily upon the lack of leadership role they have on the team. The system point guard is most similar to game manager quarterback on a NFL team. In the NFL, the game manager is coached to limit his throws and mistakes then let his running back or defense win the game.
In the last twelve years of the NBA, only six different teams have won championship titles. During those years the starting point guards for those teams have been Avery Johnson, Brain Shaw, Derek Fisher, Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups, Jason Williams, Rajan Rondo and Jason Kidd. Of those players, Jason Kidd is the only player with Hall of Fame credentials, Parker, Rondo and Billups have all had multiple all-star appearances but for the most part these championship players are not considered superstars. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the NBA was dominated by star point guards such as Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas and John Stockton who cultivated the leadership role. However, teams started focus on developing their teams through one star player and role players therefore the need for a star point guard was not warranted.
In comparing a system point guard to a superstar point guard, a good comparison would be Rajan Rondo and Chris Paul. Rajan Rondo has a career 273-111 overall record as a starter in the NBA compared to Chris Paul’s record of 286-199 as a starter, in further analysis, Rondo has won 71% of his games compared to Paul only winning 59% of his games. During their careers in the playoffs, Paul has averaged 20 PPG, 10 APG and 2 SPG compared to Rondo averaging 14 PPG, 9 APG and 2 SPG however Rondo has a NBA title on his resume whereas Paul’s playoff teams have never advanced past the second round. Now once again, most NBA fans and sports media would agree that Chris Paul is better than Rajan Rondo but even though Rondo possesses slightly lower numbers he has a better overall resume than Paul.
In my opinion, the epitome of the system point guard is San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker. Parker has a career record as a starter of 626-170 which is a winning percentage of .806. His other accolades includes 3 NBA titles, 4 all-star selections and Finals MVP but some NBA analysts and fans believe that he would not flourish in another system because of his skill set. Once when compared to Chris Paul, Baron Davis and Deron Williams, he famously stated, “They can have the awards but I’d rather have my rings.” Before this past season, Parker was known to be an average jump shooter who only flourished in the pick and roll or the fast break. Coincidentally, Parker has made improvements to his game but the question has always been does he have the leadership qualities to lead an average team to the playoffs? Furthermore, does he possess the capabilities of progressing from a system point guard to a star point guard? No one knows what the future will hold for Tony Parker but he has been a successful point guard in a good system surrounded by good players. The fact of the matter is that system point guards are considered to be marginal players.
So what has the concept of system point guard taught us? Are they more valuable than star point guards? Is Rajan Rondo better than Chris Paul? Is Tony Parker the best point guard of the decade? I would have to disagree with all those questions at this point however if history continues to repeat itself, Mario Chalmers will continue the trend of a long line of successful system point guards.
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