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Getting To The Point

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WestThe Celtics’ point guard has been a hot topic amongst both Internet and traditional media sources as of late, and with good reason. No position on the team has had more volatility or instability than lead guard. Since Doc Rivers has been the coach of this Celtics team, Danny Ainge has brought in a litany of prospective players to fill the position. Chucky Atkins, Gary Payton, Marcus Banks, Delonte West, Orien Greene, Sebastian Telfair, and Rajon Rondo have all seen time on Rivers’ watch.

Yet, out of all the players that have gotten a chance to steer the ship, only Atkins, Payton, and West have been statistically productive. If one were to define a point guard’s duties as creating shots for others with ball-control and dribble penetration, the two grizzled veterans are the only one’s who have truly been given a point guard’s duties with the team.

Out of the youth, Delonte West has manned the role with the most consistency. West has been effective at limiting mistakes when on the court and he was a marksman from the field last season, ranking in the top 5 amongst point guards in field goal percentage. West’s all around effectiveness and resilient spirit make him an exemplary basketball player, one that has been rumored to be amongst Ainge’s “untouchables.”

While West contributes in multiple facets of the game, his skill-set is not optimally suited to that of a point guard’s traditional. He’s predominantly a left handed dribbler and this hurts his ability to bring the ball up court against pressure as well as contributing to his difficulty penetrating both sides of the lane. West is a solid playmaker when getting free in the lane, but one can see him fighting a shooter’s mentality on the break and close to the basket.

Though Ainge has been a staunch advocate for West, he clearly believes that there are elements to playing the point guard position that West cannot fulfill. That notion was driven home with the acquisition of Sebastian Telfair and Rajon Rondo during the off-season. Celtics fans are prone to play favorites with “their” player of choice, and the argument over the starting point guard position has increased in intensity as Telfair struggled throughout most of December.

An impressive preseason won Telfair the position doing the types of things offensively that traditional point guards do. But, his defensive focus and offensive struggles led to an eventual change back to West. This continual upheaval has led some to question the talent present at the position itself as well as questions about what the role of the point guard should be on a team led by Paul Pierce.

When factoring in the age, experience, skill set, approach, and work history of the team’s young point guards, it’s difficult to point to the talent level being the primary issue. Each of the players the team has could potentially develop into a quality starting guard in this league.

What we clearly haven’t been seeing is any type of trust or responsibility being given to any of the young point guards over the past few seasons. West’s consistent contribution last season could be attributed to limited options at the position as he was clearly the best choice for the role, but even with those minutes he wasn’t asked to do much with in the structure of the offensive sets other than hit shots. Telfair received substantial playing time as well this season, but his role decreased as other offensive options began to develop for the team. Even before Al Jefferson and Tony Allen began to assert themselves, Telfair was getting a high volume of his offense off of secondary drives and perimeter shots after the ball had cycled through the offense after he’d passed it off.

The truth of the matter is that the offense runs through Paul Pierce and it will continue to run through him as long as there is no established veteran to trust with the responsibility. As long a Pierce remains such a competent playmaker, there is no room for a young point guard to develop his game on-court under Doc Rivers. It’s hard to fault Rivers for limiting his young point guard’s responsibility. Rivers is a veteran of the position and understands how difficult the responsibilities of a fully functioning point guard can be, especially for group so young. Amongst the current crop of three, West has the most playing experience with three seasons spent in college and the pros. This is most likely why West has resurfaced as the starter, his best skills are shooting, hustling around the court, and making smart decisions, which is all that the point guards are asked to do after getting the team into its sets.

TelfairIts not coincidental that Sebastian Telfair started the season off shooting well and playing aggressively on his drives. That is indicative of the work he’s put into his game and the type of player that he is. But, Telfair plays a traditional floor generals game, he likes to direct traffic and make plays with the ball in his hands like any other quality starting point guard who runs their team. Telfair isn’t developed enough to receive that type of responsibility, but that is how he plays and that is how he’ll improve the fastest as a player. Standing out on the weak side baseline and hitting spot up shots or secondary penetration is not what a quality lead point guard does.

Regardless of which of the young point guards plays the role, none are in a position to develop as quickly as they could in another situation because the team is trying to compete as it rebuilds and has an effective veteran floor leader. Rajon Rondo has a built-in excuse for himself because of his rookie status and lack of effective face-up shot from any distance, but he wouldn’t be given any more responsibility than Telfair or West and he doesn’t play a style that fits what he’d be given either.

There appear to be two distinct options based off of the current situation. The team can either stick with West and run their offense primarily through their Hall of Fame shooting guard until the younger point guards develop to the point of Rivers’ trust or they can expedite the process by bringing in a veteran. The only hope for developing Rondo or Telfair during Pierce’s prime may rely on the latter option.

This may sound like somewhat of an indictment of the current team system, but it really seems as if its the only way that Rivers can be justified in giving that position any type of authority or control of the offense. Getting a Baron Davis or an Andre Miller will allow Rivers to build in offensive sets for the point guard position, which will in turn create sets for that veterans understudy.

Rivers will trust a high caliber developed talent, but he’s not going to give it to an unproven player-this has been verified throughout his time here. Pierce is a safer option for him despite his legitimate desire to have a point guard. Rivers may be too personally invested in developing that position because he used to play it. This may exacerbate the situation to some degree as he is overly critical at times and too conservative at others, making development of a player at that position a longer process.

Making a move for a veteran point guard may be the best way to help the team now and in the future. If they want to develop a younger point guard and get production out of the position requisite to the actual responsibilities of that position, adding a reliable floor general could serve both short-term and long-term objectives.

Fortunately, there are some good options available on the market that seem to be available for a price that would not cost this team its most prized youth. Unfortunately, the financial cost and contract length of those options may be prohibitive to the team’s overall rebuilding plan as they look to re-sign some of those youth in the upcoming seasons. None of the available players makes the team a contender either, so the important question to ask is what moves can the team afford to make in terms of assets and salary after a veteran presence is brought in? Far too often that question is left to chance in the zeal of the moment.