Shooting Guards

A shooting guard's number one job is to score points and to score them efficiently. He should be able to finish a fast break and create his own shots in the half court offense. Ideally, he can take pressure off the point guard by having some ability to run the offense and to bring the ball up on the break. Defense, of course, is another consideration, especially steals. Rebounding is another valuable asset on some teams.

First Class

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls): Four out of the five First Team NBA All-Stars were drafted out of college as undergraduates. Three out of the five Second Team NBA All-Stars were drafted as undergrads. A total of seven out of the ten best players in basketball left college early. In addition to those seven - Jordan, Magic, Olajuwon, Barkley, Drexler, Dominique, Karl Malone - you could find many more of the best NBA players who didn't play four years at the college level: Mark Aguirre, Adrian Dantley, James Worthy, Moses Malone, Isiah Thomas, Buck Williams, Byron Scott, Terry Cummings. Why is it that so many of the best NBA players didn't have to pay their dues in college to be so great?

Because life ain't fair - that's why. How come some people can get a PhD. at age 18 and go one to invent revolutionary devices for the world? How come there was someone in my Physics class who never took notes except to quote the professor's jokes, yet aced all the quizzes, midterms, and finals while I took great notes and got B's?

To a certain degree, everyone is talented in something. Isaac Newton had physics running through his veins. William Hurt has acting in his blood. Your favorite high school teacher had teaching come naturally to him/her. Maybe you can do crosswords or juggle a bowling ball, basketball, and apple while standing on your head. Michael Jordan and the other early NBA entrants can play basketball. It's in their blood.

It's not all talent, though. Newton wrote and studied when he wasn't sitting under an apple tree. Hurt has probably spent over half his life thinking about and practicing for his profession. Your high school teacher sat through as many boring classes as you did and probably had to suffer through Billy Budd, too. Those crossword puzzles that you're so good at - you had to spend a lot of time to get that proficient and you probably think that anyone willing to spend that time can get that good. Michael Jordan spent the time you spent on crosswords getting good at basketball. Jordan probably spent his high school summers playing basketball at the University of North Carolina, playing with college and pro players, learning what didn't come naturally.

Our perception of talent is partially distorted because we have no way of measuring it. We can measure talent plus plain old hard work, but talent alone is as hard to see as atoms or molecules. They are there and we can see them in mass, but they can't ordinarily be isolated.

Players like Jordan, Magic, and Barkley have a tremendous talent that they didn't want to 'waste' in college when they could use it better in the NBA. Maybe they didn't work as hard as Rolando Blackman or Glenn Rivers or Kiki Vandeweghe to get where they are. Maybe they did, but, to them, it wasn't work. Rather, all those hours in the gym were as fun and relaxing to them as getting all the words in your first solved crossword puzzle was to you. Maybe part of talent is enjoying what you do well. Enjoying it enough that working hard to get better isn't really work.

NBA teams take chances on undergraduates in the college drafts because they recognize how good undergrads can be. Some kids can graduate from high school at 13 years old and go on to be tremendous scientists. Some undergrads who go to the pros get bored too easily or get lazy. Some brilliant kids face the same things. All that talent can be wasted if there is no fun. Talented basketball players and talented students lose the work ethic that comes from the enjoyment of what they're good at. The second half of what makes a person good at what they do isn't there. For all the fans care or for all the boss cares, this guy is not valuable to us so let's give him his severance pay.

What fans appreciate about Jordan, Magic, Bird, Olajuwon, Barkley, Drexler, Stockton, Ewing, Dominique, K. Malone, etc. is more than the talent they have that we don't have. The fans couldn't appreciate that talent without the work that went into enhancing that talent. The fans don't see the hours of free throws or the hours of jump shooting a great player has to put in, but they don't call anyone a great player who hasn't put those hours in.

Second Class

Clyde Drexler (Portland Trail Blazers): It's hard to see the Trail Blazers not leading the league in offense next season. Drexler, Vandeweghe, and Porter are three of the top offensive weapons around - essentially equivalent to the Lakers' Scott, Worthy, and Magic. At the other spots, they're a little weaker, but good. All it will take for this team to be the dominant offensive force in the NBA is a small drop from the Celtics and continued improvement from Kevin Duckworth. . .Forgettable quote: "[Jim Paxson] has been hurt by the decision...that Clyde Drexler is better suited to the team's needs at the [off guard] position. Bunk! Paxson is made for this spot." - Mike Weber, Basketball Digest. Weber ranked Paxson eighth and Drexler ninth among shooting guards. Otis Birdsong (huh?) was seventh. I wonder if Weber was the one who wrote that Derek Harper and Rolando Blackman formed the best NBA backcourt. Basketball Digest has really made some bloopers in their rankings recently. . .Will someone please explain how Drexler ended up 11th in the whole league in total offensive rebounds with 261?

Third Class

Rolando Blackman (Dallas Mavericks): Despite a career low in field goal percent, Blackman didn't lose a lot last year. His free throw percentage was above 87% and he cut his turnovers considerably. I don't know what his defensive reputation is and I've never watched his defense closely, so the basis for his rating is only his offense. The Mavericks did a good job denying Byron Scott the ball in the playoffs and that may have been to Blackman's credit, but I didn't notice. It is tough to notice Blackman because he never gets extremely hot or cold; he just silently nails jumpers all game from anywhere inside 23 feet. I'd be curious to see if he has any hot or cold quarter, any hot or cold month, or any sort of unusual deviations from normal Rolando Blackman play.

Dale Ellis (Seattle SuperSonics): The Seattle triumvirate of twenty point per game shooters was broken up when Tom Chambers went to Phoenix as a free agent in July. Chambers wasn't really well-liked in Seattle for some reason. Seattle fans do recognize that losing Ellis would hurt a lot more than the loss of Chambers. The last two years with three high scorers was particularly interesting because it was fairly obvious that the best of the three was Ellis. Why were McDaniel and Chambers shooting so much when Ellis could handle it? Now that Chambers is gone and Michael Cage is around, Seattle has another interesting situation. They have two legitimate power forwards in McDaniel and Cage, a third coming off the bench (Derrick McKey), and a poor center (Alton Lister). McDaniel will put lots of points up, but not very efficiently. Cage may be worse if he plays like he did in '88 or better if he plays like he did in '87. McKey may turn into a very good scorer and will get lots of minutes next year. Lister bombed last year after getting a nice contract and should not be expected to bounce back. With this lack of established scorers, Ellis may score thirty a game next season.

Byron Scott (Los Angeles Lakers): Of the three in this class, Scott's '88 season was the best, not by much, but it was recognizable (see chart at end of section). . .Not only did he score more and better than he had in previous years, Scott improved his defense. He was fighting through picks a lot harder than in previous years and playing the passing lanes better, which resulted in a personal record for steals with 155. Where Scott can improve is in his ball-handling. It seemed that he got himself into trouble when he drove the baseline, often getting cut off and double teamed, forcing a tough pass. Scott also seems most comfortable taking a few dribbles on a drive to the basket rather than leading a break in the open court. If Scott can improve his ball-handling and maintain his shooting eye, he's up with Drexler.

Fourth Class

Danny Ainge (Boston Celtics): He's finally grown out of being a whiny brat. Last year, Ainge really helped the Boston offense. His three pointers, assists, and overall shooting were very good. There is very little fault in his game except for perhaps his defense, which sometimes gets lazy. With all the minutes he plays (37.3 per game), that is expected...Is anyone taking bets on how long it will take someone to break Ainge's record for three pointers in a season? How long did his record for consecutive games with a three pointer last before Michael Adams broke it? Two weeks? If his record for season three pointers lasts through March of '89, I'll be very surprised.

If Danny Ainge had stayed a baseball player, would he be one of those players who attacks the pitcher every time an inside pitch is thrown at him? Would he cry about calls every time a close play doesn't go his way? Would he be able to put up with being successful less than 30% of the time? Would his defense lapse in the late innings of ball games? Would he follow Bo Jackson's example and play basketball as a hobby? Would he falter as badly as Bo does when his hobby season approaches? Would baseball fans throw plastic basketballs at him on the field?

Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors): There have been quite a few minor stars with the Warriors this decade: Purvis Short, Robert Parish, World B. Free, Bernard King, J.B. Carroll, Michael Ray Richardson, Larry Smith, and Sleepy Floyd. Parish, Free, King, and Richardson weren't around for very long and went on to better things with other teams. Short, Carroll, and Floyd are now in Houston and everyone is anxious to see how they'll do. Smith is the only one left and he's arguably the worst of the bunch. Now there is Chris Mullin. He scored twenty a game last year, shot 51%, and had 4.8 assists per game. Real good numbers, numbers which, if repeated next year, could put him in the All-Star Game. The problems are Drexler, Blackman, Ellis, and Scott. . . Mullin really must elevate his game next year. Don Nelson will need him to, in order to keep the Warriors out of the basement. If he doesn't, he's just another minor star on a bad team, which is a bad situation. Ask any one of those ex-Warriors. . .Why did Golden State draft Mitch Richmond? To trade him to New York for Rod Strickland?

Ricky Pierce/Sidney Moncrief (Milwaukee Bucks): When they are healthy they are great. But how often are they healthy? And if they are both healthy, which one plays? Pierce seemingly has Thurl Bailey Syndrome because he never starts, but he might as well. That leaves Moncrief as a starter. When they're both in the game, the playmaker is forward Paul Pressey, who isn't a forward. Or is he? Is Terry Cummings a small forward or a power forward? What about Jack Sikma? Center or power forward? I originally called John Lucas the team's point guard, but he's not even with the team anymore. Pressey is now the starting point guard, but where will he play when both Pierce and Moncrief are in the game? Three guards is a possible setup, but will they use it? All three players had very good floor %'s, while Cummings and Breuer had poor floor %'s. Losing some rebounding may not hurt much if all three guards can score as well as they have been. But then there is Jeff Grayer. When someone figures out what is happening here, give me a call, but don't leave a message on the answering machine. It doesn't have enough tape to record a complete explanation.

Reggie Theus (Atlanta Hawks): When he was out in L.A. for Magic Johnson's Charity Game, Theus got to talking about his new team. He was comparing them to the Lakers when they had Norm Nixon. It wasn't a real clear comparison, but he was talking about the team's versatility and about how many Hawks could play more than one position. Dominique can move to power forward (for short periods of time), Theus to small forward, and Rivers to shooting guard when Spud Webb comes in. He must have been recalling Michael Cooper's and Magic's ability to switch positions easily, but the comparison isn't obvious. I kept trying to ask him who was going to be the center (this was before the Hawks acquired Malone), but he didn't hear me. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar was a key part of those successful Laker teams; without a center, I was thinking, comparisons to great Laker teams were dreams. I also wondered why he never mentioned Kevin Willis. He was talking about Cliff Levingston a little, but not Willis, indicating that Levingston has wrested the power forward position from Willis..."I told [Coach Mike Fratello], 'Don't ask me to get ten rebounds a game! I'll get it if it comes to me, but I'm not going in there with the trees!'" Theus can shoot and pass a little like Drexler, but I guess he'll never get the boards like Drexler even though they're both 6'7".

Fifth Class

Michael Adams/Walter Davis (Denver Nuggets): Doug Moe rescued Adams from the Washington Bullets at the beginning of last season. Adams thanked him by getting him a Coach of the Year Award. End of deal. Along comes Davis, finally free of the Phoenix Suns after 11 years there in the heat. ('But it's a dry heat,' Phoenix folks say. Personally, I'd rather not be able to sweat than breathe dust, thank you.) Davis is a career 20 point per game scorer who could easily take Adams' job away for next season, if just for his size. Adams showed a lot last season, though, surprising everyone and his analyst with his shooting from long range (52.4% adjusted FG%). After showing nothing his first two years, it's tempting to guess that he'll revert next year to nothing. Davis is 34 years old and not Denver's shooting guard of the future, but he'll probably have the job next year as soon as Adams has his first slump.

Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons): As with San Antonio, it's sometimes tough to tell who the point guard is and who the off guard is for Detroit. Both Isiah Thomas and Dumars can run the team, but Thomas shoots more and has more assists than Dumars. The popular view is that Dumars can take over at point guard without losing anything (See Detroit comment). He probably could and not do a bad job because his skills don't seem to fit well at shooting guard. He's not particularly adept at creating his own shot as he should be and doesn't have the shooter's mentality to keep shooting even when in a drought. His sideline abilities to play point guard and play defense bring his shooting guard rating up in my book, but I still think he'd be better off in another role. Reminds me a little of Paul Pressey when he was playing small forward for the Bucks...Vinnie Johnson's streaky play makes the Detroit #2 guard spot more variable. When Dumars and Johnson are hitting, they're essentially impossible to stop. When they're off, the Pistons aren't a very good team. More often than not, one is hot and the other is not, making them just a pretty good combination...They tell me his nickname is 'Preheater'. It has something to do with Johnson's 'Microwave' nickname, but I don't get it. No one would ever preheat a microwave, would they?

Jeff Malone (Washington Bullets): It's surprising that he isn't a better shooter. He's shot below the league average from the field in four of his five years. He must be a streak shooter because every time I've seen him, he's been very very good. Despite his low field goal percentage, he's kept his turnovers down and has a high free throw percentage, which keep his floor % relatively high, around .550 the past couple years. Now that Moses Malone has left Washington, Jeff will probably have a harder time of it, trying to pick up an extra scoring load and forcing shots. The offensive rebounds that Moses provided also won't save Jeff when he forces those shots. On a better team where he wouldn't have to score as much, Jeff would probably look better and rate higher. Right now, though, he is on a bad team and is the main contributor to a bad offense; he has to take some of the blame for that. His team next year may be even worse offensively after losing Moses, who was an important positive influence. The draft choices look pretty good, but, as always, are uncertain. Harvey Grant's low post style he picked up at Oklahoma likely won't work as well in the pros because he'll be up against bigger players, but if he can rebound well, he should be valuable for just that reason. Jeff is going to have to hope, though, that Grant can score or this team is doomed offensively.

Alvin Robertson (San Antonio Spurs): You want to rank him higher? Go ahead. Robertson has the athletic ability to rank higher, but has been so impatient the past couple years that it has hurt the team. He'll shoot as soon as he gets the ball; if he doesn't, he'll try to drive to the basket, committing a turnover as often as he scores or gets an assist. For someone leading his team in scoring, he doesn't set a very good example. Robertson should not be the leading scorer on a team. He was doing very well before he took on the extra scoring load. He had a pretty good rookie season, scoring on 51.6% of his possessions. The next season, he was the second leading scorer on the team and had several other solid scorers helping also. That season, his floor % was a good .543 and he looked on his way to being an efficient scorer. In '86-87, he took on the extra load. He used 83 more possessions than in the previous year, but had only 4 more scoring possessions, bringing his floor % down to .515. Last season, he continued his recklessness, using another 198 more possessions, scoring on 120 more, raising his floor % to a still meager .526. Yes, Robertson is a valuable player, but he's got to control himself and let the better scorers do more scoring. Patience and control. Those are coaches' words and probably Larry Brown's.

Sixth Class

Ron Harper (Cleveland Cavaliers): Fun to watch, but keep your eyes off his stats. He's a poor shooter from both the field (45.8% lifetime) and free throw line (69.1%) and turns the ball over too much (3.62 TO per game). His defense is good and quick, plus he can get rebounds and hand out assists pretty well for a shooter. The signs are there for a poor man's Michael Jordan, but any comparisons now would be ridiculous. Harper's problems are typical of young players, especially the free throw percentage and turnovers, and he should grow out of them to some extent. He's really not that far from being a good offensive player. Modest improvements in all his weaknesses would make him very valuable. His floor % may never get too much higher than about .550 or .560, but that should be good enough to allow the rest of the Cleveland team to score much easier. . .At this stage in his career, probably the most similar player to him in the league is Alvin Robertson. Both could be very good because they can shoot, pass, rebound, and play defense well. Both also are immature players who could stand to learn to play with more control.

Jeff Hornacek/Craig Hodges (Phoenix Suns): Hornacek may blossom this season now that Walter Davis is gone. He was an efficient scorer last year, but didn't score often. He can pass (6.6 assists per game) and shoot (50.1%), but may have to shoot more next year; he shot only 7.4 times per game last season and he got plenty of minutes to get more. Craig Hodges is a good man off the bench, but probably shouldn't start. He didn't start any games last year, but started 43 for Milwaukee in '87. He is a very good three point threat, one of the best in the league, but his best play is coming off the bench at the end of games or in the middle of scoring runs. Both players will have some competition from rookies. Dan Majerle is a 6'6" Olympian who can play both forward and guard and will definitely get a spot on the club. He can be a great shooter and handles the ball pretty well. Steve Kerr is another possibility. He doesn't appear to be just another Steve Alford whose NBA skills are limited. At UCLA this summer, he was leading the break, driving to the basket, and hitting jump shots. When Magic played with him, Kerr was at the scoring end of a lot of Magic's assists. Kerr said that the running game wasn't his style, but he was playing well in it. He also has a left-handed shot that seemed to go in more often than not. Rodney Johns, out of Grand Canyon, a Division II school, was great in college, but has very little chance in the NBA.

Gerald Wilkins (New York Knicks): He really helped himself last year by learning how to shoot free throws, but lost 4% on his field goal percentage. If Ron Harper makes as great a jump in free throw shooting as Wilkins did last year (70.1% to 78.6%), he'll be a star. Both players seem to be following similar career paths, but Harper is probably slightly better. In his first two seasons, Harper had floor %'s of .493 and .514. In Wilkins' first two years, his floor %'s were .468 and .522. He dropped to .496 last year, his third season. Both assist and get rebounds at similar rates, though Harper is slightly better in both. Wilkins is a slightly better shooter. The clearest difference between the two is in their defenses. Harper is much better. He gets plenty of steals and blocks shots, too. He may join Jordan as the only players to get 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same season. Wilkins is only an average defender, setting career highs last season with 90 steals and 22 blocks. The statistical similarity of their two teams is also amazing as both teams were fairly equal offensively and defensively.

Randy Wittman/Derek Smith (Sacramento Kings): Wittman had a bad year last year when the Hawks needed him to have a good year, so he was shipped out west. If his field goal percentage returns to above 50%, which is very likely, he is valuable because he doesn't commit turnovers. He actually may be most valuable off the bench, though. Derek Smith can't hold a job only because of chronic injury problems. Along with Marques Johnson and Norm Nixon, Smith formed a decent trio with the Clippers a few years ago. But all three have spent more time in hospitals the last two years than on the court...Ricky Berry supposedly has a great shooting touch and may take the job away from both Wittman and Smith. But he is 6'8" and a rookie, putting him in the bastard position of having to show he's real good at the off guard slot or else being 'experimented with' at other positions. I wonder how many such experiments are actually successful.

Mike Woodson (Houston Rockets): He was never very good with the Clippers, but that was because he got dragged down by the rest of the team. Couldn't even shoot 45% in L.A., but will have little problem doing that in Houston. The acquisitions of Floyd and Carroll by Houston last year will be more significant now that Woodson is there. Lacking any sort of shooting guard has seriously hurt the Rockets the past couple years, but Woodson will solve that problem to some extent. If he returns to the form he displayed in Kansas City in '85, he'll solve the Rockets' problem to great extent.

Seventh Class

Bob Hansen (Utah Jazz): Even this low in the rankings, Hansen isn't real bad. He's just prime to be replaced. Bart Kofoed will probably get a chance and may actually take the job if his summer league stats mean anything and if his foot heals. . . Jeff Moe of Iowa and Ricky Grace of Oklahoma were drafted in the hopes of lucking out on something special. . .Hey, guys! What ever happened to Byron Larkin of Xavier? No one took him in the draft. Didn't he score 25 points per game last year? I've never seen him play, but he sounds a whole lot better than Moe or Grace. All I can figure is that he didn't shoot very well, which is a sign that he won't make it. Temple's Nate Blackwell was taken early in the second round of the '87 draft and he didn't shoot well or score as well as Larkin. Larkin may come back to haunt some teams.

John Long (Indiana Pacers): He's one of the best free throw shooters in NBA history, shooting 85.9% from there in his career. Unfortunately, he'll have to do a lot more than shoot free throws to keep his job next year. This is going to be Reggie Miller's job come opening day. Just watch. Miller is an incredible shooter from anywhere out to 35 feet and may win the Three Point contest at next year's All-Star Game. Once he learns to go to his left with control, he'll be as good as or better than Byron Scott. Below are both Scott's and Miller's rookie stats.

Player   Min  FG FGA  FG%  FT% REB AST  TO PPG 
Scott   1637 334 690 .484 .806 164 177 116 10.6
Miller  1840 306 627 .488 .801 190 132 101 10.0 
Scott's rookie floor % was .517.  Miller's was .528.

Eighth Class

Dennis Hopson (New Jersey Nets): Can't get any worse than what he did last year. It's hard to believe he won't at least develop into a Gerald Wilkins, but now he's best compared to Lancaster Gordon, who is playing overseas and likes it there... Hopson has done fairly well in the summer leagues, which may mean he's learned a lot.

Others

Charlotte Hornets: Dick Vitale loved Rex Chapman. Whenever he talked about 'Rex-baby', he sweated a little harder, waved his arms a little more, and cheered a little louder. Vitale loves basketball, especially when he sees someone of Chapman's talents. Vitale is also pretty smart, so he probably picked a winner with Chapman. Chapman may struggle his rookie year, which could give the Hornets' shooting guard spot initially to Dell Curry, a top expansion pick. Curry was a top college draft pick, too, and has disappointed in his two years. He'll score a lot with the Hornets, but not efficiently.

Los Angeles Clippers: No one has the job right now. Maybe Quintin Dailey will earn it. Maybe Reggie Williams will stop making me think that I can play in the NBA (floor %= .391) and take the job. Maybe Gary Grant or Tom Garrick.

Miami Heat: Kevin Edwards, Kevin Williams, and Conner Henry are the likely candidates for the job. Edwards probably has the best future, but may be too raw coming out of DePaul to start immediately. If he comes out smart, he may be on All-Rookie Teams at the end of the season.

Philadelphia 76ers: Hersey Hawkins will be given the job, just as Hopson was given the job in New Jersey. Philly has to hope that Hawkins has a better rookie year than Hopson did.

            Per 48 minutes      Scoring
Player      AST REB   BLK  FG% PPG  Poss  Floor % 
M. Jordan   7.0 6.5  3.75 .535 35.0 1393  .618

C. Drexler  7.3 8.4  3.18 .506 27.0 1085  .579

R. Blackman 4.9 4.6  1.19 .473 18.7  663  .577
D. Ellis    3.4 5.8  1.27 .503 25.8  827  .549
B. Scott    5.3 5.2  2.44 .527 21.7  810  .577

D. Ainge    8.0 4.0  1.83 .491 15.7  639  .558
C. Mullin   6.8 4.8  2.67 .508 20.2  610  .566
R. Pierce   3.6 4.1  1.04 .510 16.4  272  .554
S. Moncrief 6.9 6.1  1.38 .489 10.8  328  .576
R. Theus    8.4 4.2  1.07 .470 21.6  832  .541

M. Adams    8.7 3.9  2.90 .449 13.9  605  .543
W. Davis    6.8 3.9  2.12 .473 17.9  586  .541
J. Dumars   6.8 3.5  1.53 .472 14.2  638  .557
J. Malone   4.3 3.7  0.92 .476 20.5  782  .550
A Robertson 9.0 8.0  3.92 .465 19.6  867  .526

R. Harper   7.4 5.8  3.20 .464 15.4  474  .514
J Hornacek 11.6 5.6  2.29 .506  9.5  522  .551
C. Hodges   5.1 2.6  1.53 .463  9.5  274  .501
G. Wilkins  5.8 4.8  1.60 .446 17.4  691  .496
R. Wittman  7.6 3.4  1.00 .478 10.0  449  .559
D. Smith    4.8 5.5  1.12 .478 12.7  214  .544
M. Woodson  5.2 3.6  2.06 .445 18.0  701  .513

B. Hansen   4.7 5.0  1.74 .517  9.6  361  .544
J. Long     4.1 5.4  1.99 .474 12.8  482  .520

D. Hopson   4.1 5.0  2.00 .404  9.6  290  .449

Basketball Hoopla, 1988, L. Dean Oliver