What kind of point guard WAS he?

My post from a few days ago was relatively well-received at reddit, and one of the readers there said that he’d like to see the same graph for some of the all-time great point guards.

So with a little help from Basketball-Reference.com, I compiled a list of (all?) the Hall of Fame point guards: Oscar Robertson, Lenny Wilkens, Bob Cousy, Jerry West, John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Tiny Archibald, Calvin Murphy, Pete Maravich and Walt Frazier. Unfortunately, the NBA didn’t start keeping track of turnovers until the 1977-78 season, so there’s no assist-to-turnover data for the first four (Robertson, Wilkens, Cousy, West) and the data for Archibald, Murphy, Maravich and Frazier is incomplete, so I could only use their post-1977 numbers.

I also compiled a list of the top non-HOF point guards who are both retired and still active: Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash, Gary Payton, Rod Strickland, Maurice Cheeks, Terry Porter, Tim Hardaway, Andre Miller, Muggsy Bogues, Kevin Johnson, Derek Harper, Stephon Marbury (yes, Stephon Marbury), John Lucas, Norm Nixon, Mookie Blaylock, Sam Cassell, Avery Johnson, Baron Davis, Nick Van Exel, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and Mike Bibby. All of these players have at least 5,400 career assists, which seemed to be the cutoff for players I was interested in using for this study.

Lastly, I added seven of the top current point guards who have yet to break the 5,400-assist barrier: Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and of course, Chris Paul.

I first tackled this subject two years ago, and settled on the shot-to-assist ratio to determine whether a player is “pass-first” or “shoot-first.” The higher the number, the more of a “shoot-first” player he is. To determine whether or not a player is “turnover-prone,” I calculated each player’s assist-to-turnover ratio. The higher the number, the better the player is at taking care of the ball, relative to what he’s asked to do as a playmaker for his team. The graph takes a gentle downward slope because assists are part of both calculations. (Note: While I do like FGA/A as the criteria for shoot-first/pass-first, I am not completely sold on A/TO as the criteria for turnover-prone. Perhaps (A+FGA)/TO would show shoot-first guards in a better light? Maybe I’ll try that next year.)

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What kind of point guard is he?

The Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose shoots a free throw while playing the San Antonio Spurs during the fourth quarter of their NBA game in Chicago February 17, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

We hear it all the time. NBA analysts call one point guard “pass-first” and another “shoot-first.” Or they say one guy is “turnover-prone” while another “takes care of the ball.” But really, what makes a player a “pass-first” point guard? How carefree must he be with the ball to be considered “turnover-prone”?

I first tackled this subject two years ago, and settled on the shot-to-assist ratio to determine whether a player is “pass-first” or “shoot-first.” The higher the number, the more of a “shoot-first” player he is. To determine whether or not a player is “turnover-prone,” I calculated each player’s assist-to-turnover ratio. The higher the number, the better the player is at taking care of the ball.

I narrowed the list of players to 33, one for each team plus a few extra for teams like Cleveland, Sacramento and Denver, who have a couple of players manning the position. I also added eight prospects (indicated in green) just to see where a few of the younger guys land. Here’s the graph — it’s small, but if you click it, you’ll get to a bigger version:

So the pass-first/shoot-first aspect goes left to right, and the turnover-prone players will be towards the bottom, while the guys that take really good care of the ball will be up top. Players indicated with a blue diamond are in the Top 10 in this group in Efficiency Per Minute. I set the axis for each category at the average of the 33 players in question, so 1.97 for FGA-to-assist and 2.70 assist-to-turnover.

Two years ago when I conducted this study, seven of the top 10 EPM performers were in the top left quadrant (pass-first, takes care of the ball). This year, only five of the top 11 (I included both Rondo and Calderon, since they tied for #11) are in that quadrant. This is due to the emergence of three shoot-first, (fairly) turnover-prone guards who are emerging as stars: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry.

A few takeaways:

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Nets appear to be closing in on Carmelo

Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony (L) moves against the New York Knicks guard/forward Landry Fields during the first quarter at the Pepsi Center in Denver on November 16, 2010. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Per ESPN…

As of late Sunday night, sources said, New Jersey was poised to receive [Carmelo] Anthony, [Chauncey] Billups and [Rip] Hamilton, with Denver landing two future first-round picks and six players. The Nuggets’ haul would feature Nets rookie Derrick Favors, former All-Star guard Devin Harris and Nets sharpshooter Anthony Morrow. In addition, the Nuggets would bring in the New Jersey threesome of Quinton Ross, Ben Uzoh and Stephen Graham included for salary-cap purposes.

Detroit, meanwhile, was to receive Nets big man Johan Petro and the expiring contract of Nets forward Troy Murphy, with the Pistons motivated to join in by the $17-plus million in long-term savings they’d earn by shedding Hamilton’s contract.

Denver threw a wrench into the works by choosing to play Anthony and Billups in Sunday night’s game against New Orleans. Generally, if a player is about to be traded, the team sits him down until the deal is consummated to avoid a deal-killing injury. The Nuggets’ move indicates that the trade is not as close to the finish line as some would like to believe.

If this deal does go through, it looks fairly equitable from all sides. The Nets get their man, and they also upgrade (in the short term) at point guard. Billups is getting on in years so one wonders if the inclusion of Harris was at the Nuggets’ request. Denver would get a young prospect at power forward (Favors) and a proven guard (Harris) whom they can plug in at the point or move to another team for another piece to the rebuilding puzzle. I suspect that Ty Lawson is the future at point guard in Denver, and Harris could potentially bring in more talent later. After what happened to the Raptors and Cavs this summer, getting Favors and Harris for Anthony and Billups isn’t a bad haul. I’m sure there will be a first round draft pick or two included as well.

If anyone is wondering why Carmelo has apparently become agreeable to signing an extension with the Nets, it’s probably due to the Knicks’ inability to offer the Nuggets something equitable. If Melo finishes the season as a Nugget, the uncertainty of the next collective bargaining agreement could mean that Anthony would leave a lot of money on the table by passing on the Nuggets’ extension offer. In other words, he’d like to lock up his contract now, and since the Nets and Nuggets have worked out a deal in principle, Carmelo can start counting his money. Certainly the prospect of continuing his career with Billups in New Jersey/Brooklyn also has to help.

If this deal does go through as described, the Nets could have a starting lineup of Billups, Hamilton, Anthony, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez. That might be enough to turn the Nets into a playoff team despite the 10-27 start. After all, they’re only five games out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the East.

Melo to test free agency next summer?

Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony fouls out against the Utah Jazz during the fourth quarter of the first round playoffs game two at the Pepsi Center on April 19, 2010 in Denver. Utah beat Denver 114-111 to even the series at 1-1.  UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom

Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD reported this yesterday…

Sources close to the situation don’t expect Carmelo Anthony to sign an extension with the Denver Nuggets this summer.

Anthony is leaning towards testing free agency next offseason, said sources on the same day that the Nuggets let go of Warkentien, Chapman.

Sources say that Carmelo isn’t too worried about next season’s potential lockout and he wants to explore his options next summer.

The Nuggets have been pretty good the last few years, but pretty good doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. It’s possible that Anthony saw what LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did this summer and wants to form a ‘Super Friends’ of his own, potentially hooking up with Amare Stoudemire and Chris Paul in New York. Paul said as much in his toast at Anthony’s wedding a few weeks ago.

With an aging Chauncey Billups as Melo’s sidekick, the Nuggets don’t appear to be on the verge of challenging for a title. If they were serious about contending, they wouldn’t have given Marcus Camby away two summers ago. They did, however, sign 30-year-old Al Harrington to a mid-level deal this summer, which was a curious addition seeing as he’s something of a poor man’s Melo.

While the Nuggets have a couple of expiring salaries — Kenyon Martin ($16.5 M), J.R. Smith ($6.8 M) — they won’t have enough cap space next summer to re-sign Anthony and add another big-name free agent. Their best bet is to try to acquire a good player by dangling Martin’s expiring contract. Perhaps the Sixers would want to unload Andre Iguodala, whose defense and slashing ability would fit well with Melo and Billups.

The bottom line is that if Anthony ends up ‘testing’ free agency, he’s probably leaving. In all likelihood, if he doesn’t sign the extension, the Nuggets have until the February trade deadline to reshape the roster enough to convince him to stay.

Why won’t the Nuggets run more pick-and-roll?

Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop brought up an interesting statistic regarding the struggling Nuggets:

According to Synergy Sports, the Nuggets have choreographed a pick-and-roll — then hit the roll man — 17 times in this series. The results:

* Nine made baskets
* Six trips to the free throw line
* Two missed shot attempts

That’s an 88.2 percent success rate.

Those 17 possessions in sequence is an impressive reel of video. Ball-handlers/passers include Billups, Anthony, Ty Lawson and J.R. Smith. All the Nuggets bigs are represented among the roll men. Whatever the scenario, the Nuggets score on 15 of the 17 opportunities, which leaves you with one question:

Why are the Nuggets running this action only four times per game?

When asked why his team isn’t running what seems to be working, interim head coach Adrian Dantley had this to say:

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