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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ECF Game 5: We have a series

Man, between the Suns’ tying up the Lakers in the West and the Magic’s two-game winning streak in the East, the playoffs just got a whole lot more interesting.

A series of injuries to the Celtics’ bigs along with some timely buckets from Rashard Lewis (9 points in the fourth quarter) and Jameer Nelson (24-5-5) led to a decisive 113-92 win for the Magic in Game 5.

Dwight Howard posted 21-10 while J.J. Redick continued his fine play off the bench, scoring 14 points and hitting 2-of-3 threes.

Now the pressure shifts back to the Celtics, who need to close out the Magic in Game 6 or else they’ll have to try to avoid being the first team to lose a series after leading 3-0 by winning Game 7 on the Magic’s home floor.

Jeff Van Gundy didn’t think that the C’s would feel pressured since they have so much experience, but he shouldn’t underestimate the “making bad history” aspect of this scenario. No team wants to be the first in league history to suffer a collapse of this magnitude, and given the collapse of the Boston Bruins, it will definitely be on the C’s collective psyche.

Complicating matters, the Celtics will be a little unsure of the availability of certain players for Game 6. Kendrick Perkins faces suspension unless one of his technicals is rescinded (which is likely to happen) and Glen Davis may not be able to play due to a concussion he suffered in Game 5. Rasheed Wallace also left Game 5 with back spasms, so the C’s could be very thin on the front line.

If they expect to close out the series, the Celtics need better play from Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, who combined to shoot 8-for-25 from the field for just 19 points in Game 5.

ECF Game 2: Celtics take 2-0 lead

Celtics 95, Magic 92

Well, we can pretty much stick a fork in the Magic. When a team loses the first two games of the series at home, they aren’t coming back. They’re just not. It doesn’t happen. Well, maybe it’s happened once or twice, I don’t know. (Update: Teams that win the first two games on the road have won the series 22 of 25 times, per John Hollinger.) It would take a miracle…or maybe an injury.

So barring that, the Magic have to be left wondering what happened. They cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs, winning eight straight games, and ran into a brick wall in the form of the Boston Celtics. The difference in this series is that the C’s are simply a lot better than the Bobcats and Hawks. In fact, I think you could combine the rosters for the Bobcats and Hawks and Boston would still beat them in a seven-game series. That’s how good the Celtics are playing now.

Ray Allen lit it up in Game 1, but was quiet in Game 2. Paul Pierce picked up the slack, posting 28-5-5. Kevin Garnett (10-9) struggled shooting the ball once again, but there was Rajon Rondo with a timely 25-5-8. Quick — name five point guards that are better than Rondo right now. I bet you can’t.

Dwight Howard (30-8) played a lot better in Game 2, and even hit his free throws (12-of-17), but the rest of the Magic shot just 19-of-58 (33%) from the field for 62 points. Jameer Nelson (4-of-12), Vince Carter (5-of-15) and Rashard Lewis (2-of-6), who combined to make $42 million this season, shot a collective 11-of-33 from the field. At home.

I’ll wait until the Magic actually lose the series before I write their offseason piece, but at this point the entire region of Central Florida has to be regretting that Vince Carter move. In the final period, Carter went 2-of-5, turned the ball over once, and missed back-to-back free throws with 0:32 to play that would have cut Boston’s lead to one. Luckily for Otis Smith, Hedo Turkoglu’s play fell off a cliff in Toronto, so it’s not like Smith’s detractors can point to Turk as a no-brainer re-signing.

As for Boston, what has spearheaded this rejuvenation? To me, it’s a combination of several factors: 1) Rondo is now a Top 5 point guard, so it’s the Big 4 instead of the Big 3, and at least two are showing up every night, 2) Garnett’s knee looks a lot better, 3) they’re playing arguably the best defense in the league, and 4) someone on the bench — Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace or Glen Davis — seems to show up every game with an unexpected 8-15 points.

The Celtics are also made up of consummate professionals, so even though they have their ring, they’re going out every night and laying it on the line.

With the way both teams are playing, there’s a good chance we’re going to see a matchup of the last two Finals winners (Lakers, Celtics) and a rematch of the 2008 Finals.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Magic players say that Nelson will play

GM Otis Smith and Jameer Nelson have tempered their optimism publicly, but the Orlando Magic players seem to think that Nelson will play in the Finals.

Nelson participated in a full team practice Tuesday for the first time since tearing the labrum in his right shoulder Feb. 2. While Nelson and coach Stan Van Gundy still said the point guard’s status won’t be determined until game day, players said Nelson looked “terrific” and expect him to be on the court against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“It’s still no in my mind,” Smith said. “There’s a very smidgen of a chance he can play.”

That “smidgen” seems to be growing.

Nelson has been playing full-court games and practicing in non-contact drills for the last two weeks. Tuesday, he participated in every drill.

Players said Nelson wasn’t in his All-Star form, but even not completely healthy, he was better than most NBA point guards.

If Nelson can come back at 85-90%, it would be a big boost for the Magic. Rafer Alston has been great at times, but he had some brutal games shooting the ball against the Cavs. He went 1 for 7 in Game 2 and 1 for 10 in Game 5, which were both losses for the Magic. In Orlando’s four wins, he averaged 17.0 points and shot 25 of 56 (45%) from the field.

Magic may activate Jameer Nelson for Finals

One thing that has been especially amazing about Orlando’s postseason run is that they’ve done it all without their All-Star guard, Jameer Nelson. According to a report from the Orlando Sentinel, the Magic are considering the possibility of activating Nelson for the Finals.

General Manager Otis Smith told the Sentinel on Sunday that Nelson would only play if he passes “a litany of tests” and the club is comfortable with a decision that won’t risk his future.

Nelson has not played since tearing the labrum in his right shoulder on Feb. 3 against the Dallas Mavericks. He underwent what was believed to be season-ending surgery on Feb. 19, but his rehabilitation is dramatically ahead of schedule, as much as two months.

Smith said Nelson had an MRI as recently as last week and has participated in contact drills.

“It’s up in the air. We’ll see how Jameer looks the next few days,” Smith said. “There’s a few more things we have to get comfortable with. We’re looking at the pros and cons. Doctors will have to talk to doctors. If we’re at a place where Jameer can help us accomplish our goals, then maybe he can play and give us some more punch.

“There’s a litany of tests he’ll have to pass. His health is the main thing. We’re not going to mortgage his future.”

The Magic went 2-0 versus the Lakers this season and in those two games, Nelson averaged 27.5 points (on 59% shooting), 6.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds, so getting him back would be a big boost for the franchise. I wouldn’t expect him to be very sharp after sitting out so long, but he could give the Magic some key minutes in certain situations. Besides, if he can shoot the ball, he can help.

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