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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Lucas: Cavs tanked to get LeBron

Former Cavs coach John Lucas claims that the franchise tanked the 2002-03 season to try to get LeBron James.

“They trade all our guys away and we go real young, and the goal was to get LeBron and also to sell the team,” Lucas told AOL FanHouse. “I didn’t have a chance. … You can’t fault the Cavaliers for wanting to get LeBron. It was hard to get free agents to come there.”

The Cavaliers finished the 2002-03 season with a 17-65 record, tied with the Denver Nuggets for the worst record in the NBA. Cleveland won the NBA’s draft lottery and selected James with the No. 1 pick. Lucas was fired midway through that season.

Gordon Gund, who was then the team’s principal owner but is now a minority owner of the Cavs, denied Lucas’ claims. He also told the Web site that the Cavaliers weren’t for sale during that season. The team didn’t get sold until 2005.

“You don’t try to get the No. 1 pick,” Gund told AOL Fanhouse. “That’s why the lottery was designed. To not allow that. We had a young team that we were developing. … We did not tank the season. … To lose to get LeBron James, we would never do that. I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that.

“In the very last game of the season, we had nothing to gain and we were in sole possession of last place [in the NBA]. But we beat [the Toronto Raptors] and that left us tied with Denver [at 17-65]. … The chances of getting the first pick were only [22.5 percent].”

While tanking at the end of the season is rather commonplace in the NBA, tanking an entire season has been, to this point, unheard of. Even the worst franchises would like to make the playoffs for the first half of the season. It’s not until after the All-Star Game that we generally start seeing teams give up trying to win.

Gund has a point about the Cavs winning the final game of the season, but I’d bet that the Cleveland front office was upset after that victory, as it decreased the chances that the team would win the lottery. It’s not like the GM tells the players to lose games. The players go out and try to win. Like Herm Edwards says, “You PLAY to WIN the GAME!” When teams tank, the front office simply puts the team in the worst position to win. They shut down semi-injured stars and they start giving minutes to young players so they can “evaluate what they have.” They don’t go in the locker room and tell the players to lose the game.

Don’t kid yourself, we’re going to see tanking at the end of this season. John Wall is far and away the best prospect in this summer’s draft, and teams that are out of the playoff hunt will be tripping over each other trying to lose to increase the chances that they’ll win the #1 overall pick in the lottery. The lottery is supposed to eliminate tanking, but even though the chances of winning the #1 pick only increase incrementally with every loss, they still increase. There is still incentive to lose, so teams will lose.

For the ’03 Cavs, there was no upside to winning games late in the season. Every loss meant that they were that much closer to getting LeBron. This is why the lottery system is broken.

The only way to fix it is to give every non-playoff team an equal shot at the #1 pick. This is the way that it used to be, and under such a system, a fringe playoff team will sometimes win the lottery. So be it. Why are we so focused on rewarding incompetence?

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