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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Lakers beat Suns in 3OT

There was a wild one late last night in Los Angeles. Check out the highlights:

The loss puts the Suns at 35-34, three games behind Memphis for the #8 seed in the West, but they’re just two games behind the Grizzlies in the loss column. Unfortunately, the Suns don’t face the Grizzlies down the stretch, so it will be tough to catch them. It looks like Steve Nash and Co. will miss the playoffs this year.

Five trades that should happen (but won’t)

Phoenix Suns Steve Nash stands next to head coach Alvin Gentry in the second half against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City on January 17, 2011. The Suns defeated the Knicks 129-121. UPI/John Angelillo

GMs around the league were worried that there wouldn’t be much action leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline, but once the Carmelo Anthony trade went down, there has been a flurry of activity highlighted by the Nets’ acquisition of Deron Williams.

Here are five more trades that should happen, but probably won’t. They generally include one older player on a bad team that isn’t going anywhere.

Click on each trade’s headline to see it in the ESPN Trade Machine.

1. Steve Nash to Atlanta for Jamal Crawford and two first round picks
Free Steve Nash! The Hawks aren’t the ideal destination for Nash, but the Hawks really need a floor leader and the team has the defensive frontcourt (Josh Smith, Al Horford) to make up for Nash’s weakness on that end of the court. Smith and Horford would work well in Nash’s patented screen-and-roll and he would take the pressure off of Joe Johnson to create as the shot clock is winding down. The Suns aren’t going to get much out of this deal other than cap relief (Crawford’s deal is expiring) and a couple of first round picks, but Nash is 37 years old and deserves to play in the postseason. The Suns aren’t going anywhere anyway.

2. Rip Hamilton to Chicago for Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer
Rip can still play. He’s averaging 13.3 points per game and his shooting 40%+ from 3PT even though his minutes are sporadic. He works hard on defense and has kept himself in great shape throughout his career, so he should be able to contribute for the remainder of his contract. His spot up jumper would be a nice fit alongside Derrick Rose in the Chicago backcourt. The Pistons would be rid of the headache of keeping Rip on the roster without playing him and would get a couple of youngish wings in Korver and Brewer that could actually contribute.

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Three sensible trade offers for Steve Nash

Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash drives down the court chased by New York Knicks center Amar’e Stoudemire (1) in the fourth quarter of their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden in New York January 17, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

ESPN’s Chad Ford lists the 10 impact players most likely to be moved before the Feb. 24 NBA trade deadline and believe it or not, #10 on his list is Steve Nash.

The Suns have said all along that Nash is still the core of the franchise, but at 22-24, the Suns are a long way from contending for a championship. Heck, they may not even make the playoffs this season. The soon-to-be 37-year-old is still playing at a high level, so he could help a team in need of a good point guard.

So here are a few reasonable offers that might get the Suns to bite.

1. Los Angeles Lakers
The chances that the Suns would trade Nash to the Lakers are pretty slim. No one in the West really wants to help Kobe try to three-peat, but the Lakers aren’t playing very well and they have a big piece that the Suns might be interested in.

There’s a saying — don’t trade big for small — but the Lakers aren’t getting great play out of their point guard position and Nash’s shooting would be a great fit next to Kobe in the Laker backcourt. However, Nash’s propensity to dribble around until he finds the open man would take the ball out of Kobe’s hands, and that may not go over very well (or fit within the Lakers’ triangle offense). The trade would leave the Lakers very thin on the front line, and with the way that the Celtics are playing, it’s doubtful that they’re going to want to part ways with Bynum. But they’re not playing very good baskeball right now and the roster could use a shakeup. Perhaps Robin Lopez could be included to maintain the Lakers’ frontcourt depth.

For the Suns, Bynum could be a franchise cornerstone if he can just stay healthy. I have my doubts about his knees, but if the Phoenix doctors take a look at him and think that the worst is behind him, he may be worth the risk.

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