[Ed note: Please welcome Alex Yovanovich as a first-time contributor to 8p9s ... and one who will hopefully be penning more of his thoughts in the weeks and months to come.]
It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room. It’s the NBA’s express elevator ride to winning seasons, consistent play and an excited fan base.
What is it?
It’s not Mark Cuban.
It’s a top-flight point guard, of course.
Think about it. How many Kobe Bryants are out there for the taking? That’s right. Not too many, huh? But point guard is a different story. There are a handful of these characters that can make a big difference. Getting the right one can be worth his weight in gold.
While recent history suggests that having a solid point guard alone does not win you championships, it does tell you that it is often the simplest and quickest way to turn around a bad team. Look at recent examples like what Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Steve Nash did to improve the fortunes of New Orleans, Utah and Phoenix. Going from 50 losses to 50 wins can happen in a big hurry with the right point guard.
Conversely, there is no quicker way to blow up a good team than to foolishly let a good point guard go. Look at Detroit’s quick plunge from their long run of 50-plus-wins-per-year to their abysmal 11-25 record this year. The Bad Boys Part II used to inspire fear. Now they inspire pity.
Think they miss Chauncey Billups? Yeah, me too.
The Pacers have needed a point guard since Mark Jackson left for Toronto following the team’s lone NBA Finals appearance at the end of the 2000 season. Despite some early flashes, Jamaal Tinsley was never the answer. In fact, Tinsley may have been the single most limiting factor to the Pacers playoff fate in 2003-04, the year they raced to a brilliant 61-win regular season and saw it all come crashing down in the Eastern Conference Finals. I am certainly not alone in thinking that if you simply swapped the point guards the Pacers would have dusted off the Pistons in six games instead of the other way around.
As for the most recent attempt to fill the point guard vacancy, all you have to do is watch a few games to see that TJ Ford has no business starting in the NBA. And Coach Jim O’Brien obviously agrees as TJ went from starter to out-of-the-rotation in only 30 games. He’s probably best suited as an instant offense guy off the bench where the coach can judge by his first shot whether to play him his 15 minutes or sit him or the rest of the game. A taller, less-explosive Nate Robinson, perhaps.
Earl Watson is serviceable but little else, and while rookie AJ price has looked good in limited time, I’ll have to see more to believe he the long-term solution that Indiana has been seeking since Mark Jackson.
When you really think about it the Pacers have had two point guards that were difference makers in the entire team history. One was Jackson. The other was Freddie Lewis, who regularly lit up opponents in the Pacers’ ABA glory days. That’s two guys in 43 years!
Kentucky point guard John Wall looks to be the next star NBA point guard in waiting. But it will take the number one overall pick in the next NBA draft to nab Wall. The Pacers are bad, but they are still 8 games ahead of New Jersey with only 46 games to go, and the Nets show no signs of turning things around any time soon. Even if the Pacers were to start dumping players — like trading Troy Murphy to Cleveland for Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ expiring contract — they still probably aren’t bad enough to pass the Nets for the league’s worst record. Unfortunately, even then the top pick is not guaranteed, still hinging on the fate of a fickle ping pong ball.
My guess here is that with Danny Granger back the Pacers will begin to win more often and perhaps even crest the 30-wins plateau, which will leave them once again in no man’s land — not nearly good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly bad enough to get the NBA’s next star point guard.
But let’s say that all the bad karma that has befallen the Pacers since the brawl in Detroit suddenly does an about face and the Pacers get lucky — very lucky. John Wall is the type of point guard that you can build an NBA team around. Suddenly, players like Granger, Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough would likely look like they have clue and become more effective. Add in a veteran player at shooting guard and things could get really exciting in a hurry at Conseco Fieldhouse.
You remember those days, right?
You know, when Mark Jackson would give Reggie Miller a great look at a last second shot. The crowd would hold their breath. The ball would tickle the twine. The crowd would erupt into an absolute frenzy. Those days could happen again — with just a little good fortune.
Now, about replacing that Miller guy…
There aren’t 10 human beings alive that could make the pass Mark makes at 1:32.