If you ever wondered whether the group of small-market owners pushing David Stern so hard during the lockout knew what they were doing, that question was answered last night. The Lakers were dismantling a team that had went 12-2 in playoff series over the last four years, and those owners, through Stern, forced them to stop.
The Lakers were giving away both Odom and Gasol for a 6’0 175 point guard with a history of serious knee problems. Chris Paul is a great player, but point guards do not win championships.
He played about as well as a point guard could in the Hornets first-round series against the Lakers last year, averaging 22 points, 11.5 assists and 6.7 rebounds on 54.5% shooting. His PER in that series was 28.7; for some perspective, there are only two players with higher career PER’s: Michael Jordan (30.9) and Wilt Chamberlain (30.7).
Did it matter? No. The Hornets never had a realistic chance to win that series. When the Lakers got serious in Games 5 and 6, they won by an average of 17 points. New Orleans started a 6’10, 255 center (Emeka Okafor) and a 6’9 240 power forward (David West); Bynum and Gasol combined to shoot 25-for-48 (52%) from the field in the last two games, and there was nothing Paul could do about it.
A Lakers team built around Paul, Kobe and Bynum is pretty vulnerable. What if Bynum gets hurt again? The only other big man on the Lakers roster is 2010 second-round pick Derrick Caracter. A team like the Memphis Grizzlies, with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on the low block, would demolish a Lakers squad built around two ball-dominant guards in that scenario.
Now, with Paul unlikely to be traded, Los Angeles can get back to pursuing the real prize of the off-season: Dwight Howard. They’re still the only team in the NBA who can offer Orlando a young two-way 7’0 like Bynum. A team with Kobe, Gasol and Howard is much better than one with Paul, Kobe and Howard, and a hole at point guard is easier to fill than a hole at power forward.
If the last twenty years have taught us anything, it’s that championship teams do not need great point guard play. Here are the starting point guards for the 20 NBA champions since 1991: John Paxson twice, BJ Armstrong, Kenny Smith twice, Ron Harper three times, Avery Johnson, Derek Fisher three times, Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups, Parker, Jason Williams, Parker, Rajon Rondo, Fisher two more times and a 38-year old Jason Kidd.
The point guard, in many ways, is akin to the wide-receiver in football. No matter how great a wide-out is, without good play from their quarterback and offensive line, there isn’t much they can do to affect a game. Randy Moss could only watch futilely when the New York Giants defensive line prevented Tom Brady from having time in the pocket in Super Bowl 42, just as Paul could only watch helplessly as Gasol and Bynum abused his big men last year.
While a great point guard will make his teammates better on offense, the only way Paul was making West and Okafor better on defense was with a bag of beans from Jack’s magic bean-stalk that would make them taller. In contrast, a great big man makes his teammates better on both sides of the ball, as he can command double teams on offense and contain dribble penetration on defense.
That’s why there was no real need for the New York Knicks to add Paul. Paul value comes from his ability to create easy shots for his teammates, but Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire don’t need anyone creating shots for them. They can do that themselves; that’s why they are both perennial All-Stars.
Amar'e did just fine without Steve Nash in New York City. When Nash was winning two MVP’s in Phoenix, everyone wanted to act like Amar'e was “Nash’s creation”, like Nash was responsible for the fact that Amare was a 6’10 245 forward with a lightning-quick first step and a wet jumper. Without Nash, Amare averaged 25.3 points on 50.2% shooting from the field, more than good enough for the primary offensive option on a championship-team.
In contrast, by making up for their mistakes defensively, in the same way that he did for Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry in Dallas, Tyson Chandler will make Amare and Carmelo far better players than Paul could. It really doesn’t matter who the Knicks play in the back-court: all their guards need to do is dribble up the court, pass the ball to one of their All-Stars and then stand in a corner and knock down open 3-pointers. Toney Douglas, Bill Walker, Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert can manage that.
By leaving Dallas and going to New York City, Chandler swung the balance of power in the NBA, removing the Mavericks from title contention while giving the Knicks a legitimate chance at one. In contrast, Chris Paul’s Hornets aren’t going anywhere, and unless Deron Williams gets a center, neither are the Nets.
The road to an NBA championship goes through the middle of the paint, which is why the veto of a trade that would exchange two of the best 6’10+ players in the NBA for a 6’0 point guard was the best thing that could have happened to the Lakers. Instead of being angry at David Stern, fans of the Lakers should be sending him flowers.