On The NBA's Most Complete Point Guard
While his free agency decision dominated headlines over the last week, Deron Williams has spent the last two seasons mostly under the radar. Despite being the NBA’s most complete point guard, five different peers at the position -- Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo -- made the All-NBA teams ahead of him during the prime of his career.
An athletic 6’3, 205 guard with a 6’6 wingspan, Williams is a five-tool guard with no holes in his game. His combination of size, skill and athleticism allows him to affect a game in more ways than any of his contemporaries.
Rondo is a perennial All-Defensive team selection, but his inconsistent perimeter shot has always been his Achilles heel. He hit some huge jumpers in the 2012 playoffs, but teams were still playing 2-3 feet off of him and daring him to shoot. That forces the Boston Celtics into all sorts of line-up contortions to maintain their floor spacing with Rondo at the point.
It’s no coincidence Rondo had his best post-season when surrounded by four knock-down shooters (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Brandon Bass). Rondo has played his entire career with three future Hall of Famers; Carlos Boozer is the best teammate Williams ever played with.
Parker and Westbrook are deadly mid-range jump shooters, but neither has Williams’ range from deep. Despite playing on two of the NBA’s most potent offenses, Parker (23%) and Westbrook (31%) couldn’t consistently knock down wide-open 3-point shots. Both need the ball in their hands to be effective; Williams’ ability to space the floor (career 35% shooter) would be deadly next to Kevin Durant or Tim Duncan.
Rose is the only one of the six to win an MVP, but that award had as much to do with the team the Chicago Bulls built around him. His explosive scoring ability gave Chicago just enough offense to play waves of one-dimensional defensive specialists around him, resembling Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers teams of the early 2000’s.
However, in the 2011 Conference Finals, when Rose ran into a player (LeBron James) who could suffocate him defensively all over the court, he didn’t have a Plan B. He’s a good playmaker, as his career assist-to-turnover ratio (6.8 to 2.9) indicates, but he’s not quite on Williams or Paul’s level when it comes to dissecting defenses and creating easy shots for teammates. If LeBron switched on Williams in a seven-game playoff series, Williams’ team could run an endless barrage of pick-and-rolls and attack the ensuing defensive switches.
Williams has been compared to Paul, meanwhile, since they were selected back-to-back in the 2005 draft. Paul has received more individual honors and Williams has advanced further in the playoffs (making the 2007 WCF with Utah), but their individual statistics are remarkably similar. In his first seven seasons, Williams averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists on 3.2 turnovers on 45.5% shooting; Paul averaged 18.8 points and 9.5 assists on 2.5 turnovers on 47.2% shooting.
Paul’s mastery of the mid-range game gives him a slight edge in terms of overall offensive efficiency, and his high steals average has given him an edge in terms of advanced statistics. But while both have too much offensive responsibility to be lock-down defenders, in my mind, Williams’ defensive versatility makes him the more valuable player.
At 6’0, 175, Paul is one of the smallest PG’s in the NBA. As a result, his teams have a natural ceiling in terms of how many minutes similar pint-sized guards (Darren Collison in New Orleans, Eric Bledsoe in Los Angelees) can be on the floor. Williams, on the other hand, has the size to slide over to shooting guard full-time, and he would have formed a dynamic backcourt tandem with either Collison or Bledsoe.
But while point guards has become the league’s glamour position, there’s only so much even the league’s best at the position can do to lift their teams into playoff contention. As Williams and Steve Nash have found out in the last two seasons, a Hall of Fame PG on a team without any dynamic frontcourt players doesn’t even guarantee a playoff berth.
NBA championships are won and lost at the front of the rim, the domain of giants, not 6’4 and under guards. The league is becoming more perimeter-oriented, but the new era is going to be defined by inside/outside 6’9 forwards like LeBron and Durant, not Williams and Paul or any of the next generation of PG’s (Westbrook, Rose, John Wall, Kyrie Irving).
And just as Paul’s championship hopes with the Clippers depend on the development of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, Williams ability to compete at the highest level will depend on who is in his frontcourt. A Brooklyn team with Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Mirza Teletovic cannot offer him the defensive anchor necessary to win a ring. Without any more cap room after re-signing Williams, the only way the Nets are competing for a title in the next five years is if LeBron decides to play baseball.
That’s why, no matter where the league’s best PG chose to sign, Dwight Howard is still the biggest domino on the board and the only player capable of shifting the balance of power away from a potential dynasty on South Beach.