Don't Panic, Rookie Point Guards Take Time

Don't Panic, Rookie Point Guards Take Time

Don't Panic, Rookie Point Guards Take Time

Congratulations! Your franchise and favorite team is now the proud owner of a new point guard.

Now let us warn you about some of the early side effects you may have with this new asset. First, the player might struggle to adjust to the speed of the game. This takes time, and honestly, might take a season or two before you start to see increased comfort or confidence within the player. Another thing to warn about? Shot selection. Sure, your point guard was a dominant scorer at the collegiate level, but now he may force the issue of trying to produce "respectable" numbers.

Some might argue this point but I am here to prove you wrong. Point Guard is the most difficult position to transition to in the NBA. There are so many aspects of the game that are challenging but for Point Guards, it's a whole new ballgame. The speed is the most obvious change. Defenders are bigger, faster, and getting by on just athleticism alone won't cut it anymore. Information travels faster. You need to be able to read defenses faster, adjust to game plans on the fly and your decision-making window with the ball just got that much shorter.

It's one of the true positions in the league that you can see once the players grow and finally begin to relax. A perfect recent example of a player like this as of now is Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox. In case you forgot, Fox was the 5th overall pick in last years NBA Draft. If you watched Fox at Kentucky you noticed one thing which was his elite speed. He's a sports car, often faster than anyone else in the open court. He's great at changing gears and using his explosiveness to get by defenders. But Fox struggled his first year and since Fox was a top 5 pick, NBA fans like to overreact and wonder "is this kid a bust?"

Take a look now at where Fox is after his second season. The light came on this year and you can see how the game has slowed down finally. Fox was brilliant for the Kings in his second season. He is going to be in the conversation for the Most Improved Player award and he looks to be a rising star in this league. Let's take a look at the difference between his rookie season and sophomore campaign. 

De'Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings

(5th overall pick in 2017 NBA Draft)

De'Aaron Fox

  PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 3P%
Rookie Season 11.6 2.8 4.4 1.0 41.2% 30.7%
2018-19 17.3 3.8 7.3 1.6 45.8% 37.1%

The game just "clicks" at different times for young developing point guards. A lot of us expect these high draft picks to come in and be able to dominate immediately especially with the ball in their hands so often. But the truth is that is beyond rare for elite point guards. If we dive a little deeper into this topic, you'll see that some of the top point guards in the NBA today, also shared their fair amount of struggle early in their development.

 

Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder

(4th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft)

 

Russell Westbrook

  MPG PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 3P%
Rookie Season (08-09) 32.5 15.3 4.9 5.3 1.3 39.8% 27.1%
"The Jump" 3rd Season 34.3 21.9 4.6 8.2 1.9 44.2% 33.0%

Westbrook is a good example to look at here. A lot of you might go "hey but Russell put up good numbers in his first year!" True, I'll give you that. BUT, when did his production spike? See as I said before, it takes young guards a couple of years to fully get comfortable within themselves and their ability at this next level. If we take a look at Westbrook's numbers over his 11-year career, we will notice his "jump" took place in his 3rd year with the Thunder.

If you look at Westbrook's numbers his first two seasons in the NBA you can say that he was a productive young guard, absolutely. But the focus of this article is we are looking at the "Jump." I'm looking for when the player finally took his leap forward in his career and took off running. Since Westbrook's 3rd season in the league, he's averaged above 21 points per game each season. It's a common theme you'll realize with most young guards, they need time to master their craft.

 

Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors

(7th Pick Overall in the 2009 NBA Draft)

Steph Curry

One of the most interesting players we can discuss here. Curry had a rough beginning to his career. Yes, before you try to point fingers at me I am WELL aware of his injury problems to start his career. Remember those times? There was doubt to whether Curry was going to be labeled as injury prone throughout his career as he couldn't figure out his ankle issue. Looking at the numbers again, we can see a spark over time in Steph's development. If you don't remember, Curry had success immediately for the Golden State Warriors organization. In fact, Curry finished his rookie year with 43 1st place votes for the NBA Rookie of the Year. Curry finished 2nd overall in the voting process, behind once then Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans (63 first place votes). Evans, for those wondering, finished up the year averaging 20.1 PPG, 5.3 REB, and 5.8 AST.

So where was the "jump" for Steph? When did he start to transform into this Greek god of shooting from half court on a regular basis? Well, Steph's injury year was his 3rd year in the league in 2011, where he only managed to play 26 games. But...look at an important number his following year.

  GAMES MPG PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 3PM 3PA 3P%
Rookie      80  36.2 17.5   4.5   5.9   1.9 46.2%   2.1  3.8 43.7%
3rd Season (11-12) *Injured      26  28.2 14.7   3.4   5.9   1.5 49.0%   2.1  4.7 45.5%
"THE JUMP" 4th Season      78  38.2 22.9   4.0   6.9   1.6 45.1%   3.5  7.7 45.3%


The most fascinating statistic we can look at when focusing on Curry's development over his young career is the three-point attempts per game. Curry's attempts from downtown were almost identical to his first 3 years in the league. It wasn't until the 2012 season in which we saw a spike in his attempts per game at 7.7. Again yes, I understand that Steph only played 26 games the year before, but from the sample of that season we can see the 2012 season, or his 4th season in the league, is where the light finally started to come on for Steph. In fact, if we throw out the injury-filled season, 2012 was Steph's best shooting season from downtown. He shot 45.4 % in 2015 which is his best to date. 

 

Gary Payton, PG, Seattle Supersonics

(2nd overall pick in 1990 NBA Draft)

Yes, I'm about to take you on an old-school journey. In the words of Coolio..."Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage."

Gary Payton

 

We are about to go back and look at a couple Hall of Fame Point Guards as well in the next couple paragraphs. Our first stop is Gary Payton. "The Glove" as known by opposing ball handlers, spent 18 years in the NBA. But it wasn't always easy for GP. In fact, like with earlier names in this article, it took Payton a while to hit the ground running.

  GAMES MPG PPG RPG APG SPG FG%
Rookie Season (90-91)     82  27.4   7.2   3.0  6.4  2.0  45.0%
4th Season (93-94) *1st All-Star Appearance     82  35.1 16.5   3.3  6.0  2.3  50.4%
"The Jump" 5th Season (94-95)     82  36.8 20.6   3.4  7.1  2.5  50.9%

As you can see from the numbers above, GP didn't make his mark until his 4th year in the league. Now it's easy to argue with me and say "hey GP made the all-star team his 4th year...how is that not the jump?" Well, take a look at the increased production across the board with GP's 5th season for the Sonics. It was his first year that he averaged more than 20 points per game. Look at the notable categories here. Yes, Payton's MPG goes up each year, but not too drastically. After just one All-Star appearance, Payton jumped from his PPG by +4.1, while all other categories saw some sort of spike in production.

 

Steve Nash, PG, Phoenix Suns

(15th overall pick in 1996 NBA Draft)

Steve Nash

 

  MPG PPG RPG APG SPG FG% 2P%
Rookie Season (96-97) 10.5 3.3 1.0 2.1 0.3 42.3% 42.5%
2nd Season 21.9 9.1 1.7 3.4 0.8 45.9% 48.1%
1st All-Star (w/Dallas) (01-02) 34.6 17.9 3.1 7.7 0.6 48.3% 49.5%
"The Jump" (w/Phoenix) (04-05) 34.3 15.5 3.3 11.5 1.0 50.2% 52.6%

Now Nash could be one of the most debated players on here when it comes to "The Jump." It's because of a wide variety of how Nash' production jumped in different categories. Unlike the other players I talked about earlier, I wanted to look at 4 years of Nash's career. His first two in Phoenix show the slow progress of a young developing Point-Guard that was adapting to the physicality and speed of the NBA.

Nash wasn't getting a lot of playing time in his first two years with Phoenix, which is understandable with a young guard, but ended up finding himself in Dallas after a trade. That's where the light started to come on for Steve, and as you can see above it's the team that started to create what Steve Nash became today. Playing with the Mavericks lead to Nash's first All-Star appearance and we can see the numbers above. But remember I'm looking for "The Jump." When did Nash take his game to a whole nother level?

Some could argue a variety of different seasons in Phoenix or even Dallas served as better years to say Nash's play took off, but I love looking at the 2004-2005 season. His points per game went down but look at the increase in his other numbers. Nash went up to 11.5 assists per game and his shooting percentage was at 50.2%. Nash also ended up this year with a PER of 22.0 which ended up being one of the top 5 PER's of his career. This was before Nash won the MVP in 2005-06. 


There's a list of point guards you can go back and look and see the same results. So why do we panic so early and want to determine young guards with the "Bust" label? That's the funny thing about the game of basketball, usually, it rewards patience. 

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