NBA Position Battles: Which Young Point Guards Are Pushing for Starting Roles?
With another full week of play behind us, you would think that we'd have less position battles and situations to sift through. But, my oh my, was I ever wrong about that.
While some questions have been answered, others have gotten more complicated. To boot, other predicaments have come to the forefront, providing us with a whole new batch of situations to try to make sense of.
Because of that, we won't do much in the way of reexamining last week's situations. Instead, we'll tackle the latest developments in hopes of solving -- or at least clarifying -- a few more cases of teammate-versus-teammate harm.
Without further ado, let's get to it.
At 23 years old, Kris Dunn isn't the youngest of NBA floor generals. However, he is younger than the 25-year-old Jerian Grant, who has served as the Chicago Bulls' starting point guard for all 10 games this season. But that might change.
Since Dunn returned to health and made his Bulls debut on October 28th, he's been outplaying Grant for the majority of six games. He's logged 25.4 minutes to Grant's 24 and has been much better on a 100-possession basis.
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Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg's recent comments suggest that Dunn's turnovers issues are the only thing holding him back from starting. To be honest, there's not much else it could be. Dunn's 21% turnover rate looks terrible next to Grant's 4.7% clip (over the last six), but the former is also outproducing the latter in points, rebounds and steals per game. And, if Friday's 16-point performance is any indication, Dunn is one step away from taking over in Chicago.
In Sacramento, it's De'Aaron Fox's time, and everyone -- including head coach Dave Joerger -- knows it. So far this season, Fox has played 61 more minutes than the veteran George Hill, who has (to put it nicely) played like garbage. Through nine games, Hill is averaging a career-low 10.7 points per-36 minutes on just 7.1 attempts and 40.6% shooting.
As for Fox, he has his own faults. He's averaging more turnovers than Hill is, but that's expected. Where the real issue lies is in his shooting, because at 18.8% from deep, Fox hasn't shown that he can threaten defenses with a long-range jumper. But the upside is certainly there.
Fox isn't even 20 years old yet, and he's already averaging 16.4 points, 7.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds per 36 minutes. And did I mention he has ice in his veins? If you're the rebuilding Kings, there's no reason the young gun shouldn't be starting on a nightly basis.
New York Knicks
In New York, they have their own promising 19-year-old point man -- and no his name isn't Jarrett Jack (34 years old) or Ramon Sessions (31). His name is Frank Ntilikina, otherwise known as Frankie Smokes.
To start the year, it was a lot of injuries and limitations for the overseas phenom. Nowadays, though, he's seeing upwards of 25 minutes on any given night. But, I think I speak for all NBA fans when I say we need more!
Since he really got into the swing of things about two weeks ago, Ntilikina has shown the flashes that made him a top-10 pick. He's put up at least 5 assists in five of eight games while averaging 5.3 points, 5.5 assists and 1.8 steals across 21.4 minutes a night. And, in case you're wondering what that would equate to over 36 minutes, it's 8.8 points, 9.2 dimes and 2.9 steals.
Like other rookie point guards, Nitilikina has his fair share of turnovers (4.0 per 36), but there's certainly a tradeoff as it pertains to Jack's (7.6 assists per 36) and Sessions' (5.9) playmaking and ball security. While the Knicks may want to win more than a few games this season, the endgame is clear. The approach isn't, though.
As the apparent cornerstones of the franchise's future, Ntilikina and Kristaps Porzingis need to build chemistry if the Knicks' plan is for them to be a potent pick-and-roll punch. Per NBA.com, the two have played just 54 total minutes together in the eight games in which they've both played. The team has a 37.0 net rating in that small sample size. It's time for coach Jeff Hornacek to let the kids play.
It's only been one game, but we now know that Eric Bledsoe will be the Milwaukee Bucks' starting point guard. Coming over from the Phoenix Suns, Bledsoe's replacing Malcolm Brogdon, who could see a small downtick in minutes while carrying a similar usage in a playmaking role off the bench. In his debut, Bledsoe played 28 minutes as Brogdon still managed 33. The two actually shared the floor at times and down the stretch. And as far as usage goes, Bledsoe (26.7%) dominated as he trailed only Giannis Antetokounmpo's usage rate for the game.
The Denver Nuggets were part of last week's conversation, and things appear to be even more complicated. Will Barton has taken on point-guard responsibilities, which gives the team five primary ball-handlers when you include Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris, in addition to point guards Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay. All but Harris have a usage rate at or above 21.6% on the year.
The Miami Heat's situation is a little different. James Johnson's and Kelly Olynyk's splits show that they're better options off the bench, leaving Justise Winslow to start at power forward almost by default. Still, Winslow has a -4.0 net rating in four starts, so the situation may be just as fluid as Erik Spoelstra says it is.
For the Washington Wizards, it could be a little early, but everything says that they're starting the wrong combination of guys at their forward spots. While Markieff Morris helped to give them the fourth-best lineup (of those to play at least 400 minutes) by net rating a year ago, he hasn't infused them with much this campaign. Through four matchups, the Wizards are 2-2 and have the league's 18th-best net rating at -1.3.
Prior to Morris' return from offseason surgery, Washington was 4-3 and ranked 11th in the league with a net rating of 4.3. A big part of that comes from the starting five. When Morris was sidelined, Kelly Oubre played small forward and Otto Porter slid to power forward, resulting in a net rating (23.6) good enough for fifth in the Association. The Oubre lineup has improved to second since Morris' return. So, the latter may bounce back, but the numbers say that it might not be worth the wait.