Category 1: Two-Way Scheme-Changers

*The stats used below were derived from a conglomeration of NBA.com,ESPN.com, and the Draftexpress.com database

Disclaimers:

1.This is an “educated (or at least I hope it is) generalized grouping” to gain predictive knowledge of what skills/tools etc translate to the lead guard position in the league to help aid the evaluation of NBA prospects. IE: it’s not the point to say “this player didn’t have an above average defensive rating in year xxxx so that defeats his two-way designation”

2.I did not group a player in multiple categories, but instead tried to fit them into the most illustrative category for a player’s skill-set. EX: Elfrid Payton is listed in category 5, but definitely fits the skill-set in category 6 as a dribble-drive guy, but I didn’t include him in that because he’s not a shooting-threat.

3.This is not hierarchical in terms of value by category past category one.Thus, because someone is in category 2 I’m not saying by default they’re a better player than someone in category 4. It’s based on skill-sets.

4.This practice still involves outcome prediction for young prospects in the league, which involves my interpretation of likely floor and ceiling assessment. Take D’Angelo Russell for example. I have him listed in category 3 and feel confident doing so based on his stats in college (1.04 PPP & 44% shooting off the dribble etc) and from the general eye test (for me the entire reason he was drafted #2 overall is because he’s a category 3 player). But clearly he’s not established in that category yet. Alas, I expect him to be, and thus rank him accordingly. Conversely for Emmanuel Mudiay I have him listed in category 5 because I don’t believe in his shooting potential (I’m more robust on his head-scratching year one lack of finishing). Mudiay could absolutely develop a workable jump shot, but at this juncture I do not consider that the prevailing likelihood, and thus his floor is more so illuminated here (I suspect some will differ in opinion).

5.I included some “past their prime” current NBA players below but categorized them at their peak. These players are designated in parenthesis (IE Rondo is probably the prototype for category 5).

6.******Most Important: I approach team-building and the draft evaluation ranking process in 3 player designations prioritizing them in the following order of importance 1 being 1st and 3 last (when taken generally & not team specific):

1.Star Player: Who has the greatest possibility of being a superstar player (believe star talent trumps any scheme etc).

2.Title Team Star Role Players: Who has the most conducive skill-set to play a role on a championship level team (a fair interpretation is what player archetype best surrounds star players).

3.Role Players: Who can actually play a role in the NBA (at a certain point you’re just looking for NBA players).

With that apologetically (but necessary) long introduction, the following 8 categories capture the predominant skill-sets of NBA lead guards as well as accompanying information, beginning with category 1.

Category 1 Lead Guards: Generational Two-Way Scheme Changers

(Key Skills: Generational Shooting off the Dribble, PNR Play,  Handle, Passing, Defense)

1.Chris Paul (Sophomore) #4 Overall Pick (Age: 20)

2.Stephen Curry (Junior) #7 Overall Pick (Age: 21)

I.What Sets Them Apart

2015/16 NBA Regular Season Lead Guard Usage & Efficiency

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  • Anytime you’re talking about a star player you’re implicitly stating that as usage goes up efficiency does not curve off drastically.  As demonstrated here, Paul and Curry can handle significant usage with elite level efficiency.
  • Also implicit here is the ability to handle the ball.  Both Curry and Paul are elite dribblers, and that skill in my opinion is vastly underrated in the analysis process.  Lead guards especially have to be able to dribble with tight handles, and dribbling separates the primary lead guard creators like Paul and Curry from pseudo lead guards like Marcus Smart archetypes.

A.Volume Shooting (Creation) Off the Dribble:

(Per NBA.Com) Pull Up Shots: Any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took 1 or more dribbles before shooting

2013/14 Regular Season (Lead Guards Filtered By Attempts)

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2014/15 Regular Season (Lead Guards Filtered By Attempts)

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2015/16 Regular Season (Guards Filtered By Attempts)

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  • If not the most important skill that separates the good from the elite lead guards, it is amongst the top skills: the ability to shoot off the dribble.  The partial rationale (as will be explained in the category 3 section) is with how prevalent pick and rolls are as the lynchpin of most offenses in the modern NBA, if a lead guard is not proficient at shooting off the dribble defenders will just go under screens and undercut the intended advantage on the play.
  • Ideally you want lead guards who can shoot 3s (true scheme-changers who dictate pick and roll coverage schemes), but the ability to shoot midrange shots off the bounce versus conservative drop-back zoning schemes is also value (see Paul).
  • Overall, it’s much more difficult to shoot off the bounce than it is off the catch, rendering efficient off the dribble shooters in any situation (iso, PNR, etc) incredibly rare commodities.  When you combine off the dribble shooting with defense, implicit advanced handling (though not always), decision-making and defense, you have star types like Curry and Paul.

B.Pick and Roll Play

Offensive Ball Handler Leaders Per NBA.Com

2015/2016 Regular Season

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  • This is a fairly simple point: basically every lead guard in the league has to be able to run a simple pick and roll.  If you can’t run a pick and roll either as a shooter, passer, or dribble-penetrator with the burst to turn the corner you likely are not a lead guard.

C.Individual Areas of Success 

1.Stephen Curry

a.Shooting 3s Off Screens:

2015/2016 Regular Season

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  • Curry is the best shooter of all time (certainly off the bounce), but inclusive in that is the  ability to shoot quickly setting his feet on the move coming off screens. Curry is the MVP and best player in the game right now because he is a threat every second he’s on the floor offensively in any position (on & off-ball), and the attention he commands from defenses is the engine that makes the Warriors’ offense run.

b.Crafty Finishing: 

2015/16 Regular Season: FG% in the Restricted Area (Guards: Minimum 4 Attempts)

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  • Rounding out Curry’s game (notably this year) is his finishing ability around the hoop when he gets chased off the three-point line.  If you aren’t a super athlete with the athleticism, lift and explosiveness to finish in traffic over length, you need craftiness at or near the rim.  This includes either a floater game, flip shots or ambidexterity. Curry has all that in spades.  His finishing is probably his biggest area of improvement (via the eye test) since entering the league.

2.Chris Paul

a.Midrange Shooting Prowess:

2015/16 Regular Season Midrange Jumpers (Guards: Minimum 5 Attempts)

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  • Paul stopped driving all the way to the basket as much partially through his career likely to preserve his health and longevity.  As a result Paul became the most lethal off the dribble midrange shooter in the league.

b.Efficient Decision-Making:

2015/2016 Regular Season ASS/TO Ratio (Guards)

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  • Not much to expand on here.  The fact Paul is one of the smartest players to ever play basketball helps him considerably.

D.Defensive Accumen 

2014/15 Regular Season D RPM (Lead Guards)

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2015/16 Regular Season D RPM (Lead Guards)

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  • Paul has always been a plus defender despite his height/size, possessing an extraordinary amount of toughness to match his physical tools of lateral agility, speed navigating around screens and quick hands.  Paul’s defensive toughness is perhaps most evidence fighting in the post on switches.
  • Curry evolved as a defender mostly after being empowered by the Kerr regime to defend lead guards instead of being overtly hidden in every matchup. Curry battles like hell on switches onto bigger wings now and mirrors passing lanes well in pick and roll defense. Curry didn’t really have any obvious translatable physical tools to be a plus defender, but his effort and smarts on that end have made him into a plus one.
  • I’m of the opinion that lead guard defense at the point of attack is far less important than big man defense (incredibly important), but it’s still a significant separating factor. Defense is largely underrated throughout every position, and probably more so in lead guards where offensive focus really reigns.

II.College Indicators/Translations

1.Measurements

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  • Paul: Negative height with a plus wingspan. Nothing really jumps out at you outside of the no step vert. People forget how athletic early career CP3 was especially:
  • Curry: Considerable frame issues and only a slightly positive wingspan/height ratio. Plus height was really the only definitive positive.

2.Per 40 Min Pace Adjusted

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  • Paul:
    • Shooting: Hard to find a cleaner lead guard prospect efficiency wise who covers all the baselines (589 FG Attempts, 183 3pt attempts, 306 FT Attempts).
    • Defense: 3 steals per 40 in 2003/04 (ELITE), 2.6 steals per 40 in 2004/05 (PLUS). The average steals per 40 pace adjusted for lead guards since 2002 is about 1.9.
  • Curry: 
    • Shooting: Again satisfies the baselines with elite volume (1866 FG Attempts, 1004 3pt Attempts, 547 FT Attempts)
    • Defense: PLUS steals in every season

3.Efficiency 

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  • Paul:
    • Past First Nature: I like to use Assists per FGA (especially for lead guards) to get an indication of the kind of player a prospect is (pass first, shoot first).  The average ratio I’ve found since 2002 is about .41 for guards. Paul’s .67 Ratio is very pass-first.
    • Decision-Making: The Average A/TO Ratio for guards since 2002 is about 1.75.  Paul again is significantly above average in both years.
  • Curry:
    • Score First Nature: I put less stock into Curry’s numbers here because he had to score given his surrounding talent at Davidson, but Curry is definitely a scoring lead guard who can pass, which has become the new league lead guard archetype.
    • Decision-Making: Again a product of Curry’s environment/usage.

4.Usage

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  • Paul:
    • Usage: Paul actually commanded less than average (20.16 % of teams possessions for drafted guards since 2002) amount of his teams possessions both years, but had top tier efficiency to overcompensate
    • Getting to the Line: The average FTA per possession for guards since 2002 is .299, thus Paul with he noted quicks and explosive penetration was able to generate fouls at a far above average rate.
  • Curry:
    • Usage: Curry commanded an obscene amount of his teams usage while still maintaining plus efficiency, which is what you want to see from a small school prospect playing against inferior competition (will get into this later with Lillard etc).

5.Skill Translations

  • Paul:
    • Shooting
    • Decision-making/passing (see above)
    • Foul-drawing
    • Steals/Defense
    • Immediate Impact: 22.1 PER as a rookie w/ 22.2% USG, ROY, All-Star Year 3
  • Curry:
    • Overall shooting with heavy usage (clearly)
    • Off the dribble shooting with heavy usage (11.6 pullup jumpers a game as a JR)
    • Passing: Curry could make passes with either hand in college, ala Nash.  This was what separated him (amongst other things) from guys like Jimmer.
    • Steals/Defense
    • Slower Impact: 5th Year (25) ascension to stardom, became a generational player at 26 (took time to adjust to level of competition & battled ankle injuries early).

III.Overall Takaways

  1. It seems kind of asinine to write 1300 words about something so obvious: Curry and Paul are once in a generation outlier lead guard talents. Curry is the prototype scoring lead guard/best shooter ever with impeccable handling, passing and finishing, while Paul is the pure lead guard prototype who does everything in elite fashion.  What keeps these two lead guards ahead of other guys like Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving is defense, and what keeps them ahead of outlier athletes like Russell Westbrook is elite shooting off the dribble.
  2. When you combine 1)off the dribble shooting 2)elite playmaking/creation (passing + dribbling) and 3)defense at the lead guard position (or any position really) you get an outlier superstar.  You need all these qualities to be a category one two-way scheme changer.
  3. Draft Availability Point: This archetype of player is unlikely to fall outside of the top 5 in any draft moving forward with the heightened focus and importance on shooting. Curry wont exist again, but even a poor man’s you’ll have to spend top 5 draft capital on.

Up Next: Category 2 Lead Guards: Outlier Athleticism/Tools