Is the NBA a Point Guard Dominated League?

Below is the first blog post from Shut Up and Jam, a new blog in the Wages of Wins Network from James Brocato.  Last June, James offered a post on the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Here is his bio from that post:

James Brocato graduated from Washington State University in 2009.  He is currently attending Law School at Gonzaga University.  He grew up a passionate supporter of the Seattle Supersonics, but their relocation to Oklahoma City in 2008 put him in an awkward position.   Failed attempts to root for Phoenix and Portland made him realize that his heart is still with the team he grew up loving, even if they’re not the hometown heroes anymore.

And as promised, here is the first post from Shut Up and Jam:

Anyone who watched the NBA Draft Lottery last night probably heard it at least 10 times (mostly from Jay Bilas): “It’s a point guard dominated league.” “You can’t have success in the NBA without a great point guard.” Of course, the media would have told you 10, 20, or 30 years ago it was a big man dominated league. But now they’re saying the point guard, not the big man, is the most important position for a team building for the future. How true is this though? Let’s take a look at the production offered by the point guards of the last five champions. (Note: I am using Dave Berri’s Wins Produced metric to determine production. For more information see the links at the bottom.).

Year Champion Starting PG WP48
2009-10 LA Lakers Derek Fisher -0.050
2008-09 LA Lakers Derek Fisher 0.051
2007-08 Boston Rajon Rondo 0.219
2006-07 San Antonio Tony Parker 0.194
2005-06 Miami Jason Williams 0.104

WP48 is the wins produced by the particular player per 48 minutes he is on the floor. 0.100 is what the average player produces. 0.200 is considered to be “star” level. The most elite players in the NBA usually have a WP48 of greater than 0.300. Only one point guard starting for the championship team in the last five years has produced at the level of a star, Rajon Rondo (though Tony Parker was very close). Jason Williams was roughly average and Derek Fisher has actually been below average in the Lakers’ last two championship seasons. This data suggests that an elite point guard is not necessary in building a champion in the NBA. So is there a position that dominates the league? Let’s take a look at the main big man from the last five champions.

Year Champion Starting Big WP48
2009-10 LA Lakers Pau Gasol 0.307
2008-09 LA Lakers Pau Gasol 0.250
2007-08 Boston Kevin Garnett 0.370
2006-07 San Antonio Tim Duncan 0.355
2005-06 Miami Shaquille O’Neal 0.225

Of course, the term “big man” covers two positions, the power forward and the center. Still, I think it’s a fair comparison since these two positions are generally interchangeable, where the point guard is a very unique position. The second table demonstrates the importance of big men in title teams. Every single primary big man produced at “star” levels the year his team won the championship, and every single big man substantially out-produced his point guard counterpart.

So it seems that this league has not actually become a point guard dominated league. In fact, it remains dominated by the bigs. Thus, a general manager looking to build a champion should look at the big guys first. Of course, that is not to say that Cleveland should attempt to take a big with their #1 pick. In fact, there is a lack of quality big men in the draft. Kyrie Irving might be the right choice, but that post is for another day. Also, Derrick Williams, who played center at Arizona, is being evaluated as a small forward by NBA scouts. But is SF the best position for him in the NBA, or will he benefit a team more at power forward? NBA scouts don’t like his size for the PF position. But is the obsession with size (e.g., particular measurements for a particular position) warranted? Again, that will be discussed in another post.

-James

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