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The Point Guard Jump Requires Patience
The point guard position is one of the most difficult transitions in the NBA for a rookie. So why are fans so quick to throw around the "bust" tag? It's time for a history lesson.
Can you believe that your favorite NBA team took this kid with a top 10 pick in the Lottery?
I mean he was one of the best scoring guards heading into the draft, and now he can’t hit a shot to save his life. Sure, it’s only been 10 games, but this kid just looks like an absolute bust.
THAT’S IT I’VE HAD IT.
Pull up a damn chair because class is in session. Today we are going to war against the crime of false bust accusations. It’s a real legal study, in which millions of lawyers across the world spend countless hours preparing themselves to defend their clients against fans giving rookie points guards the “bust” tag. This is my world and we’re going to travel down a rabbit hole scarier than the cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland (no, not the Tim Burton reboot). For some of you who have been following Backcourt Violation since the Dark Ages (I love you), you know I’ve touched on this very same subject before. But because I’m feeling dangerous, I’m going to give this an entirely new update. You know why I’m really doing it? Because IT’S STILL RELEVANT.
Now please, repeat after me. The point guard position is the most difficult position to transition to in the NBA. Very good. In the words of Herb Brooks… “Again.”
Let’s set the mood for this piece moving forward. Your favorite NBA team just had a brutal year, and now find themselves picking towards the early portion of the lottery. Although your team has some nice assets on the current roster, an electric point guard could really shift the momentum of the organization moving forward. Luckily for you, this is a stacked year when it comes to the floor generals available. There’s ball handlers that offer a bit of everything including offensive firepower, electric speed, and defensive versatility. Sounds like the perfect time to find that missing franchise leader that your team was missing.
The day comes and your team lands what many are considering the best point guard in the draft class. That player is viewed as someone that can completely shift the momentum of the franchise. It’s a player with great size and the ability to score at multiple levels on any given night. You saw it with your own eyes, as that player went on to post eye-opening production across the board. But then suddenly something happens. That player that was viewed as a “can’t miss” prospect, is struggling right out of the gate. He’s committing turnovers and he simply cannot get his shot to fall. That’s when the terrifying b-word starts to circle around your brain like the shark from Jaws.
Okay, now does this all sound familiar? It’s okay, because if it’s giving you PTSD then you need to realize that I’m here to help. This has happened A LOT over the course of NBA History. Want to know something even more fascinating? It’s something that has happened to some of the greatest individuals to ever patrol an NBA backcourt. Don’t believe me? Then buckle up, it’s about to get scary.
As I stated before, the point guard position is the most difficult position to translate to in the NBA. Imagine you’ve been driving a Honda Civic your entire life and someone just randomly gives you a Ferrari. First of all, that’d be pretty amazing. Second, you’d probably struggle to adjust to the massive difference of speed you’re suddenly dealing with. I mean we all can’t be Ricky Bobby out here. The point guard position is no different. When you’re a point guard taking the leap to the NBA level, everything has suddenly been turned up to supersonic speeds. Players are simply going to be uncomfortable, as they are trying to adjust to the chaotic changes that have been thrown at them rapidly. A players reaction and timing has been completely thrown into a blender. A window or opening that was so easy to attack before has suddenly become a dead end. Information must be processed like you’re trying to hack the matrix. On top of all of this, the defense has just become your worst nightmare. Defenders are bigger, faster, stronger, and you can’t count on your athleticism beating them on a nightly basis.
Having said all of that, there’s nothing as special as seeing a point guard finally start to realize that the game is slowing down. It’s something that can start to happen over a stretch of games. You see the confidence building and surging throughout a players ability. No artist in the world can paint something so beautiful.
Personally, this is what I call “the jump”, and throughout the history of the NBA, a number of young guard have experienced this at different times. Some hit the ground running while others haven’t seen the game start to “click” until various stages of their careers. Allow me to show you exactly what I mean.
Gary Payton, PG, Seattle Supersonics
Selected 2nd overall in the 1990 NBA Draft
Rookie Season (90-91):
82 G, 27.4 MIN, 7.2 PTS, 3.0 REB, 6.4 AST, 2.0 STL, 45.0 FG%
4th Season (93-94) *1st All-Star Appearance:
82 G, 35.1 MIN, 16.5 PTS, 3.3 REB, 6.0 AST, 2.3 STL, 50.4 FG%
“The Jump” 5th Season (94-95):
82 G, 36.8 MIN, 20.6 PTS, 3.4 REB, 7.1 AST, 2.5 STL, 50.9 FG%
Damn right I’m breaking out a heavy hitter right out of the gates to get your attention. You didn’t think I was making it up when I said “some of the greatest” earlier, did you? Gary Payton became one of the greatest point guards in the NBA, especially when you’re talking about his defensive ability. The “Glove” was a ferocious floor general who was a conductor of chaos on the basketball court. But it wasn’t the easiest of transitions for the former second overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft. During his rookie season, Payton went on to average just 7.2 points and 6.4 assists per game.
It wasn’t until Payton’s fourth year in the league in which things finally started to click. Yes, you read that correctly, it took Gary Payton four years of NBA play before he finally get his first All-Star team nomination. But “the leap” for Payton didn’t happen until the following year, where you can see that the game finally started to really slow down. Payton’s numbers sky rocketed, as he went on to average over 20 points per game for the first time in his career. Not bad for a player who averaged a total of 10.0 points per game during his first three seasons in the NBA.
Steve Nash, PG, Phoenix Suns
Selected 15th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft
Rookie Season (96-97):
65 G, 10.5 MIN, 3.3 PTS, 1.0 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.3 STL, 42.3 FG%
2nd Season (97-98):
76 G, 21.9 MIN, 9.1 PTS, 2.1 REB, 3.4 AST, 0.8 STL, 45.9 FG%
6th Season (01-02) *1st All-Star Appearance:
82 G, 34.6 MIN, 17.9 PTS, 3.1 REB, 7.7 AST, 0.6 STL, 48.3 FG%
“The Jump” 9th Season (04-05):
75 G, 34.3 MIN, 15.5 PTS, 3.3 REB, 11.5 AST, 1.0 STL, 50.2 FG%
This one can be debated when we are talking about when Steve Nash specifically took “the jump” but it’s remarkable to see how long it truly took before a massive leap in some of his production across the board. It’s fascinating to look at the early portion of Nash’s career because it was a rollercoaster. Throughout the first two seasons in Phoenix, Nash was simply a young developing floor general who was trying to find his groove in the NBA. He would eventually end up in Dallas, which was a spark that set fire to his career trajectory. Nash wouldn’t go on to finish in the double-digit column for points per game until his fifth season in the NBA. His first All-Star appearance would come in his sixth season, which many might consider to be the time in which the game really started to come to the crafty point guard. But the massive leap in production didn’t come until Nash’s NINTH year in the NBA. That’s the first time Nash would finish a season averaging double-digit assists per game and he would go on to do the same for six of the next seven seasons. The only year he didn’t finish with double digit assists? The 2008-09 season…
He finished with 9.7.
Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
Selected 7th Overall in the 2009 NBA Draft
Rookie Season (09-10):
80 G, 36.2 MIN, 17.5 PTS, 4.5 REB, 5.9 AST, 1.9 STL, 46.2 FG%, 2.1 3PM, 3.8 3PA, 43.7 3P%
3rd Season (11-12) *Injured:
26 G, 28.2 MIN, 14.7 PTS, 3.4 REB, 5.9 AST, 1.5 STL, 49.0 FG%, 2.1 3PM, 4.7 3PA, 45.5 3P%
“The Jump” 4th Season (12-13):
78 G, 38.2 MIN, 22.9 PTS, 4.0 REB, 6.9 AST, 1.6 STL, 45.1 FG%, 3.5 3PM, 7.7 3PA, 45.3 3P%
This is the most fascinating case to take a look at on this list and I’m SURE that someone is going to want to flip a desk after they see Stephen Curry’s name appear on this list. BUT LET ME EXPLAIN. I promise, I have a method to my madness.
If you don’t remember, it was a bit of a rough start to Steph’s career with the Golden State Warriors. Yes, I am well aware that Curry almost won Rookie of the Year, thank you for saying that out loud at the computer screen. But there was also a patch of Curry’s early years with the Golden State Warriors in which he was continuously dealing with injuries, especially when it came to his ankles. Curry had a number of solid years early on, but when did he take “the jump” and become the Greek God of shooting from half court? During Steph’s third year in the league, Curry would go on to only play a total of 26 games after dealing with injuries. It wasn’t until the following year, in which Steph would suddenly start to transform until the lethal shooter we know today. Since his fourth year in the league, Curry has gone on to average more than 20 points per game every single year.
John Stockton, PG, Utah Jazz
Selected 16th Overall in the 1984 NBA Draft
Rookie Season (84-85):
82 G, 18.2 MIN, 5.6 PTS, 1.3 REB, 5.1 AST, 1.3 STL, 47.1 FG%, 18.2 3P%
Second Season (85-86):
82 G, 23.6 MIN, 7.7 PTS, 2.2 REB, 7.4 AST, 1.9 STL, 48.9 FG%, 13.3 3P%
“The Jump” 4th Season (87-88):
82 G, 34.7 MIN, 14.7 PTS, 2.9 REB, 13.8 AST, 3.0 STL, 57.4 FG%, 35.8 3P%
If you think that John Stockton was overrated as a point guard, I just want you to know that I am worried about you. Moving on…If you want to have yourself a real laugh, just go look at some of the numbers that John Stockton put up throughout the course of his 19-years in the NBA. What’s even more amazing is how long it took Stockton to find his groove in the league. What if I told you that one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game of basketball averaged a total of 7.1 points per game combined over his first three years in the league? Would you suddenly take a deep breath and stop worrying about if your team’s rookie ball handler was a bust after 10 games?
Stockton struggled to find his rhythm for the Utah Jazz, but saw “the jump” happen in a HUGE way during his fourth year in the league. He would go on to average 13.8 assists per game throughout the 1987-88 season, which was the first of TEN STRAIGHT SEASONS in which he averaged double-digit assists.
Okay, now that we gave you a history lesson on the patient waiting game of allowing a young point guard to develop, it’s time to calm down some of you that might be jumping the gun currently. Each NBA Draft class is going to feature an exciting new crop of floor generals that have the potential to become a new brand of backcourt superstars in the NBA. The 2021 Draft class is no different, as a total of four playmaking wizards were selected in the top 10. Yes, I’m counting Josh Giddey as a point guard right now, just back off ok? You get my point.
There’s two point guards I want to talk about though. These two guards have gotten off to a bit of a “slow” start, but if you look at the numbers compared to the players I just listed above, you should realize that things could look a lot worse.
Cade Cunningham, PG, Detroit Pistons
Selected 1st Overall in the 2021 NBA Draft
Rookie Stats As of Now (11/12/21):
5 G, 28.2 MIN, 12.6 PTS, 5.4 REB, 2.8 AST, 0.8 STL, 28.4 FG%, 22.2 3P%
Dear Detroit Pistons fans. My name is Tyler Rucker. I am not worried about Cade Cunningham at all. I love you.
On a serious note, Cade Cunningham came into the NBA with some serious hype after an impressive freshman season at Oklahoma State. Cunningham went on to average 20.1 points per game in college while shooting 46.1% from the field and 40.0% from downtown. So should we panic that he’s not getting his shot to fall early on? No, we should not. Everything is going to be fine for Cade. He just missed the majority of his first NBA training camp ever and he didn’t get to play in any of the Pistons preseason games. Cunningham is being thrown into the fire in a way, and it’s simply going to take some time for him to let the game slow down. The 20-year-old guard has continued to take baby steps forward with each game this year and it seems as if it’s only a matter of time before Cunningham puts together a nice stretch of games. Let the confidence build and be patient, Cade is going to be fine.
Jalen Suggs, PG, Orlando Magic
Selected 5th Overall in the 2021 NBA Draft
Rookie Stats As of Now (11/12/21):
12 G, 28.4 MIN, 11.6 PTS, 3.3 REB, 3.6 AST, 0.8 STL, 30.6 FG%, 20.6 3P%
Dear Orlando Magic fans. I love you too. I’m not worried about Jalen Suggs at all.
I can do this all day. But let’s be real here for a second, while Jalen Suggs hasn’t shot the ball as well as some might have hoped, he’s still had plenty of impresses flashes. Suggs is another floor general who is simply going to need time to let the game slow down. He’s making a number of plays that won’t show up in the box score and Suggs continues to fly all over the court on a nightly basis. Suggs was one of the top point guards in college basketball last year, displaying an impressive amount of athleticism and multi-level scoring at Gonzaga. It’s going to take some time for Suggs to have the game slow down, but it’s going to come. It wouldn’t surprise me if later in the year the 20-year-old guard strings together a number of efficient games. That would be the perfect dream for Magic fans, as Suggs could build off that confidence and let the rest of his game start to blossom.
Drafting a rookie point guard is always an exciting adventure. The difficult pill to swallow is that not every player is going to transition smoothly to the NBA game. It requires patience and a lot of growing pains. Although there’s been players like Damian Lillard and Ja Morant who have hit the ground running in their rookie years, there’s also been a rich history of floor generals who have needed time to let the game slow down. Once that happens, the confidence and talent start to come out like an avalanche sprinting down a mountain. Every year is going to feature a new crop of ball handlers who will be considered the next wave of stars in NBA backcourts. It takes time for a young talent to find consistency at one of the most difficult positions in the game of basketball. But once that confidence rises to the surface and starts “the jump”…there’s nothing more beautiful to watch.