No Half Measures in a 3-Guard Lineup

Quick post to keep the train chugging along. Now that there's zero chance of Calderon, Jack and Turkoglu defiling the game of basketball by playing together again, the Raptors will, according to Colangelo, be looking to play honest up-tempo three-guard basketball.

Quick post to keep the train chugging along. Now that there’s zero chance of Calderon, Jack and Turkoglu defiling the game of basketball by playing together again, the Raptors will, according to Colangelo, be looking to play honest up-tempo three-guard basketball. It’s a tempting advertisement of “exciting” basketball but it seems to be a tough proposition for success. Whenever you think of up-tempo you usually think of Phoenix or Golden State, and both those teams have had ball-hungry PGs. Nash has been running things in Phoenix since the dinosaurs roamed the earth and Golden State had Baron Davis and now Stephen Curry. The Warriors are the closest thing to a team that can switch between traditional and more guard-oriented lineups three or four times a game, mostly because of the athleticism on their roster and the maniacal nature of Don Nelson. Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, Anthony Morrow, Al Harrington, Baron Davis and Matt Barnes have been part of Warrior teams that have pushed the boundaries of conventional basketball.

The “success” (quoted because the Warriors have been under .500 for 14 of the last 16 seasons) of these lineups stems from versatile players such as Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington and Matt Barnes. These players are capable of playing SG, SF and PF at any given point in a game. None of them will excel at it, but will provide enough mismatch opportunities on offense that they’ll dictate the tempo. Defense, of course, is another matter. Once you have these types of pluggable components on the roster, you can allow your real guards to do the work up top. Usually, speed is of the essence as we saw last year with Curry and Ellis. In Phoenix, the perimeter quickness of Richardson and Hill mixed well with the fast-paced two-man game of Nash and Stoudemire while leaving Channing Frye playing an unorthodox center role successfully. Jeff Green’s ability to knock down the jumper and handle the basketball, along with James Harden give Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook great options to spread the floor, move the ball and up the pace. Boston’s success is dependent on starting three ball-handlers in Allen, Pierce and Rondo while having the versatile Garnett in the background.

The common element in these teams is a speedy point guard that can push the issue after makes or misses. Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, and Russell Westbrook have either proved or are proving to be very special players capable of single-handedly changing the landscape of a game using their aggressiveness and speed. The Raptors are hoping that the one-man fastbreak that is Leandro Barbosa can bring some of the same magic here. A Weems-DeRozan-Barbosa lineup would no doubt pack a punch, but Barbosa’s distribution skills could get in the way. Jack is a better playmaker than Barbosa, but doesn’t have the prerequisite speed to make it happen. The danger of playing this lineup is that since none of these guys can create for others, the ball has a good chance of getting stuck with one-on-ones developing without the players being able to help it.

Then again, in an honest three-guard lineup, the responsibility of distribution shouldn’t fall onto the shoulders of any one player since the whole idea is that, since there are three ball-handlers on the floor, the attack on the defense can come from any wing position at any time. Once you digest that previous sentence, ask yourself if DeRozan and Weems have the necessary on-the-ball penetration skills to make that attack happen. DeRozan? Improved from last year, but not a tight dribble just yet. Weems? Made a conscious effort in summer league to drive the ball and met with success, whether that’ll translate to next season is a big ‘if’. It should also be noted that in all successful three-guard lineups there is a player capable of posting the ball up so that the offensive balance is maintained – Stephen Jackson, Grant Hill, Paul Pierce and so on, the Raptors currently can’t account for that. Weems’ post-up game is probably the tightest because of his strength and mid-range game, but it’s nothing to be counted on and is unproven.

Other than that, the more you think about it, the more you realize that the Raptors would do well to shore up the point guard position for the future so that there is a quarterback who can guide and cultivate the talent on the team. A young up-and-coming player like Jonny Flynn or Jrue Holiday would almost be too perfect of a fit, but we know that’s not going to happen. If the goal for next season is to play an exciting brand of basketball and get the ‘Young Guns’ movement started, the Raptors would do well to get Tony Parker. There, I said it. The Raptors have a big enough TPE to make a play for his expiring contract, and if the Spurs are serious about finally giving George Hill a chance, they’d be open to it. Forget about this nonsense of signing Diaw to play the three, if we’re going to advertise up-tempo, young-gun, three-guard, fast-break basketball, let’s do it properly. No half measures.