As the 2012 Drat approaches, Trail Blazers broadcasters and bloggers will look at some of the top first-round prospects by position. First up, point guards, probably the thinnest positions in an otherwise deep draft
In an offseason full of important decisions, finding a long term solution at point guard might be the most pressing. There is now a whole generation of Trail Blazers fans who have never known stability at arguably the most important position in basketball. Case in point: Portland has had a different starting point guard in six of the last eight season openers. That has to change.
It's likely that the Trail Blazers will try to acquire a veteran point guard via free agency or trade, so the slim pickings regarding starting-quality point guards in this year's draft isn't as detrimental to Portland's long term goals as you might assume at first glance. But if the team is unable to swing a deal for that long sought-after point guard of the future, Portland may be forced to put the fortunes of the team in the hands of a rookie, at least initially.
Here are a few options the Trail Blazers might consider if they decide to draft a point guard with one of their picks.
Sophomore, North Carolina
Ten years ago, Kendall Marshall would have been the prototypical, pass-first point guard coming out of North Carolina. Great size for the position at 6-4. Finished first in the NCAA in total assists and assist to turnover ratio
while finishing a close second in assists per game. Averaged just 8.1 points per game, thanks in large part to attempting just 6.3 shots per game, but that would be expected, and in many ways encouraged, playing alongside the likes of Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson at UNC. He'd be the old school point guard NBA scouts would step over their grandmothers to draft.
But in today's NBA, players like Marshall have a tougher time getting noticed. He's not particularly athletic or quick, which raises questions about his ability to guard what seems to be an increasing number of lightening-fast, score-first point guards who are now running the NBA.
And there are questions of whether they'll have to guard him. Just an average shooter, some wonder if Marshall will be able to keep opposing point guards honest on the offensive end, as both his jumper and ability to get to and finish at the rim are areas of concern. He has shown the ability to score when needed, as he did late in the 2011-12 season. With UNC struggling on offense heading into the tournament, Marshall responded by scoring in double-digits in seven of his last nine games
as a Tarheel. Prior to that stretch, Marshall scored in double figures just three times.
Marshall, who broke his right wrist in North Carolina's 87-73 victory over Creighton in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, might also be one of the few players whose draft stock actually improved due to injury. Without Marshall, a considerably less potent UNC offense needed overtime to beat Ohio in the Sweet 16 before losing to Kansas in the Elite 8, highlighting his status as a point guard who makes his teammates better.
Marshall is expected to be drafted somewhere in the 8-12 range
, and if Portland is picking for themselves in that range, one would think he'd be a serious consideration, even if the team looks to add a more experienced point through free agency.
Junior, Weber State
If Kendall Marshall is the "yin" of point guards in the 2012 NBA Draft, then Damian Lillard is the "yang." Marshall is a pure point, whereas Lillard is considered more of combo guard. Marshall focused on distribution at the expense of scoring; Lillard scored at the expense of distributing. Marshall went to hoops powerhouse North Carolina; Lillard went to Weber State, a little-known Big Sky Conference school.
But much like Marshall, the way scouts view Lillard's approach to the point has changed dramatically in recent years. There was a time not to long ago that being labeled a "scoring" point guard was the kiss of death. Teams wanted floor generals, not shoot-first, undersized scorers. But with rules changes all but eliminating hand checking, point guards with the ability to get to the rim are all the rage, and that's good news for Lillard.
Lillard finished second in the NCAA in scoring
last season at 24.5 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 41 percent from three. You have to put up those kinds of numbers if you're going to get drafted out of a small school. His 4.0 assists per game average speaks to his status as a scorer rather than a distributor, which, along with the fact that he took 28 percent of Weber State's shots
and averaged more rebounds (5.0 per game) than assists in 2011-12, raises questions about his ability to play point at the next level. He'll also be 22 when he begins his NBA career, so whatever changes he's going to make, if he even needs to, while need to be made quickly.
Many are predicting that Lillard will be the first point guard taken in the draft, and when you see the likes of Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo tearing up the league, it's not hard to see why.
Figuring out just how good individual players who play for great teams are can be a bit tricky, which is one of the reasons why Marquis Teague is kind of hard to pin down. On one hand, he started, as a freshman, on a team that won the National Championship. But on the other, he played alongside three players in Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones who are all likely to be drafted in the lottery. That raises the question: Is Marquis Teague one of the reasons for his teammates' success or a product OF their success.
That's something scouts will have to figure out during predraft workouts, if they haven't already. What's already obvious is that Teague has the speed, athleticism and length to play the point in the NBA. He isn't a particularly good shooter at 41 percent from the field
and 33 percent from three, (his percentage from the field would be much worse were he not so adept at getting to the rim) and he will turn the ball over, but neither is so much of an issue that teams should be too concerned, especially if he goes in the latter part of the first round, as he's currently projected. You can improve your shot and decision-making. You can't really improve speed, and Teague has that for days. And his older brother, Jeff, plays for the Hawks, which certainly doesn't hurt his draft stock.
It's hard to watch Teague and not think about another quick, athletic Kentucky point guard who left school early and was drafted later in the first round because of questions about his ability to hit the outside jumper. His name is Rajon Rondo, and he's currently one of the best point guards in the NBA. And if nothing else, you have to like Kentucky's recent track record of producing one-and-done NBA-caliber point guards like Brandon Knight (Pistons), Eric Bledsoe (Clippers) and John Wall (Wizards).
Tony Wroten is one of those players who people want to will into being a point guard. At 6-5, 205 lbs, he'd be a match-up nightmare for nearly every other point in the league. Basically, he's Washington's version of Tyreke Evans.
But much like Evans, wishing and hoping doesn't make you a point guard. And it's hard to argue that's what Wroten is, at least at the present time.
It's hard to categorize Wroten as anything other than a project at this point. His first problem is that, well, he can't shoot
. He can get to the rim almost at will, but that's where the offensive prowess ends. One need look no further than his truly abysmal percentages from the free-throw line (58 percent) and from three (16 percent) to know it's going to take some time to develop even an average NBA jumper. And the fact that he put up those percentages in a historically terrible season for the Pac-12
makes an even stronger argument that Wroten's offense isn't where it needs to be. The 1:1 assist to turnover ratio doesn't help either. Developing a right-handed dribble would take much of the pressure off.
There have also been questions about this attitude -- he does have what some would categorize as a "big" personality
-- but those concerns have been largely overblown.
If Wroten goes to a team that has the time, patience and staff to develop his game, they'll likely end up with a very good player in a few years. And best case scenario, Wroten reaches his full potential and becomes a perennial all-star.
Should the Trail Blazers use a pick on one of these point guards this season? Is there another point not listed who the Trail Blazers should target? Leave your comment or head over to the message board topic.
Interested in learning the strong players at other positions in the 2012 Draft? Check out Wheels' take on small forwards
and Mike Rice's thoughts on power forwards