Point Guard Possibilities

New-age NBA thinking means Pistons could have enough minutes for many PGs

Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups
The Pistons have a wealth of options at the point guard position.
Gary Dineen/Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Among the 24 players who suited up for the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas last month that included Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, there were seven point guards and three shooting guards. All three shooting guards – Dion Waiters, Klay Thompson and DeMar DeRozan – lined up for the same team.

The guards on the White team – Drummond’s team – were Jrue Holiday, Kyrie Irving, Mike Conley and Ty Lawson. There was never a moment that team didn’t have two point guards on the court.

In scrimmages over the three days of minicamp practices, more often than not the backcourt combinations were point guard-point guard.

If you’re looking for trends, the one emerging isn’t that NBA teams are looking to pair point guards so much as they’re going to be more inclined to put their two best guards on the floor together, regardless of position – or perceived position, more specifically.

And in today’s NBA, rapidly emerging as a golden era for point guards, there just aren’t that many shooting guards who rank among the game’s top players.

So Joe Dumars caught himself when somebody asked Tuesday, after the Pistons had introduced newly acquired Brandon Jennings to fans and media, if Jennings would play off of the ball at all. After a quick no, Dumars opened the door for just that possibility. He’d been in Las Vegas. He saw all the Holiday-Irving, Conley-Lawson, John Wall-Damian Lillard and various other point guard-point guard combinations Mike Krzyzewski trotted out without fear of how they’d match up with the other guys.

It might take a while for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to get NBA ready. I saw enough of him in Summer League to think the Pistons got it right in June’s draft for a lot of reasons. He’s more athletic than I anticipated, he’s one of those guys who appears to truly enjoy playing defense, he goes at full throttle, he takes it to the basket without fear and he’s got a pretty shot with obvious 3-point range when he squares up.

But he’s 20 with only two college seasons under his belt and it wasn’t until the season ended and NBA scouts caught up with the closing rush to his sophomore season when they began looking at him as a serious lottery candidate. Most everyone who’s seen him agrees the ceiling is impressive, but playing at or near it consistently won’t be an overnight process.

So it might well be, for at least the early going of his rookie season, that Caldwell-Pope isn’t one of Maurice Cheeks’ four best guards. And if Jennings, Rodney Stuckey, Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum are all better positioned to help the Pistons win games – in a season when that will be the unquestioned No. 1 objective from the Oct. 30 tipoff through game 82, barring a catastrophic run of injuries – then it should surprise no one if we see backcourt combinations of Billups-Jennings or Stuckey-Bynum or even Jennings-Bynum, where the line between point guard and shooting guard is blurred.

All four probably see themselves as point guards first and foremost. The only one who might concede little to no positional preference – the only one who might not bristle if you called him a “combo” guard – is Stuckey.

You still have to pick your spots defensively, of course, but – again – the fact there just aren’t killer shooting guards dotting NBA rosters gives coaches even more leeway to get creative and give themselves the luxury of going with their best offensive backcourt combinations.

Jennings is destined to have the ball in his hands much of the time when he’s on the court, but his speed and wondrous change-of-direction ability – it calls to mind the in-his-prime Iverson – opens itself to intriguing possibilities if he’s playing off the ball and catching it already on the move.

Pair Jennings with Billups, whose savvy at knowing just when and just how to deliver the ball to teammates is uncanny, and you might catch lightning in a bottle. Pair Jennings with Stuckey or Bynum in a lineup with any combination of Josh Smith, Monroe and Drummond up front and a shooter like Gigi Datome in the corner and the Pistons could feign pick and roll on one side, reverse the ball and run it on the other and force wide cracks in scrambling defenses.

There was some curiosity when the Pistons signed Peyton Siva, giving them four point guards on the depth chart and a fifth, Stuckey, who’s spent the bulk of his career at that position. There isn’t likely to be much, if any, playing time available for Siva as a rookie, which is what you’d expect for a late second-round pick. But there might just be plenty to go around for everybody else.