For the last 35 years, Marty Blake has been identifying top college and international talent as the NBA’s Director of Scouting. A former general manager of the St. Louis and Atlanta Hawks in the 1950s and ’60s, Marty will be sharing thoughts and observations from the road as he crisscrosses the country identifying top collegiate talent throughout the season leading up to the 2006 NBA Draft in June.
What's the Point?
The many functions of a point guard, or “one” are hard to define in this day and age.
At one point in our scouting careers, we decided to compartmentalize each position (i.e. the forwards were big small forward, little big forwards, outside shooting big forwards, etc.)
Therefore, the one guard came to mean many things (the big one guard, the little big guard, and then the big little guard, ad infinitum.)
The only true post season tourney for college seniors – the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) – is held each season in Portsmouth, Virginia (a suburb of Norfolk, Virginia)
Long ago, a point guard from a small school in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, (that also was the name of the school, now a university) Myron Brown, was invited to play at the PIT. He was to be one of the many small college cagers to star at this prestigious event.
Brown was impressive there and was rewarded with an invite to play at the Orlando Classic (which previously had been staged in Hawaii for 20 years).
He was a quasi point – a very good athlete who needed to work on his ball-handling skills, but it was obvious that he could score from the point.
His stellar play earned an Orlando invite – one of 15 out of 64 PIT players I invited to move up.
After the final game, I met with Myron, a gentle soul whose career inspired others, to advise him of his invitation.
I borrowed a coach’s chart and outlined just what I wanted him to do – break down the defenses, get the ball inside to the post man, penetrate and dish the pill to the forward out on the wing, and, if open, hit the short J.
“I’m your man, Marty,” said Myron, thanking me for the invite.
“I’m you’re shooting point,” he proclaimed.
Hurrah, a new term was born.
Today, many of the top ones are shooting points. Ideal point guards can dish and drive but also know how to deliver.
Let’s look at an example from NBA history. Hall of Famer Slater Martin led my St. Louis Hawks to a 4-2 upset of the Boston Celtics in the 1958 NBA Finals. He was not only a great playmaker but one of the few backcourt defenders who troubled Bob Cousy.
Martin also helped the Minneapolis Lakers to five championships and after he joined the Hawks in the fall of 1956, but they never won another title under the Minnesota banner.
Dugie, as he was known, could also score, but he was not a shooting point.
Neither was Lenny Wilkens whom I drafted in 1960 with the 7th pick in the first round of the NBA Draft. Contrary to what Wilkens says, Ed Macauley did not draft him. Ed signed him, serving for one year as our Executive Vice President, but has often admitted he never saw him.
I saw Len play for Providence in the NIT that year and fell in love with his talent.
The Knicks President at the time, Ned Irish, questioned why I could take a small guard like Wilkens with the seventh pick until I reminded him New York was slated to take him two picks later, at ninth, which was the top pick in the second round.
“He’s too small,” Mr. Irish stated.
“Well then, I won’t measure him,” I said, reminding him of how we won a title with Slater Martin, who was listed at 5-10 but probably was 5-9, playing like a giant.
We always listed Wilkens at 6-1.
He stepped right in and won a starting berth and became one of the all-time point guards in the history of the NBA.
A year later, when he entered the service, we fell apart and missed the playoffs for the first time in my career with the team.
We did fly home for 20 weekend games, the majority of which we won.
He was the consummate floor general. He had a great vision, could see the play develop before he even crossed mid-court and he was one of the first to break down defenses off the dribble. In 1967-68, our final year in St. Louis, he was runner-up in the voting for the league’s MVP award.
The failure of our team to re-sign him forced a trade to Seattle. This was partially my fault but there were circumstances beyond my control and the matter should be laid to rest.
Today most point guards can also score. Take newcomer Chris Paul (Wake Forest) who now plays for New Orleans/Oklahoma City and some say is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year honors.
He can do everything the “true point” can do. He can score from in and out and he sure can rebound for a little fella.
He’s one of the many in the league who have the same qualities. We do not have the space to list them all.
On the collegiate level, we list Dee Brown (Illinois), Jeff Horner (Iowa), Taquan Dean (Louisville), Gerry McNamara (Syracuse) and Carl Krauser (Pittsburgh), although none of these are in Paul’s class yet.
If you play the one, you had better be able to do all of the requirements of the one. There are few pure shooting points around.
Who were the point guards during the six-year championship years of the Chicago Bulls?
John Paxson, sure, and B.J. Armstrong, yes, but, in crunch time, they were Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
This brings us to how I first heard of Scottie.
During my St. Louis days, mining my baseball contacts and putting together a flotilla of scouts (none were paid) around the country and the world, I first heard about a young man named P.J. Lovelady, a 6-4 ˝ 200-pound forward-guard from Arkansas Tech, then a college but now a university located in Russellville, Arkansas.
After secretly scouting him, I felt I had found another potential Jerry Sloan. Incidentally, their nickname was the Wonder Boys and I had this feeling that the name was fitting, and he was a Wonder Boy.
Unfortunately, he was killed in an automobile accident before I could bring him to a Hawks camp. I don’t remember even drafting him – in those days everyone checked my draft lists in the hope of us cutting some quality players because few teams – even in the 1960’s – scouted.
I sent flowers, wrote his coaches and often thought of what might have been.
Years later, now safely ensconced running the NBA’s scouting office, I received a call from Arch Jones who said he played as a freshman during Lovelady’s senior year at Tech.
He said he was now the assistant coach at Central Arkansas, a NAIA school in Conway, Arkansas. He explained he had a front court player who could play a lot of positions, who was a little older than most players, but was a class ahead of the level of play at this conference.
“I know you always beat the bushes for players and never fail to follow up calls,” he said. “Can you help Scottie? He’s a great kid.”
I called a friend in Arkansas trying to find out where Conway was and was told “go to Little Rock and turn right.”
I always like to scout small college players at the PIT and other tourneys or against Division I schools.
Fortunately, the gracious M.K. Turk, head coach at Southern Mississippi, was kind enough to schedule Central Arkansas that year.
Heading down and sneaking upstairs (and actually buying a ticket), I watched this young man play (Pippen went for 34 or 37 – who remembers?). Central lost, but Pippen won.
I told a number of teams about him. Some turned in conflicting reports to their respective teams, so taking the bull by the horns, I insisted that the PIT delegation (the wondrous trio of Yale Dolsey, Bootie Baker and Maylon Parker who formed the trio) invite him.
Remembering other smalls that made big, they agreed and Scottie sure did me proud.
Ten minutes into his first game, everyone came over to me and started shaking my hand. He was that exciting a player.
I invited him to Hawaii and then to the Chicago Pre-Draft conclave where Jerry Krause, the major domo of the Bulls, took it from there.
Desperate to draft him, and expecting Portland to take him sixth (Chicago picked seventh that year), Krause was to work a deal with Seattle who had the fifth choice. They took Pippen and Krause took center Olden Polynice, who still is playing in the minor leagues, and swapped players with the Sonics.
The Bulls, with Michael Jordan (maybe the greatest all-around player in cager history), still had not won a NBA crown. Pippen was the final piece to the puzzle.
Pippen joined Jordan as the two were selected among the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. Pippen is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and was a member of the fabled Dream Team of the ’92 Olympic Games.
It will always remind me of J.P. Lovelady – and Pippen remains his legacy.
Big point, little point? What’s the difference?
Marty Blake's Top 10 College Teams
Connecticut – next game is key on Monday, Feb. 13 at Villanova
Duke – back on track
Memphis – a free spirit
Villanova – every day’s a new day
Pittsburgh – nearly upended UCONN
Illinois – flying high
George Washington – Will Xavier pull an upset?
Florida – injuries hurt; still coming on
Texas – faces Big 12 battle
Gonzaga – should win another West Coast title with ease