The point guard is an important position to a team, but how about the back-up? His role is just as important as the starters.
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Rarely do we have a fan base in the NBA that is more concerned with the logo on the front of the jersey than the name on the back. Compare that to the NFL where we see generations of fans passionately rooting for a singular team as if they were a part of it since the team’s inception.
So, if we are only concerned with stars, the guy who brings the ball up the court and sets up each play should be the most important player on the team. The point guard should be a star, and generally they are. We have one of those star point guards here in San Antonio in the form of Tony Parker.
Across the Association we have plenty of star power at the point guard position, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook, who are all stars on their respective teams. And they get paid like stars. Paul, Williams, Rose, and Westbrook all earn over $15 million a year.
As an aside, Parker is the eighth highest paid point-man at $12.5 million- which is criminally $2.5 million less than Jeremy Lin. The NBA pays the point guard as a star, regardless of how loosely bestowed that title may be.
Let me play devil’s advocate and challenge the notion that the point guard is the most vital component of the team. I’m not even looking at the coveted big man, or a swing-guard to take the title of team-MVP. I don’t even have to change positions. Consider a team’s backup point guard as the vital role on a championship-ready roster.
Apr 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) dribbles the ball up court in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
In 2011 JJ Barea proved instrumental to the Dallas Mavericks capturing their first franchise title. His stat line was impressive, but it was his hustle on defense and ability to get to the hoop that propelled the Mavericks to the championship. If you recall, future NBA Hall of Fame point guard, Jason Kidd, was the starter for that team.
Barea capitalized on his success by signing a multi-year deal with Minnesota, and has now logged eight years in the league.
San Antonio has its own version of Barea in 5-foot-11 Patty Mills. In 2014 Mills pushed the ball at a blistering pace, backing up Parker, on his way to his first championship with the Spurs. In San Antonio, Spurs fans can attest that while his stat-line was impressive, he too should be considered vital to the championship success for the hustle.
So similar was the intangible-contribution of Barea and Mills that I wanted to run a quick production review during the year of their title. What I found was virtually the same statistical performance.
In fact, Mills’ production should look very familiar to another champion Spur. In 1998-99, Avery Johnson hit 47 percent of his field goals, on his way to 9.74 PPG.
The back-up point guard role should be a coveted one. A strong performance from this role, more than any other non-starter can spark a team to victory. In the past 10-years, the NBA champion has featured an above-average back-up point guard (aside from the 2009-10 Lakers- due to the ‘Kobe Bryant- effect’).
Remember what Eddie House did for the 2008 Celtics? Or Jason Williams for the 2006 Miami Heat?
By extending the trend line we naturally arrive at the question of what team to expect success from this season.
And of course, Mills will be back for the San Antonio. Though the Spurs do have other point guards on their roster, 2016 first-round draft pick Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes, Mills is the true back-up for San Antonio.
Mills recently played for Australia in the Rio Olympics where he backed-up and showed the world that he can be ‘the man’. Though Australia did not medal in the Olympics, Mills did have games that turned alot of fans heads, and he did this starting at the point guard spot.
If nothing else we know that the Spurs are the deepest team in the league. The drop off from starter to back-up at any position is not enormous, and certainly not as significant as on other teams vying for the title.