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Sports Point guard position is taking on a more important role this season for NBA title contenders

21:51  19 october  2021
21:51  19 october  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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Point guards come in different flavors.

Pass-first point guards. Score-first point guards. Pass-and-score point guards.

The point guard’s importance has never been understated, but this season in particular, players at that position will have a decided impact on the champion. That includes players who are on the court, a player who is not on the court and a player whose status with the team remains blurred by drama.

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“Across the board as a fan of the NBA, it’s an awesome time,” said ESPN’s Mark Jackson who made a name for himself as a pass-first point guard.

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► There are point guard who switched teams: Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kyle Lowry to Miami, Lonzo Ball to Chicago, Kemba Walker to New York, Dennis Schroder to Boston.

► Veterans point guards seeking a title: Utah’s Mike Conley, Phoenix’s Chris Paul, Brooklyn’s James Harden and Portland’s Damian Lillard.

► Young point guards trying to take the next step: Atlanta’s Trae Young, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Memphis’ Ja Morant, Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball, Minnesota’s D’Angelo Russell and Cleveland’s Darius Garland.

► Point guards with cloudy futures: Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving.

► And one transformative point guard looking for another title and MVP award: Golden State’s Stephen Curry.

Stephen Curry (30), a three-time NBA champion and two-time MVP, helped to change what teams look for in a point guard. © Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images Stephen Curry (30), a three-time NBA champion and two-time MVP, helped to change what teams look for in a point guard.

To underscore the point guard’s importance, Milwaukee searched and searched until it found Jrue Holiday and look what happened. The Bucks won the title. When Phoenix acquired Paul, it went to the Finals for the first time in nearly three decades.

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“There’s several really interesting point guard situations that will go a long way to determine the success of teams,” TNT’s Stan Van Gundy said, adding, “I don’t have the answer on any of them, and we won’t know until we get halfway through the season and see how some of these guys are playing.”

Much energy will be spent watching Westbrook’s adaptation into the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers program. How does Westbrook fit? What sacrifices does he need to make? The idea is that a former MVP and nine-time All-NBA performer searching for his first championship will do what’s necessary, and Jackson called it “an opportunity to make the Lakers better and give them a legitimate chance to win it all.”

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) dribbles the ball around Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during the first quarter at Staples Center. © Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sport Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) dribbles the ball around Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during the first quarter at Staples Center.

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Westbrook’s outlook is a long term situation. Other situations are more pressing. The NBA opens the season with one of its best point guards parked on the sideline because he won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. The Brooklyn Nets took the drastic step to sit Irving until he can be a full-time player. A New York City vaccine prevents him from playing at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and New York’s Madison Square Garden. But he can play in road games. The Nets don’t want that situation.

“We gloss over just what a great, great player he is who had a great year last year until he was injured,” ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy said. “But when you voluntarily sit down that great a player, it must have been a gut-wrenching decision for them.”

But even without Irving, Van Gundy still likes Brooklyn’s chances.

“They’ve accumulated enough talent to win it all,” he said.

The Sixers are another team with championship aspirations but start the season with Simmons’ status unclear as he seeks a trade just one season into a five-year, $177.2 million extension. On Tuesday, the Sixers suspended Simmons one game for conduct detrimental to the team.

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Given Simmons’ trade request and the exchange of words between both sides (Joel Embiid told reporters on Tuesday, "At this point, I don’t care about that man, honestly. He does whatever he wants"), a resolution that keeps Simmons in Philadelphia is unlikely.

“I could be shocked, but I believe Ben Simmons will be traded at some point, which is unfortunate because he’s an incredible talent,” Jackson said, “and somebody will be acquiring an elite basketball player that immediately from day one will improve them.”

Regardless, Stan Van Gundy said with the Sixers’ lineup featuring Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, “A point guard is necessary there. … They need somebody to get those guys the ball.”

When asked what situation intrigued him the most, TNT's Reggie Miller points to the Jazz’s Mike Conley. Entering his third season with Utah, Conley battled injuries last season as the Jazz posted the best record in the league but faltered in the playoffs.

“I know there’s a lot of tread on the tires with him but … if he’s healthy and whole and can contribute and just be steady for Utah, the Jazz are one of those teams (that can contend),” Miller said.

The Heat seek another trip to the Finals after a tough 2020-21 following their 2020 Finals loss to the Lakers, and Lowry might just be the addition who propels them to the top of the East. And don’t discount Steph Curry, especially when Klay Thompson returns.

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Stan Van Gundy is hooked on the league’s point guard story, ticking off several compelling scenarios, drilling down to Fred VanVleet in Toronto, Spencer Dinwiddie in Washington and Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo in Denver.

Of Walker’s first season with the Knicks after a tough two seasons in Boston, he said, “Everyone was down on the year he had. The dude averaged 19 a game in Boston with the other two guys as their mainstays. This guy is still a formidable offensive player and is a big upgrade when healthy over Elfrid on the offensive end of the floor.”

Stan Van Gundy was more worried about Schroder, Boston’s new point guard. “Schroder has to be a little bit better than he was last year – more like what he was in OKC two years ago. Which version of him do you get?” he said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Point guard position is taking on a more important role this season for NBA title contenders

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