This may be a strange connection to draw, but I believe in the minds of Blazermaniacs, the 2009 point guard class and Damian Lillard are inextricably linked. While the Blazers punted the draft by stashing Victor Claver, 10 other teams looked for a future point guard (or a backup future point guard like the Jazz, or two future point guards). The perceived success of these 11 players while Portland has treaded water at the PG position for the past three years led to people to sour on the legacy of Kevin Pritchard, question the ability of Nate McMillan to develop point guards, and most importantly, incorrectly assess the odds that first-round point guards will succeed in the NBA.
At this point it seems almost consensus that Lillard is going to be a good NBA player. Part of that is his combination of attitude, production, and skillset. I’m in no better position to assess this than anybody else, I am not a follower of Big Sky basketball. However, I think another part of this is simply that Blazer fans saw every other team get their “PGOTF” in the 2009 draft, and figured it’d be easy to do if the team got a high enough draft pick. But how many teams got their man in 2009? Here are some PER numbers:
|#20 Rated PG||16.3||16||17.6|
Flynn and Maynor are obviously never going to be starting point guards in this league, this can be ruled out simply based on prior production. Based on a combination of how their teams view them, their production, and league-wide consensus, it’s pretty obvious that Collison, Evans and Beaubois will not be point guards long-term for their current teams. Those players can immediately be ruled out as true “successes” for drafting point guards in the first round.
The Mushy Middle
Philly and Atlanta seem to believe that they have found long-term solutions in Teague and Holiday, but the numbers don’t really bear this out. This is why I’ve included a comparison to the #20 rated PG in the league. In a league where solidly productive starters like Dragic and Lowry are expensive but not prohibitively so, I’d question the wisdom of sitting through three years of relatively poor production for a point guard. The main benefit of this tactic is that it saves money and keeps the fans excited, because young point guards are sexy.
An entire book could be written on Jennings, but his PER is inflated by high usage on relatively unhelpful efficiency (51.5 TS). Still, given his and Holiday’s relative youth they may yet become above-average starters in this league though any of these guys being real stars is probably out of the question. The true unknown is Ricky Rubio, who has true star potential, but also glaring warts in his game.
Only two teams can truly be said to have found their future star point guards in the draft: the Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors (injury caveat for Curry). Finding good players at any position in the draft is hard. NBA decision-makers make a lot of mistakes. Curry was chosen after Evans, Rubio and Flynn, Lawson chosen after those four, Jennings and Holiday. Getting a high-pedigree point guard does nothing until he proves it.
Even if the myth that you need a veteran PG has been somewhat debunked with the success of Rose, Westbrook, and some of these 2009 guys, it is still exceptionally hard to succeed as a rookie in the NBA at any position. And that still applies to point guard.
While the point guard position is fantastically productive in the NBA right now, and the 2009 class played a part, picking Claver was not the root of all evils for the Blazers, and drafting Lillard will not cure all that ails them. With expectations for Lillard rising based on not only his prospect profile but also his position, keep in mind that a 15+ PER season would be excellent and surpass most of his recent peers.