I saw a really interesting post today at BBallBreakdown, Why Deron Williams And Chris Paul Can't Win An NBA Championship. It's an eye-popping title to be sure, one I obviously borrowed from, but the post makes an intriguing argument.
The basics are that a statistical analysis of the past 31 NBA seasons shows that no team has won a championship with their starting point guard taking more than 19% of his team's total shots. Since Deron Williams and Chris Paul appear likely to take a larger percentage of their team's shots, they won't be able to win a championship. This is a huge leap; just because it hasn't happened before doesn't mean it won't happen in the future. It's also an idea that seems to run counter to the current NBA conventional wisdom.
Listening to the media and blogosphere tell it, this is a golden age for guards in the NBA. The speed of the game, as well as defensive rule changes, have minimized the importance of big men. Teams, the Pacers included, have actively chased top flight point guards to run their offenses. A list of starting point guards for recent NBA champions will show a few strong point guards (Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups, Rajon Rondo) and a few decidedly un-top flight point guards (Derek Fisher, Jason Williams, Avery Johnson, Ron Harper, Kenny Smith). I don't mean to insult the talents of any of these players but in their championship season none, except maybe Parker, would have been considered a top tier point guard. (Billups now has that reputation, largely because of the championship with Detroit. He was actually a big question mark entering that season.) They are solid players with defined skill sets, but not the aggressive, ball-dominating lead guards teams have been falling all over themselves to acquire.
So how does Darren Collison fit into this discussion, and what does it tell us about the future championship chances of the the Pacers?
In the 76 games he played with New Orleans last season, Collison took 12.47% of the available shots while averaging 5.7 Ast per Game, numbers which appear to be right in line with the averages of championship point guards discussed in the BBallBreakdown post. However, from the beginning of February, when Chris Paul was injured to the end of the season, Collison took 18.37% of his team's available shots while averaging 7.3 Ast per Game. These look a lot more like the numbers of Deron Williams and Chris Paul, numbers BBallBreakdown is arguing demonstrate an out-of-balance offense incapable of making a championship run.
Now obviously the connection between a point guard's shot attempts and winning a championship is not iron-clad. Ignoring last season's Hornets, Paul and Williams have played on very, very good teams, despite not winning it all. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a Pacers' fan who wouldn't settle for just being very, very good next season.
That being said it's clear that an important component of very good teams is balance on offense. With 5 players on the floor at a time, each player taking 20% of the shots would create an even balance, but this is not necessarily the most efficient balance. It's largely the point guard's job to dictate and create the balance of shot attempts among his teammates. To accomplish this it's usually necessary for them to forgo some of their own offensive opportunities.
We're all very excited about Collison joining the Pacers' next season, but finding the right offensive shot distribution is going to be a challenge. Hopefully, Hibbert and Hansbrough will see more touches in the post. Hopefully, George and McRoberts will be able to find shots in transition and from the perimeter. Granger, of course, will continue to use a large number of offensive possessions. Collison has the weight of huge expectations to bear next season. A major test for him, and indicator of team success, will be his ability to distribute the ball effectively and often enough to his teammates, while still finding opportunities for himself to be an efficient scorer when called upon.