The Blueprint: Backup PGs
Welcome to “The Blueprint,” a series about roster philosophy and data science in the NBA. This collection of pieces explores Aneesh Namburi’s personal ideology in modern team building while incorporating a custom Python dash app to provide statistical backing, as well as a tool for future player/role identification.
In the latest edition of 'P.I. Pulse,' to conclude "The Blueprint" series, Aneesh Namburi provides an overview of another valuable player archetype when building out a roster: backup PGs.
If you missed "The Blueprint: Low-Usage Scorers," check it out here.
Every team needs a consistent presence on its roster, one that the coaching staff can count on to produce in any scenario and keep a team flow at a requisite level necessary for contending teams when starters sit. Having a solid backup point guard is often overlooked, but can be extremely valuable to a contending roster. More than other roles, we not only see how hard it is to stick in the NBA as a back-up guard due to the sheer amount of candidates available, but there is a real difference between a solid backup and those countless high-variance guards that cycle in and out of the league and rotations (but dominate overseas). Countless playoff series have shown the perils of having little to no stabilizing options with the primary pieces off the floor.
The importance of this role archetype is to act as a steadying influence to lineups, while providing a variety of skills across the board. Basically, the idea of the backup guard is to minimize the drop off in offensive production when the starters/main creators are on the bench. In terms of specific attributes, the characteristics are vaguely similar to a ‘guard creator,’ mainly without the same physical tools threshold. This includes shooting, pick-and-roll proficiency, and providing touches to keep teammates involved. As a bonus, adding a change of pace and/or small skill variance to the team increases the dynamism for the rotation, always a helpful addition.
At first, one may wonder what the difference is between these backup guards and the guard creator role outlined earlier in this series. To put it simply, the largest contrast is often age/experience and a lack of physical tools. For better or worse, NBA teams still bank on “traditional” physical tools and upside. While there are instances where these types of bets pay off big, I think these terms could be updated (again, check Jake’s article). At the core of it, teams need good basketball players, and especially since most front offices do not seem to value (in terms of the draft) these experienced, yet productive guards, they are an easy win for smart organizations. We’ll get to them in the examples below, but recent draftees such as Malachi Flynn, Jalen Brunson, and Devonte’ Graham are just a small number of the guards fitting this criteria that outperformed their draft stock from the jump.
Both Morris and Brunson were excellent two-level scorers in college who also “ran system offenses” to perfection. Despite their film not showing anything outlier special per se, having that stabilizing force can be so valuable, and the numbers back it up. Of course Morris is known for consistently being near the top of the leaderboard for assist-to-turnover ratio, and Brunson definitely isn’t too shabby, either. However, I will definitely acknowledge that due to this being an early version of my program, the delineations between the elite backup guards and fringe NBA candidates are a bit more blurry, as players such as Frank Mason, Brandon Goodwin, Jordan Bone, Ray McCallum, Demetrius Jackson, and Yogi Ferrell match up closely via stats. This is a big area where I’m confident that with improved stats/metrics/numbers, the program can increase accuracy.
Wright matches up with other big guards such as Anderson, SGA, and Payton due to his high assist rate and limited three-point attempts. (Looking at his film, he showed a lack of creation equity + ability to make advanced reads like the aforementioned players). However, with two of those three players making significant strides in their shots throughout their NBA career and his defensive acumen, it made sense that as long as Wright shot a decent clip, he could pass off as a backup guard and even play off the ball due to his versatility on defense, and if he didn’t, he’d be of some service as a spot rotation guard.
2021 NBA Draft
Every year, there seems to be an under-drafted guard who makes an immediate impact and outperforms his draft stock. Below are the two prospects that I think have the best shot of doing so:
My projection of Alvarado is/was higher than most. While no defensive numbers were used for this search, it is interesting that six of the nine players are positive defensive contributors, which matches with his potential to be an impact player on that side of the floor even with his size limitations. Alvarado’s sticking point in the NBA is most likely how well he can shoot, specifically on self-created attempts. Having multiple players who became solid shooters is positive, but none of these players pose significant threats from pull-ups, which can give some pause.
Zegarowski has a shot to fit this bill based on his elite pull-up shooting, craft, and tough shot-making capabilities in addition to his ability to make the necessary playmaking reads. The tape shows a prospect I am extremely high on. However, the stat results are not as promising. There are definitely high-end shooters and playmakers in the query, but none that are both at a high level. Based on what I’ve seen from the prior data, this actually might be a good sign, as the previous backups mentioned also maintain similar comparisons.