In a recent interview, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was asked a question about this year’s buyout market and the makeup of his roster, which became an intriguing topic when you consider that Andrew Bogut was eligible to re-sign with the Warriors if both parties were interested (they weren’t). Kerr responded to this speculation in part by saying “I don’t anticipate going back to having an overload of bigs.” In such a guard-dominant league where most teams are spreading their offense out behind the three point line, a team can only allocate so many roster spots to players who are useful exclusively in the paint, as noted by Steve Kerr. The Warriors are currently the greatest example of what having great guards can do for a team in today’s league, but are not the only roster the proves how essential guards are. Below them in the standings you will find, unsurprisingly, most of the league’s best guards among the other top ten teams – Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, James Harden in Houston, Isaiah Thomas in Boston, John Wall in Washington, Kyle Lowry in Toronto, and Chris Paul in Los Angeles, and Mike Conley in Memphis. The common link between these teams, besides their dominant point guards, is that they have general managers and owners that repeatedly make personnel moves that put their players in a position to succeed.
Towards the bottom of the standings, in some cases, you have the inverse - Brook Lopez, Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, all great players in their own right, none of which have been set up for consecutive years of success, and many of which do not have the luxury of having talented guards as teammates.
So, as one would expect, the league’s top executives have amassed some of the best talents. As we look only three months ahead to this summer’s draft, I would argue that the Celtics should continue to build on the current trend. I’m not a stick-to-the-status-quo kind of guy, but a high draft pick in a guard-heavy draft lottery is a too good an opportunity to waste in a guard-heavy league.
Quick aside to dispel another myth: drafting to fill a need instead of grabbing the best talent does not lead to Anthony Bennett 2.0. Markelle Fultz could just as easily be the next Anthony Bennett or Brandon Roy for that matter. It’s called the “lottery” for a reason.
Right now, the Celtics have a rotation of four guards – Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley in the starting lineup, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier off the bench – so this idea that drafting another guard would be overkill is completely beyond me. Do people think we couldn’t run the same rotation next year, except we replace Rozier with the 6’4” Markelle Fultz or the 6’6” Lonzo Ball? How can it be that four guards are too many, but I haven’t heard anything about how the current roster has six centers/power forwards? Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green, and James Young are all about to expire and have all played regular rotation minutes recently. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t replace any of them with a top four draft pick.
Aside from sheer roster space, the Celtics could also fit another guard due to the flexibility of the ones they already have. Back in Brad Stevens’ second season coaching the Celtics, he ran the offense through a point-guard-by-committee system with Marcus Smart, Phil Pressey, and Evan Turner when Rajon Rondo was injured. A lot has changed since then, but Stevens’ rotations have remained just as flexible, featuring both Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas as guys who can play as a point guard or a shooting guard. Markelle Fultz, like Smart, is 6’4” and a capable defender. Lonzo Ball, the current number two prospect, is a 6’6” point guard. The Celtics have great chemistry, and Isaiah Thomas himself will tell you they can make it work.
"I can play with anybody," Thomas said. "I can play off the ball, I can come off screens, I can catch and shoot. So I think that's, even going back to college, my first couple of years I was off the ball. And then I can play on the ball as well. So a lot of guys can't do both, but I'm fine with doing both."
If you think Fultz or Ball’s development would be stunted by sticking one of them behind three other guards, then take a moment to look at Jaylen Brown’s career arc in his first year. In the summer league, he was blowing by defenders, but hardly finishing plays, and was mediocre at the free throw line. In the preseason, he gained some control but still tried to brute force his way through too many defenders. Early in the regular season, he started slinging passes and taking more opportunistic layups. Now, he’s knocking down catch-and-shoot three-pointers, spinning off defenders for thunderous jams, and is starting to consistently score in double digits. And don’t forget, last year’s draft was supposedly a two-man draft, and Jaylen was taken third. This all has come, of course, while playing second fiddle at the small forward position to Jae Crowder, and occasional scoring outbursts from Gerald Green. The NBA is not only trending towards guards but big guards. Look at James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. They don't set the standard for a point guard's size by any means, but more and more teams are ditching the arbitrary limits we put on who can play what position, and if you really want to see how weird things have gotten, James Harden is defending the power forward position tonight. So there you have it.