How important is the point guard in professional basketball? The NBA game has become so laden with talented individuals that the day of the classic playmaker has passed—no more Dick McGuires, Bob Cousys, or Nate Archibalds. Nowadays, the offensive attack doesn’t always begin at the point. The 6-foot-9-inch Magic Johnson helped revolutionize the position and a new term entered the NBA lexicon in the mid-’80s with “point forwards” such as Paul Pressey. But teams still need good, genuine point guards. True, Chicago won three straight titles without a bona fide quarterback, but with Michael Jordan, who needed one?
On anemic offensive teams such as Washington, a solid point guard can play a pivotal though subtle role, getting every player involved by knowing exactly where and when they like to receive the ball for a shot. A true point guard often makes a seemingly boring pass to the open man that leads to an easy basket, or dishes off to a teammate who then makes the obvious pass, similar to the second assist given to hockey players.
Washington had the opportunity to acquire a real point guard in Duke’s Bobby Hurley during the NBA draft. Instead, it took Indiana’s Calbert Cheaney. There’s nothing wrong with Cheaney, the 6-foot-7-inch swingman who should disprove the theory that Bobby Knight’s players make NBA has-beens. The problem is that Adams is not a point guard. It’s that simple. Never has been. Never will be. Why haven’t John Nash and Wes Unseld figured that out? They could have mended one of the team’s many weaknesses by taking Hurley, a proven winner and a natural point guard—two commodities the Bullets have lacked since the salad days of the late ’70s.
Before theorizing on why the Bullets didn’t take Hurley, take a closer look at why the 5-foot-10-inch Adams is not a back-court general. Adams is a better-than-average NBA player who can shoot adequately from long range and thrives on the fast break. But to excel he must be surrounded by many other offensive weapons, as he was in Denver, and must not be a focal point of the shooting attack, as he has been in Washington. In this scenario, he becomes a so-so shooting guard whose size prevents him from creating offense and taking high-percentage shots, thus accounting for his mediocre .439 field-goal percentage last season.
A long-range bomber he is; a pure shooter he’s not. The Bullets knew this years ago, when they shipped him to Denver, where he set the league on fire with three-pointers. Washington was not wrong in reacquiring Adams because it had a punchless, pitiful offensive attack that lacked outside shooting.
Last season, Adams averaged 14.8 points and 7.5 assists per game for the Bullets, but the latter statistic is misleading. Many of his assists come off the running game, which the Bullets execute poorly and are not likely to excel at this year with the acquisition of Kevin Duckworth. In a half-court situation, Adams’ first inclination has been to fire away rather than finding the open man (it’s not his nature and it shouldn’t be). He made a name for himself with the Nuggets by shooting. Don’t be surprised to see second-year men Brent Price and Doug Overton, more accurate but still subpar representations of natural point guards, running the show.
Why, then, didn’t the Bullets take Hurley, picked seventh overall by Sacramento, one spot after Washington selected Cheaney? The Bullets lacked the guts. They were afraid of looking bad with another pint-size mistake they’d have to ship away in embarrassment—a la Tyrone Bogues and—that’s right—Adams. In Cheaney, Washington has a safe, solid pick who figures to boost its weak outside-shooting attack with at least an average of 12 points a game.
But true point guards come around as often as true centers and should never be passed up. Hurley, who will finish among the top five in the NBA in assists this year, would have raised the level of play of the entire team. A fearless gnat, his first instinct is to pass, a rarity in the NBA these days. Yes, he’s short and could be a defensive liability, but it’s not likely he’d be any more so than Adams. Granted, he could struggle from outside, but he’s a proven champion, something the Bullets need.
The last true point guard Washington had was Kevin Porter, a ’70s sensation who focused solely on passing and knew his teammates’ favorite spots. Those players aren’t common anymore, but Hurley comes close. The Bullets won their only title in 1978 with a point guard who was average at best—Tom Henderson. But he thought “pass first” and was surrounded by one of the better forward lines to ever play the game: Unseld, Elvin Hayes, and Bob Dandridge.
Especially in half-court situations, Adams doesn’t have the subtle knack for getting the ball to the open man at the right time. In Washington’s first two games, losses to Philadelphia and Boston, Adams was plagued by a broken finger on his off hand. Nonetheless, his performance against Boston illustrates the point. He provided needed punch to Washington’s lackluster offense, leading the team with 24 points, and paced the Bullets with nine assists—even if most came off the Bullets’ few fast breaks. Players such as Rex Chapman, Tom Gugliotta, and Cheaney would thrive with a quarterback who could get them the ball at the right place and time. That player is Hurley.
NBA Nuances Two Washington-area high-school standouts are going in different directions in the NBA. Reston’s Dennis Scott, of Flint Hill, must prove himself in Orlando or he’ll be unloaded. With his deadly range, he could be a perfect complement to Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway, but injury problems and weight woes have forced the Magic to try to trade him. The onetime national high-school player of the year shot a miserable .431 from the field last year and missed 28 games because of tendinitis; he’d already missed much of the previous season because of injury. The sidelined swingman gained some of the baby fat of his younger days but is now in good shape after the trade rumors and with his contract near expiration.
With Scott relegated to the bench, a trade seems to be in order, although it’s hard to imagine a better setup than having O’Neal and Hardaway as teammates….
What’s the big deal about Dominique Wilkins? The“Human Highlight Film” is pretty boring. Kudos to him last season for at least adding other aspects to his game besides dunking, but he’ll never be in the same class as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, et al. Though Wilkins has improved his outside shot and looks for his teammates more than in years past, he still often painfully holds onto the ball with tunnel vision for the basket while open teammates linger. It must be brutal to watch for an assist maven like new Coach Lenny Wilkens.
An opposite case is that of Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston. Also a player who knew little about the game before entering the pros, the 7-foot center was just a Jordan away from MVP last year, and many thought he deserved the honor after adding passing to his repertoire, nearly doubling his assist total. If Barkley doesn’t win the award, Olajuwon will.