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Thursday, January 5, 2012
If You're Hard-Core: Point guard shuffle

By John Cregan
Special to ESPN.com

This preseason, we in Fantasyland were pushing the line that this season would bring about some new depth at point guard. Said depth was supposed to level the playing field in the assist column, meaning owners wouldn't have to be so desperate for a Rajon Rondo or a Chris Paul to be competitive in the dimes department.

Well, we're already done with 10 percent of our games, and the new landscape at the position has underwhelmed. We are still looking at a stat dominated by several super-producers whose gaudy assist totals routinely double and sometimes triple what the average point guard produces on a nightly basis.

Ricky Rubio
Ricky Rubio is already proving that he was worth the wait.

There have been some small shifts in the assist hierarchy. We've logged enough games to officially tab some early pleasant surprises (Kyle Lowry, Kobe Bryant, Andre Miller, Darren Collison, Jarrett Jack, Ricky Rubio) and mild to major disappointments (Deron Williams, John Wall, Jrue Holiday, Jason Kidd). But with many teams still getting their offenses in (literal) shape, we've witnessed some inefficient point guard play, and, even worse … a preponderance of time-shares.

There are way too many point guard time-shares going on around here. Still, you should bank on some of these time-shares swinging one way or the other. That means multiple buy-low opportunities.

Since we're still in the early stage of our schedule, I thought it would be helpful to look at some of the NBA's more overcrowded backcourts.

(To help point out which teams pack the most potential assist help, I've added two stats to the discussion: team-wide assists per game and assist ratio. APG is self-explanatory, and assist ratio shows how many assists a team generates per 100 possessions. Teams with elite point guard play always dominate in assist ratio.)

I'm listing these teams in order of possible sleeper impact. The more I think there's a chance one person becomes the man on a team, the higher the ranking.

10. Los Angeles Lakers (APG 21.6/AR 15.1)
Point guards: Derek Fisher (3.7 APG), Steve Blake (2.7 APG)
I'm not going to turn this into another "Stern screwed them" moment (I think we've all heard enough, don't you?). But it remains that the Lakers sport the worst point guard rotation in the NBA with the hobo-like duo of Fisher and Blake. With the Triangle offense gone, it's Kobe Bryant's offense in nearly every respect. Kobe will lead this team in assists unless Fisher gets hurt (I think Blake could step up in a larger role) or another trade goes down (Mo Williams already has a locker in the building, I believe).

9. Sacramento Kings (APG 14.0/AR 9.7)
Point guards: Tyreke Evans (3.0 APG), Jimmer Fredette (2.6 APG), Isaiah Thomas (1.1 APG)
Take a look at those parentheticals. They contain the kind of numbers that get coaches fired. I'd say the DeMarcus Cousins flap has hurt the Kings' flow, but they really had no flow to begin with. I think they really miss Beno Udrih.

I wonder if wholesale shifts are coming, starting with head coach Paul Westphal, which could dramatically alter the Kings' current backcourt rotation. Evans has been a PER train wreck (13.4 so far), and doesn't seem to be presently capable of running a team. There's a chance (maybe a growing chance) that Jimmer (only a 10.5 PER) could be handed the keys sometime this season, so keep an eye on this rapidly imploding situation. Crazy as it sounds, Isaiah Thomas might be the closest thing the Kings presently have to a bona fide point guard.

Norris Cole
Norris Cole has already shown some flashes of brilliance early in his career, including a nine-assist game on New Year's Day.

8. Miami Heat (APG 24.0/AR 16.3)
Point guards: Mario Chalmers (3.9 APG), Norris Cole (3.4 APG)
The Empire is rolling right now in South Beach, but the bulk of the team's assists are (obviously) lapped up by LeBron and Wade. Despite the Heat's toothless point guard stats, there is potential here for Cole to step up and claim the lion's share of minutes. He displays more fantasy potential than Chalmers, who seems to have hit his ceiling.

7. Dallas Mavericks (APG 22.3/AR 15.5)
Point guards: Jason Kidd (4.7 APG), Rodrigue Beaubois (1.3 APG)
The Mavericks are starting to right the ship, but one has to wonder if Kidd is either still working on his conditioning or has finally hit the wall. If Jose Juan Barea were still here, I'd be logging his every move, but it doesn't look like Beaubois is remotely close to challenging for Kidd's spot. Still, Beaubois has a high ceiling, and if the Mavericks drop their championship aspirations, you could see him getting more minutes as the season progresses.

6. Charlotte Bobcats (APG 21.6/AR 15.2)
Point guards: D.J. Augustin (7.3 APG), Kemba Walker (3.2 APG)
Charlotte is brimming with upside at the 1; the question here is how Walker's role develops over the course of this season. As long as Augustin plays at a high level, the discussion is moot; Walker will stay in the 15-20 minutes per game range. There was some smoke around the idea of the two playing together at times, but Gerald Henderson has a stranglehold on shooting guard minutes (36.0 per game).

5. Detroit Pistons (19.0 APG/13.9 AR)
Point guards: Rodney Stuckey (4.8 APG), Brandon Knight (2.7 APG), Will Bynum (1.3 APG)
I love Knight's potential, but he's posted only one useable stat line to date (23 points, 6 assists, 3 3-pointers on Dec. 28). Unless Stuckey's groin issue becomes an ongoing problem, it's hard to see Knight having a sustained fantasy impact this season. But it's still early, and Knight's upside bears watching, especially if Lawrence Frank decides to go into full ping-pong ball mode.

Ty Lawson
Ty Lawson owners will have to be content that he's sharing time and numbers with Andre Miller.

4. Denver Nuggets (22.9 APG/14.9 AR)
Point guards: Ty Lawson (5.6 APG), Andre Miller (6.6 APG)
This is the rare time-share that has yielded two startable players in Lawson and Miller, but Lawson owners have to be frustrated that Lawson is still stuck at fewer than 6 APG. The issue here is depth; Denver has too much of it in the backcourt. Lawson owners can complain, but he's still leading the team with 32.1 minutes per game, which is impressive considering Miller's clocking in at 28.9. This dynamic looks pretty locked in for the duration of the season, so their owners will have to be happy with both guards' decent production.

3. Philadelphia 76ers (22.8 APG, 15.9 AR)
Point guards: Jrue Holiday (3.8 APG), Lou Williams (3.4 APG)
Like the Heat, the Sixers are generating a ton of assists, but they're being gobbled up by other positions (Andre Iguodala is at 4.4 APG and Spencer Hawes is sparkling at 3.6 APG). If I were writing this Wednesday, I'd tell you to buy low on the slow-starting Holiday, but it might already be too late thanks to Wednesday night's massive line (23 points, 8 assists, 4 3-pointers).

Lou Williams remains a strong sell-high candidate (he got off to a fast start last season as well before tailing off), and I think it's only a matter of time before things return to their projected norms. Williams will still hold value, but his upside is a poor man's Jason Terry (as opposed to Jason Terry).

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (22.2 APG/15.2 AR)
Point guards: Kyrie Irving (5.3 APG), Ramon Sessions (5.3 APG)
This is all about Irving creating some separation between his minutes and Sessions' (Irving is at 25.8 per game, Sessions is at 23.0). Both players have been productive, but Irving is delivering as advertised and should see his minutes and numbers rise. Buy low if you still can, and don't worry about the Rookie Wall. He has only 60 games left, for heaven's sake.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves (18.0 APG/12.1 APG)
Point guards: Ricky Rubio (7.0 APG)
Yes, I should have listed Jose Juan Barea and the underrated Luke Ridnour, but we all know what we're waiting on here. It's already past time for Rubio to take over his preordained starting duties and start averaging a double-double. Rubio may not ever be Steve Nash in his prime, but he's already closing in on Nash's present incarnation.