The role of backup point guard is quite vital in today’s NBA, not only to the Houston Rockets (although, it’s especially vital to them), but the entire league. It’s a player who comes into games that already have their own flow, runs the second unit, fills in for a starter in the unfortunate case he gets injured, and, being that he’ll have the ball when they’re on the floor more times than not, exist as a dependable scoring option.
An 82 game season can be painfully long, making depth chart changes uncomfortably fluid for struggling teams that treat lineup alterations as some sort of combination lock keeping them from opening up a treasure chest full of success. The Rockets will likely fall under that category this season, and during training camp they’ll have three guys battling for the right to give Jeremy Lin a breather: Toney Douglas, Scott Machado, and Shaun Livingston. All are newcomers to the organization, with Douglas and Livingston acquired as filler in separate trades during the summer.
In typical Rockets fashion, all are playing on salvageable deals that could easily be the last of their careers. Livingston and Douglas have experience, displaying blips of exciting play in their careers, but it’s more than possible only one of the three makes the opening day roster.
With nothing tangible going on right now, I’ve taken the liberty of looking at a positional battle that should be a semi-important sub-theme throughout the season. First up is a close look at Douglas, a 26-year-old true combo guard who wore out his welcome in New York so badly, they agreed to pay for him to play in Houston.
Last season’s legendarily terrible performance did for Douglas’ future what 47 Ronin will likely do to Carl Rinsch. A hurt shoulder cost him playing time and the trust of New York’s fluctuating coaching staff in what ironically forced the team to turn its reigns over to Jeremy Lin. But the bigger problem was probably Douglas’ inability to hit shots or create any productive action in then Knick head coach Mike D’Antoni’s point guard-friendly offense, which is quite magnificent when you really think about it. He began the year as New York’s starter, but the expectations of leading a top heavy, multiple All-Star loaded team crushed him. From the looks of his shooting figures Douglas didn’t know what he was doing—in the team’s fifth game of the season, a home loss against Toronto, he took 11 three-pointers and made just four of them.
In general, I don’t believe last year’s lockout shortened season should serve as a “be all, end all” judgement for players who fell off a cliff. The combination of no training camp, lack of physical conditioning, and rushed communication obviously had an unnatural effect on several guys who couldn’t adjust quick enough. The previous season Douglas was actually a promising guy worth discussing.
In 2010-11 he shot 37.3% from the three-point line on just under five attempts per game; he actually made more of them throughout the second of of the year than anyone in the entire league. Last season he was a disgraceful 23.1% on about three attempts per game. In just 38 games, his PER fell from 15.2 to 7.1, making him a safe bet for worst point guard in the entire league if we just went by that single metric.
For this reason, I’ll be mostly looking at what he did in that previous year to gauge what we might expect from a healthy Douglas in 2012. Lo and behold, not all is so bad when we dig a little deeper. In 2010-11, Douglas ranked as the 12th most efficient pick and roll ball-handler in the league, scoring 0.95 points per possession. (This is obviously in many fewer opportunities, but for the record, that’s a better figure than Steve Nash, and just .02 PPP lower than Chris Paul.) He isn’t total garbage. In one game two years ago he hit nine three-pointers against the Grizzlies, tying a Knicks team record. He has defensive ability running through his veins, and could be useful in small ball lineups as someone capable of defending both guard positions.
Which guy should Houston expect? And will the change of scenery and familiarity with a diminished spotlight and lowered expectations help him get back on track as a steadily improving commodity?
In ESPN.com’s annual NBA Rank feature, Douglas placed as the 321st best player in the league heading into next season, which I suppose is a fair grade at this point, even if it’s less indicative of what he’s shown he’s capable of doing. (Quentin Richardson was 259th. Is Toney Douglas inferior to Quentin Richardson? I don’t think so.) If he can earn the role as Houston’s backup point guard, where his future stands as a relevant NBA player will once again be worth discussing.