Posted by: James Seaman on July 25th, 2010The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
I wish Jerry Sloan had a DVR that could pause actual Jazz games. Just as I can pause live TV to take a call, use the bathroom, or grab a cold one from the fridge, Sloan would love to stop the action while Deron Williams catches his breath. Unfortunately, no such real-life DVR exits, meaning that when D-Will steps off the court, the game goes on without him. This causes serious problems for the Jazz because they don’t have a back-up point guard who can adequately hold down the fort while the team’s best player takes a rest.
Deron Williams has played without a solid back-up in every season of his career, save one—the 2006-07 season when the now despised Derek Fisher answered the bell. Heck, before Williams, the Jazz hadn’t even had a decent starting point guard since John Stockton retired. Yes, Carlos Arroyo did perform well in 2003-04, but then the well mysteriously dried up. Arroyo’s very game seemed to evaporate and he became like a desert mirage, Jazz fans seeing a franchise point guard where none existed. Thankfully D-Will came along to save us from the Milt Palacio-Keith McLeod platoon that followed Arroyo. Williams has played with a tremendous amount of pressure, however, knowing he does not have a solid back-up to spot him.
While the Jazz certainly need to add more depth at center and shooting guard, Jerry Sloan can shuffle guys into these positions. Al Jefferson can play center if necessary while CJ Miles can suit up at the two-spot. No such luxury exists at point guard. Yes, Andrei Kirilenko did run the offense for a spell during Game Two of Utah’s 2007 playoff series against Golden State, but no one wants to see that again. Truthfully, the Jazz need to address the back-up point guard situation.
Deron Williams averages 37 minutes per game. This means the back-up must step into his place for 11 minutes every night—almost a full quarter of the game. The point guard handles the ball on every possession and will almost always guard the man who starts the opponent’s offense. The back-up point guard can’t hide on the floor and simply buy time while the starter rests. The fate of the team lies in his hands for almost one-fourth of the game every night.
It appears as though the Jazz will once again turn this responsibility over to Ronnie Price with Sundiata Gaines acting as an insurance policy behind Price. Fans—myself included—like Price because he plays hard and has mad hops (Dad, that means he can jump). We get excited when he sticks the occasional 3. We want to root for a guy who played his college ball locally, and we remember the first time we saw him—Price’s absolutely filthy posterization of Carlos Boozer early in the 06-07 campaign when Price still played for Sacramento.
A sober look at Ronnie Price’s game, however, leaves us wanting much. First and foremost, he does not shoot the basketball well. Price shoots a hair under 40% from the field for his career and hit less than 29% of his 3-point attempts a season ago. When the offense stalls and the shot clock dips under five seconds, sometimes you need a guy to bail you out with a big jumper. Howard Eisely—the model we must use to measure all present and future back-up point guards in Utah—became a very reliable shooter. He could get you a bucket if the occasion called for it. More importantly, however, Eisley ran the offense with precision. He did not over-dribble, and he didn’t throw up bad shots. He held the leads that Stockton gave him and often added to them. That is the standard for a back-up point guard in Jerry Sloan’s system. We don’t need an energy guy, a leaper, or a fireplug. We need a custodian, a caretaker who will watch after the lead (or keep the deficit manageable) while Deron Williams catches his breath. Ronnie Price isn’t that guy, nor will he become that guy. Price, age 27, has now played five years in the league. If he had the potential to become an excellent back-up point guard, we’d have seen it by now.
That leaves Sundiata Gaines. The Georgia grad won our hearts when he hit one of the most dramatic shots in franchise history. (By the way, I’d fallen asleep on the couch late in that Cleveland game—I was living in the Central Time Zone, making it an hour later for me. When Gaines hit the shot, the noise from the TV, plus my cell phone erupting with a billion texts saying “Dude, did you see that!?,” jarred me awake, but it took a few minutes to figure out what had just happened). Unfortunately, you can’t base a player’s value on one dramatic shot. Gaines hit less than 27% of his 3-point attempts for the season. He did shoot 46% from the field, much higher than Price. However, Gaines’ struggles from the free throw line reveal something disturbing about his game—the guy, despite making 38 of 82 field goals last year (not great but not terrible) does not shoot well. Not only did Gaines miss half of his 46 free throw attempts last year, he shot under 60% from the charity stripe in college. We’re talking about a four-year point guard, playing in the SEC, who basically started every game of his career. He had the ball in his hands during crunch time. Undoubtedly, coaches worked with Gaines on his free throw shooting. It never got better. This doesn’t bode well for a player who loves going to the basket.
A New York City legend who attended Archbishop Malloy High School in Jamaica, Queens, Gaines’ youth gives him more margin for error than Price. If he wants to become Deron Williams’ back-up, Gaines will have to learn patience, persistence, and precision. Watching Gaines in the summer league, he seems like the guy who always wants to attack the hoop. While they look impressive at first glance, these drives to the basket don’t necessarily fit within Utah’s offensive structure.
At this point, we know Ronnie Price well enough to understand that he’s not the ideal back-up point guard. Gaines has a year to prove he can do the job before the Jazz go hunting for another Eric Maynor in the draft. It’s either that or invent a real-life DVR device that allows Sloan to pause the game while Williams rests.
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