The point guard position has been considered something of a problem for the franchise in recent times, depending on who you listen to. Some sections of the fan base never believed that was really the case until Lou Williams was traded away, but the front office certainly seemed to go along with the view being carried by critics and voices in the media that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George needed a playmaker to make their lives easier. We all know what followed, and we subsequently now know where it has left us.
So when Lawrence Frank spoke to the media this week about several topics pertaining to the team, including the Beverley trade and the other moves made this season, I had some interest specifically in what he had to say regarding the point guard position.
“You know probably prior to last year where we talked about a need for — quote, unquote — a point guard, and we saw the pros to that and the cons,” Frank said. “Ultimately, we’re trying to build versatility around our best players. Guys that can guard multiple positions, guys that can handle the ball and create, not just for themselves but for others, and obviously the biggest swing skill for a lot of guys is the ability to shoot the ball from three at a high, high, high percentage.”
That quote would suggest that the Clippers are going in another direction at point guard in looking for those attributes, compared to the days they seemed to solely be looking for a playmaker.
While the trade for Rajon Rondo was clearly a move designed to add that playmaker and ball handler to the team, those expecting him to still be at a high level defensively were slightly misguided. He shot reasonably well from deep — 43 percent on 2.4 attempts per game through his 18 appearances — but he wasn’t guarded as a “high, high, high percentage” shooter, and he didn’t bring much versatility or a real ability to guard multiple positions. Frank’s comments show that the Clippers front office may have learned from that move in particular, though there will still be concerns.
One such concern is that those qualities Frank is looking for are a big part of Patrick Beverley’s game. Although playmaking wasn’t exactly his biggest strength, he by no means let the franchise down in that department, and he was an underrated ball handler. What he definitely did bring was the ability to guard multiple positions: just think back to the 2019 Christmas Day game against LeBron James and the Lakers. Although his physical stature meant positional versatility wasn’t a huge strength, he always more than made up for that with energy and effort. Oh, and he could knock down his shots, as he showed when the Clippers closed out on the Jazz in Game 6 of the conference semifinals.
Eric Bledsoe can potentially make up for what Pat lacked in physical stature. Though both stand at 6’1, Bled is the heavier and stronger of the two which could help when guarding bigger guys. He’s also generally a better ball handler and playmaker, and his ability to attack downhill and make plays around the rim is something Frank specifically highlighted. His shooting, though, will surely be a concern. Perhaps being a part of this system will provide more wide open looks which will help him catch a rhythm, otherwise some fans may be left to rue yet another point guard departure.
However, if the Justise Winslow acquisition turns out to be a big plus, it may cushion the potential blow of the Bledsoe trade being a minus. Although any conversation around the 25-year-old comes with a major injury caveat since his hip replacement surgery, at his best the 2015 10th overall pick was versatile, could guard several positions, make plays, handle the ball and was a serviceable shooter. The Clippers have already shown they have the ability to turn fortunes around for their new guys, and if they can do so with Winslow they may finally be able to say they’re more than well stocked at point guard.
They’ll need it too. Reggie Jackson showed he’s capable of carrying some of the playmaking and a lot of the scoring burden in Kawhi’s absence during last season’s playoffs, but his defensive game leaves a lot to be desired, especially from a versatility standpoint. PG will likely still take up a large percentage of the burden in all the aforementioned aspects of the game, but he’ll need the help over an 82-game season, so it’s good to see the franchise doing all they can to build a versatile team around him.
This latest chapter of the Clippers point guard experiment comes with as many question marks as any of the previous ones. However, the franchise has found a way to give themselves some security this time around. They’ll need to be adaptable this season in particular, and the added versatility should give them that.