Wednesday, August 11, 2010

OU's Backcourt As Example Of Positional Flexibility

One of the major questions going into the 2010-11 season for the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies centers on how Coach Greg Kampe will handle the point guard position after losing four-year starter Johnathon Jones to graduation. In a recent video interview with The Oakland Press, Coach Kampe noted that he would be using a point guard by commission approach early on, primarily putting the ball in the hands of Larry Wright and Ledrick Eackles in an effort to run sets for scoring guard Reggie Hamilton. The arrival of 2010 recruit Ryan Bass may also have an impact on the point guard position, but given the talent in front of him, it is more than likely we'll see Wright, Eackles, and Hamilton acting as the primary ball-handlers and creators this season.

What is interesting about this trio is that none of them are true point guards, in the historical understanding of the position. While Johnathon Jones could score, often at will (and boy do we have fond memories of those moments!), there is no doubting his primarily role was as a creator and ball-handler on the offensive end. To go along with other intangibles, Jones had that certain "it" quality that goes along with being a pure point guard. For the triumvirate taking over Jones' reins this season, it is more difficult to put a pure point guard label on them. In fact, these players are combo guards in the sense that they are scorers first and foremost, but their lack of height makes it difficult to pigeonhole them as shooting guards only. Needless to say, there could be some uncertainty on the part of OU fans when it comes to point guard duties heading into the 2010-11 season.

Given how solid Johnathon Jones was for four years, Oakland fans' apprehension is not unwarranted; however, it may also be unnecessary. There is excitement in many basketball circles around the idea of positional flexibility, or a concept where teams do not fill out their rosters in the conventional sense. As Drew Cannon of Basketball Prospectus points out, mid-major programs like Oakland can use positional flexibility to their advantage:
Take a player like Drake’s recently-graduated Josh Young. He's lightning-quick and a big-time scorer, but Young was slotted as a tweener. Too small to defend the 2, but also didn’t handle the point on offense. What I’m saying is that we should start understanding that all of the above is OK. Josh Young was a high-major scoring talent who played defense well enough to guard a high-major 1, but he fell through the cracks, so to speak, to the Missouri Valley because those characteristics didn’t slot into a traditional "position." High-major schools didn’t like him at the 1, and they didn’t like him at the 2. So they didn’t like him.
Essentially, Cannon is showing that mid-majors can recruit really great players who may not fit in a traditional role and thus fall off the radar for big-time programs. At the mid-major level, these players simply use what skills they have to play at the function of need (as in scorer, creator/handler, rebounder and not point guard, forward, center), where said function can flex pending the player's offensive and defensive skill set. This idea is something that the Oakland men's team can take advantage of next season with Wright, Eackles, and Hamilton.

Using Drew Cannon's scheme for a backcourt, there exists a "point guard" person who serves as a creator and handler on offense and guards small and quick players on the defensive end. For Oakland, this was always Johnathon Jones. But next season, the job of creator and handler will fall on all three players. Truly, creating and handling will be done by commission. However, on the defensive end, look for Ledrick Eackles to serve as a chief defender of the opposing team's point guard. When Eackles is on the bench, Hamilton will likely fill this role due to his smaller stature and quickness. This leaves Wright, then, as the primary defender of opposing shooting guards as he is the tallest of the three and sizes up the best against the position.

Where things would get really interesting for Oakland is at the "shooting guard" function. Here, we have someone who serves as a so-called "scorer-creator/handler." If there was never a word to describe combo guards like Wright, Eackles, and Hamilton, then Cannon just invented it with this description. Unlike the point guard function, all three of these guards can fulfill this hybrid position extremely well. While it's debatable whether or not having all three on the court at the same time is appropriate (see how this worked for the Detroit Pistons last season), even just two of them can cause fits for opposing guards. With Kampe running plays designed for all three, and especially Hamilton, the OU guards have the potential to prove that positional flexibility can work, even with the lack of a true point guard.

We'll wait to make any predictions until we actually see this in a game, but there exists a great opportunity for Wright, Eackles, and Hamilton to do something unseen when it comes to three different guards all filling a similar, though unique, role on offense. If for nothing else, it will be an interesting case study for proponents of positional flexibility to use when discussing the handling of guards.

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