That Ghost Holds My Hand!
Let me attempt to explain to all of you exactly why the "Z-graphs" (link is to overview) were so seductive. On a number of intuitive, if largely metaphoric, levels, they made perfect sense: Both center and point guard, the position's most often discussed in terms of "purity," are represented as untroubled rows of attributes. They flow from logically from one to the next, even as they start toward more nebulous areas. But insofar as we believe these positions to have some sort of enduring essence, it makes sense that they'd maintain an untroubled, un-sloped plane of description. Furthermore, this allows either the PG or C section to serve as a base—or, to reify the thought, a foundation. This is consistent with our understanding of big men to this day, but the Stockton/Cousy point guard who excelled simply at a select set of responsibilities essential to any functional line-up, no longer defines the position (sorry, Steve Blake). For instance, Chris Paul, arguably the finest in the league at this position, was almost single-handedly responsible for the scrapping of the "Z," since his chart was almost as "impure" as that of, say, Allen Iverson. Paul basks in legitimacy, as did forebears Isiah, Kevin Johnson, and Payton. The likes of Magic and to some degree, Kidd, are pure in heart but can't help contributing all the over the place as well.
I never felt like Rose/Beasley was really a small man/big man dilemma. Beasley's a total weirdo and an idiosyncratic player, more SF than some SF's, more PF than many PF's, and quite possibly to "tweener" what Arenas was to "combo guard." Rose, on the other hand, was a pure point guard (relatively, historically, speaking). But with Ricky Rubio throwing his name into the hat for this summer's draft, we finally are presented with a real small/big dilemma. Blake Griffin is big, athletic, fairly skilled, and automatic; Rubio is mercurial, Pistol-like as a descriptive quality, and a natural-made trickster with an offense. Griffin—stable, staunch, and unromantic—is exactly the kind of foundation proposed by the visual metaphor of the "Z". The connotations will bury you, so don't spend too much time there: Anchoring the frontcourt, providing insurance through boards, dunks, and interior defense, you build a team around a known quantity that, for lack of a non-slang term, holds it down at both ends. Indisputably. Today's point guard, though, isn't drafted to provide a foundation (as the "Z" would suggest), but a non-stop spark. They're playmakers, here to furnish the unexpected without betraying our trust, following their muse as responsibly as possible while taking the team with them. They are, in short, anti-foundational, always reaching upward and looking for that new angle or opportunity. That involves running an offense and controlling the ball, but its stability is exactly that assurance of ambitious play-making that sweeps up the rest of the team with it.
For the most pure example of this impure point guard, you need look no further than Rajon Rondo, who has gone grievously underrated in this series exactly because he cares so little to project authority, gravitas, or emotion—those silly markers of "quarterbacking" that, ironically, have no place in Brett Favre-inspired mayhem.. I'm not placing Rondo in the same anarchic category as Westbrook, because he obviously fits into the Celtics (or rather, the team accommodates and respond to him). But instead of pin-point passing and orchestrated partings of the defense, Rondo just kind of speeds towards the basket or ball on every play, and then either ends up tossing in an off-balance lay-up, crookedly finding a teammate for the easy shot, or grabbing the rebound. Same goes for his defense: He'll lock down opponents, only to lunge after loose balls and errant passes not with a speedster's hubris, but because it's his job to make a play. He's fast, physical, and utterly undemonstrative. Rajon Rondo is the engine of that team, especially in this series, and yet he remains strangely elusive. You wonder if he's not just making every decision on the fly, in an off-hand manner that evokes nothing if not his childhood idol Favre. There's no need for poise, or bravura, because Rondo just blankets the court with his blinding speed and long arms. He's vague, even ectoplasmic, everywhere at once while only rarely making what feels like a statement play.
Does that make Rondo any kind of traditional "foundation"? Of course not. But if he keeps this up, then no lack of poise, or stability, can take away from the key role he plays on that team. Maybe Rondo is the ultimate postmodern PG. Not in the scoring vein of Isiah, or Magic/Kidd's augmented pure point-ness. Unlike Rose, Rondo is anything but immediate and tactile. If you blink you might miss him, because he does little to establish any continuity or sustained position of authority. Yet for all the fragments and impression he yields, for all his refusal to stand up and project authority, Rondo is doing exactly what a new, non-foundational PG should. He takes care of the ball, makes it move, creates shots for others, and consistently saves possessions when they appear lost. That he produces little that can pass for iconic or poised shows only that he's mastered the raw material of playmaking, and with it, a resistance to fall back on cliche or positional piety. Not a foundation, but a skyward gesture that sets parameters by remaining tethered to the team.