Opening night is a mere seven days away, and the Wizards have still not settled on their starting point guard in John Wall's absence. There are many different ways this decision could unfold, with either one player asked to do the bulk of the point guard duties, or more likely it will be a group load to bear. After all, if Wall really is the franchise player this team needs him to be, then it's probably impossible to pull a suitable replacement from just one of the guards on the roster.
So far this year, Coach Randy Wittman has utilized three point guards (Shelvin Mack, Jannero Pargo, and A.J. Price) and two shooting guards (Bradley Beal and Jordan Crawford) as the primary playmakers on the team.
Mack came into the preseason with the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. The team's new goal was to make the playoffs, and with a newly-rounded roster, Mack's role became less clear. He had an OK rookie campaign, a much-worse-than-OK summer league stint, and a decent training camp. Mack's biggest drawback, though, was that he was not a rookie mentor for Wall--something the team realized it needed if it wanted to actualize its postseason goal. Then came Price--the mentor who would jeopardize Mack's job stability. With Price in the mix, Mack got shifted to third-string, and he was as good as gone. Then Wall was sidelined, and new opportunities abound. Enter Jannero Pargo into the mix. The free agent is known more his shooting than his passing abilities, but his quickness and scoring are definitely useful on a team that needs, well, quickness and scoring.
Besides those three, Jordan Crawford's passing abilities were put to the test. As much as he doesn't seem to prefer to pass, his courtvision in the halfcourt is pretty solid. He is definitely able to make solid basketball plays, but a shooter-as-a-shooting guard is rarely a long-term solution for the primary passer. Beal's preseason has been one of impressing observers and experimenting with different techniques. He's clearly more useful to the team coming off the ball and driving to the basket, but he has shown the ability to run the pick and roll in moments on the floor when he has been tasked with the duty.
It's safe to say off the bat that Beal is not going to take on the playmaking duties. It'll be useful for him to do it occasionally--when Wall returns, he's going to need to play off the ball, too--but he certainly won't be the first choice, so let's cross him off the list. I personally would be comfortable assuming Pargo won't start as PG, though he may be asked to play in stretches where scoring is needed from the guards. That leaves Price, Mack, and Crawford. As the season approaches, there are a few clues we can analyze to see how the team will cope without Wall for its first ten or so games.
Mack has started 0/6 preseason games. Price has started 4/6, and Crawford has started 3/6--though his starts were at shooting guard. It seems Price has the edge here.
Minutes per game
Mack: 16. Price: 19. Crawford: 24. Crawford wins this one.
Assists per game
Mack: 2.0. Price: 4.0. Crawford: 4.2 Price and Crawford are neck-and-neck in this category.
Without using advanced statistical analysis, reading Randy Wittman's mind, or traveling in time one week to spoil the starting lineup, I think it's probably safe to say that Price is going to make the start at PG and will stay there unless he needs to be moved. It also probably helps that the his best two games were his two most recent. However, given Crawford's ability to make plays, his longer tenure on the roster, and the fact that he's averaging more assists per game than Price, the playmaking duties will most likely be split between Crawford and Price.
And so it seems that, come opening night, Crawford and Price will do their best to replace John Wall's stats on the stat sheet, if not his talent on the floor. Then I guess this will raise a new question, too: if Crawford's needed on the floor to make plays, does that mean he's the 6th man or that he starts ahead of Beal? Another question for another day.