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05-30-2003, 12:12 PM
Search for point guards never ends
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Friday, May 30
Updated: May 30
10:15 AM ET

Editor's Note: NBA Insider Chad Ford is in Detroit this week chronicling the process of pre-draft visits as several prospects work out for the Pistons.

DETROIT -- What do Reece Gaines, Troy Bell and Marcus Hatten have in common?

Bell was a second-team All-American this year playing point guard for the Boston College Eagles. He led the Big East in scoring at 25.2 points per game, 3-pointers made (3.88 per game), and ranked third in steals (2.06 pg) and 3-point shooting percentage (43 percent).

Gaines was a third-team All-American playing point guard for the Louisville Cardinals. He ranked third in Conference USA in scoring at 17.9 points per game, placed sixth in assists at 5.0 per and seventh in steals (1.55 pg), while connecting on 75 3-point field goals (sixth in the league).

Hatten didn't receive All-American honors but did rank second in the Big East in scoring average (22.2), first in steals (2.9), ninth in assists (4.1) and 19th in rebounds (5.6) while playing point guard for the St. John's Red Storm.

They have another thing in common. They're having a tough time convincing NBA teams they're actually point guards. Size matters in the NBA, but so does ball handling, court vision and the ability to distribute to your teammates. "I don't think there's a team in the league that would tell you that they can't use another pure point guard," Pistons GM Joe Dumars said. "They're rare, and they just make everything run so much smoother. So everybody's constantly looking."

Centers are easy to spot. They're the lumbering giants dragging their knuckles across the court. But these days point guards come in all shapes and sizes in the NBA. There's no single definition anymore.

The Pistons start 6-foot-3 Chauncey Billups and have 5-foot-11 Chucky Atkins coming off the bench. Billups is a classic combo guard. He plays like a shooting guard but has the size of a point guard.

Bell and Hatten fall into the same mold. They are unbelievable scorers who have dominated the Big East for the past two seasons. But, at 6-foot-2, neither player has the size to pass as a two guard.
It's the classic dilemma. They're shooting guards trapped in a point guard's body.

Bell understands the Celtics, Nuggets, Warriors, Sonics and Pistons brought him in for one reason. They know he can score the ball. Now they want to see if he can pass it. The problem for Bell, and other "undersized" two guards in the league, is finding a venue to convince teams they can do it.
Troy Bell has proved he can score. Now he must show teams he can pass.

The Pistons' workout, for example, measures all type of intangibles. Bell takes a flexibility test, balance test, speed test, vertical jumping test and shooting drills. Bell aces a workout where he must do push-ups on basketballs. He even gets to go one-on-one with Hatten and Gaines. But there are no court-IQ tests. No way to measure a player's ability to make the correct decisions with the game on the line. Shuttle drills don't translate into assists. "You can tell a lot about a guard with these workouts," Dumars says as he watches the three prospects go through their drills. "Bell's an incredible athlete. He could be an NFL defensive back, no question. Hatten is just an instinctive scorer. And Gaines is an unbelievable shooter. But I'm not going to walk away from here and have a better idea if the kid can be a point guard in the pros. You can't measure that."

You can measure height, and that's why the Pistons focus most of their attention on Gaines. At 6-foot-6 (his official measurement on Thursday with the Pistons), Gaines has the luxury of being tall enough to play the two if he doesn't pan out as point guard. Still, Gaines' ability to play the point will make a huge difference in where he's drafted. If teams are convinced he's a real point, he's got a great chance of going in the lottery. If teams think he's more of a combo guard, he'll slip into the middle of the first round.

What does it take to convince a team? Dumars and the rest of the staff will hit the tape. They'll watch the players in pressure situations, try to get a handle on how they run a team, their leadership and their ability to make their teammates better. Then they'll make each player take the Caliper Profile test. The test, developed and scored by a blind man in Princeton, N.J., measures personality traits. It consists of 150 questions that should reveal a player's ability to work with others, his coachability and work ethic.

The test consists of a series of statements and asks the test taker to choose the one that most correctly describes him. For example, a player will choose between:

A) I do what I have to do, even if it hurts others
B) People often have hidden agendas
C) Work rules get in the way of doing a good job
D) Most people act too quickly

The answers eventually will give the Pistons a full psychological profile on a player. Here's just a snippet of what they'll get, taken from a profile generated from one of last year's draft prospects who slipped in the draft. "Mr. X lacks the intrinsic traits of an overachieving athlete, particularly of the highly demanding postion of point guard ... his lack of team orientation can also affect the way he functions as a point guard. [He] may tend be skeptical of other people's motivations and might not be cooperative in terms of working as a member of the organization ... talent aside, there is just not enough positive qualities to recommend him on the basis of his makeup. We feel that the team that drafts him is likely to be disappointed with his performance, especially at point guard."

That, is the kiss of death. Though the Pistons say the result of the test is only one factor in a much larger process, now you understand why it scares players to death. "They're just trying to trick us," Hatten says. "They give it to you late at night, you get all sleepy, and then all the questions start looking the same. How are a few multiple choice questions going to tell a team if I'm a point guard?"

Bell laughs when asked about the test. It's hard for him to fathom a test deciding his fate. But even he struggles with the question on everyone's mind, "Are you a point guard?" "I'm a basketball player," Bell says. "I just happen to be a good scorer. I can find the open teammate. I can pentrate and dish, if that's what coach wants me to do. But at Boston College, coach wanted me to score. I think I did it pretty well."

No one disagrees, but now Bell, like Hatten and Gaines, must figure out how to convince NBA teams he's telling the truth. Bell and Hatten have decided to accept an invitation to the NBA pre-draft camp next week in Chicago to prove their worth. "I know scouts are watching me to see if I can score," Bell says. "I think I've proven that in college. I'm better off averaging eight assists per game than 20 points per game. I'll tell you what, I'm going to be looking for my teammates."

It's a savvy move. The pre-draft camp is the last chance for guys like Bell to show NBA teams something different. Three years ago in Chicago, Jamal Crawford convinced teams he was a point guard, not a two guard. He went from a second-round pick to a lottery pick in a little less than a week.

Everyone is praying to the patron saint of Crawford they can make a similar impression in Chicago.

The workouts in Detroit aren't entirely useless, however. Hatten's long arms and tough defense impressed the Pistons' staff. He was the toughest player to guard in the one-on-one drills. Bell wowed the team with his balance and coordination. He credits an early career as a gymnast for his strong agility workout. He also proved to be an excellent long-range shooter.

And Gaines proved to be a better athlete than anyone expected. He's been training at the IMG facility in Florida for the past month with NBA players such as Al Harrington and DerMarr Johnson and other draft hopefuls like Chris Thomas, Dahntay Jones and Travis Hansen.

The extra month of work paid off.

"They kind of cater to what teams look for at workouts like these," Gaines said. "I've been working on my quickness and speed while at the same time trying to get stronger. Working out against the best has really helped my game." "He definitely looks like he's been working," Pistons director of player personnel Scott Perry said. "You can't read everything into a workout, but he's pretty impressive."

Perry goes on to say the same thing about Bell and Hatten. At the end of the day, Perry believes all three will be in the NBA next season. "They're all great athletes and scorers," Perry said. "They can shoot the ball, they play hard and they have great experience. That's the recipe for success in the league."

But are they point guards? Three hours of workouts don't provide all the answers.

"They could be," Perry starts. "Then again, maybe they're not. You won't know for sure until you get them in your system. " When does that happen?

"After you draft them." Isn't that too late? "Yes it is."

So what do you do?

Most people run. There may be a Gilbert Arenas out there every few years, but most of the time there's a Joseph Forte lurking behind every smallish scorer.

All three players continue to shake their heads after the workout. They've done everything they can do as college players. Now a test, and the tale of the tape, will decide their fate. As they pack their bags you can see that weariness in their eyes.

Another plane ride. Another night in a hotel. More physicals. More drills. More tests. And more questions, questions only another four inches could answer definitively.