Basketball

Historical Film Study: Mookie Blaylock

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Who is Mookie Blaylock?

If I were to select ten of the most forgotten All-NBA level players in history, Mookie Blaylock would be the starting point guard. During the time of Stockton, Drexler, Payton, Jordan, Miller, and Price, Blaylock is left to near obscurity (besides being Pearl Jam’s favorite NBA player). I hadn’t given him much thought until I drafted him in the All Time NBA Auction. During my research, I came across this description on RealGM:

“Blaylock is a special player , who in my opinion, suffers from a historical standpoint by playing for also-ran Hawks in the 90’s. Because he isn’t a strong scoring point guard, he’s not thought of fondly. But he is one of few point guards who really moved the needle defensively and at the least has a credible argument in the GOAT Defensive PG discussion.”

pandrade83, 2018

Needless to say, I decided to deep dive this enigmatic point guard.

(Writer’s note: I originally wrote this article about half a year ago, and unfortunately, some my video clips on Streamable disappeared. Because of this, I had to cut out a couple of key highlights. For instance, my emphasis on Blaylock’s rebounding had to be cut significantly which is a shame because it’s truly an impressive skill for his size).

Scoring

In 1997, once Blaylock hit his peak, his game looked relatively similar to a modern NBA point guard. His half-court possessions generally started with a pick-and-roll, and they ended with a pull-up three. The statistics back this up as he made the second most threes in the league during that season (8 behind Reggie Miller).

This play is pretty typical for a half-court Blaylock shooting possession.

It was clear that Blaylock had supreme confidence in his own shot-making ability. These next couple of plays show an audacious pull-up three and an isolation against Scottie Pippen.

This is with a solid contest from Jordan.
Granted, this is after Pippen’s defensive prime, but I’d still brag about this.

This tendency to pull-up and not prod in a pick-and-roll sometimes enticed Blaylock into some forced habits. For instance, he would break out of his game’s even flow and pull the trigger too quickly on a long midrange jumper.

If you listen closely, you can hear Daryl Morey crying in the background

Even with this proto-modern shooting mentality, Blaylock’s inability to draw fouls limited his efficiency. He showed an incredible burst off the dribble, yet he rarely used it. For example, here he burns Michael Jordan.

This is a tremendous drive and finish by Blaylock.

It’s an unfortunate reality, but at Blaylock’s 6-foot 180-pound frame, he simply didn’t have the size or strength to finish at an elite level. He showed flashes, but this aspect of his game truly limited him. Why go to the rim if you’ll just be punished?

Passing

While bigger creators have a higher vantage point, Blaylock displayed an all-time passing ability. Ben Taylor’s passer rating tops him out at an 8.3 which is right around post-prime Stockton (or current Westbrook). Here is an uncontested layup that he created in the half-court (now from ’94).

His control is similar to Chris Paul.

Similarly, this next pocket pass to Mutombo show’s Blaylock’s subtle brilliance. Mutombo doesn’t even realize how open he is on the roll, but the pass leads him straight to the basket.

Rebounding

On another note, one surprising skill that Blaylock had was his rebounding. He was tenacious on both sides of the glass, and used these as opportunities for Draymond-esque grab-and-goes. Here is a perfectly placed pass in transition.

Offensive rebounding is often a skill that helps big men more than guards, but Blaylock weaponized it to improve his portability.

In general, Blaylock was an above-average offensive player. His jump-shooting and willingness to shoot helped poor offenses. Next to rim-rollers and shooters, he could set the table for easy threes and layups. However, his lack of free throws and easy opportunities makes him a volatile scorer. He mainly played on-ball, but an offense’s ceiling is only so high with him as the lead creator. Despite his tendencies, he showed an ability to create off-ball.

Perhaps he would thrive in a secondary role, but it’s not clear. I’m more skeptical, but his limited ability as a #1 option would force him to try.

Defense: Strengths

Blaylock’s defense was what I was most excited about scouting. His defensive metrics score extremely high for a guard, and the RealGM poster showered him with praise. Unfortunately, just like with Doug Christie, I came away disappointed, yet it’s important to remember that defensive scouting isn’t black-and-white.

Don’t get me wrong, Blaylock is a great defender considering his size and lack of a Jeremy Evans Pogo-stick vertical. Also, unlike most other small guards, he is tremendous on the defensive glass. In the half-court, he often helped off his man for a soft double in the paint. Since most point guards at the time couldn’t punish him, he was able to recover quickly enough. This wasn’t called a charge, but Blaylocks’ help-defense stalls the shooter long enough to get blocked.

He also had a knack for creating turnovers. As a matter of fact, he led the league in steals twice which he created through quick reactions and knowing where to be.

Again, this is ridiculous timing

His tenacity didn’t always make the box score as shown through the backcourt turnovers that he created.

Defense: Limitations

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times now, Blaylock was small which limited his defensive potential. Blaylock was helpless against Air Jordan in the mid-post. This clip is just one play, but I could’ve used at least two more from this game alone.

Furthermore, Blaylock struggled with a few knucklehead mistakes. Here he idly waits for Jordan in the paint, but he leaves oceans of space for Pippen who’s just chilling on a porch after a simple kick to the corner.

Even though the garden of defensive 6-foot point guards lacks any significant flowers, compared to the rest in NBA history (besides Chris Paul), Blaylock may hold the crown as the best on defense. However, he ultimately wouldn’t affect a defense that positively. I’d score him as a neutral to slight plus.

Final Evaluation of Mookie Blaylock

Role: 15th-20th best, first-best player in the league

Skillset: Compared to other players at his position

PlaymakingScoringDefenseReboundingPortability
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I ended up ranking Blaylock as a lower-level proficient scorer because of his inability to get an easy basket. He was too reliant on the pull-up jumper which, at his shooting percentages and fondness for deep twos, can come and go. Both this and his size make his portability average. As I said before, he could be useful as an-off-ball creator (and a solid release), and he has tremendous defensive abilities, but he is locked into one position, can’t guard bigger guards, and is better with the ball in his hands.

Perception in Today’s NBA

Because of their shared defensive grittiness and ability to pullup in space, Blaylock would be compared to Mike Conley.

Blaylock Compared to a Current Player

Even though both preferred having the ball, Conley was a more effective off-ball player. He was the floor general of the grit-and-grind Grizzlies, but he would’ve been much better as a second option on the perimeter. I don’t think that Blaylock would’ve thrived in a secondary role quite like Conley.

With the pull-up propensity, lack of easy baskets, and fantastic passing, D’Angelo Russell is Blaylock’s best modern comp. Blaylock was better at almost every facet of the game besides scoring, but Russell has a chance to surpass him as he develops.

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