July 01, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The NBA is loaded with top-tier point guards, and talented players at the position will get good looks during Summer League play.

Games begin Saturday in Orlando, on Monday in Salt Lake City, and on July 8 in Las Vegas. And though there are about 90 roster spots for point guards in the NBA, a strong pedigree is no longer enough: Players such as Marcus Paige, a McDonalds All-American who led North Carolina to the national championship game, face an uphill climb to make a team.

The Utah Jazz haven't reached the playoffs since 2012 and Paige still remains a long shot with six other point guards on the team.

''It's kind of a great era for point guards right now in the NBA,'' said Paige, the No. 55 overall pick. ''There's no nights off. You've got elite talent almost at every spot, especially in the West.

''You want to be a competitor. You want to accept that challenge. You know you're not on that level right away, but you can aspire to work every day and work to get to that level. I'm just excited for the different challenges. ''

Gone is the physical style in which the ball is mostly dumped into the post for centers to go to work. Now teams must deal with a Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, John Wall, Kyrie Irving and a host of other skilled ballhandlers on a nightly basis.

The Minnesota Timerbwolves drafted Providence point guard Kris Dunn with the third overall pick despite Ricky Rubio coming off his best year as a pro. General manager Scott Layden said it's difficult finding a good point guard that also holds his own on the defensive end.

''In the NBA it's so hard to find two-way players,'' Layden said. ''The other thing is, how hard it is to find a good point guard. ... Kris, when you watched him play, he made others better. When you're leading a team, that's so important. The toughness factor, when you get that from your point guard, it seems to resonate to the rest of the group. And the ability to defend, because often times you're defending the other team's best player.''

Teams are regularly carrying three point guards on a roster and continue to look for help at the position. Summer Leagues will feature former college standouts such as Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson, Kentucky's Marquis Teague, Ohio State's Aaron Craft, Oregon's Joe Young, Louisville's Terry Rozier and Arizona's T.J. McConnell - all facing the same challenge as Paige.

Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey acknowledged a dearth of point guards on the roster and hopes to work with Paige and his agent on a way to keep him in the organization regardless of whether he makes the club.

''It's a very important time for me,'' Paige said of Summer League. ''It's a guard heavy roster, but I'm trying to make it in the league. So I have to show what I'm capable of and build on what I did in the combine and in workouts to show that I'm somebody that can make a difference at the next level with my shooting. With my playmaking in the pick and roll. And with my competitiveness and leadership.''

Rule changes and shifts in playing style have given ball handlers an advantage in today's NBA. The lane has widened from its original 6 feet to the current 16, pushing big men farther from the basket. Hand-checking and arm-bars are now fouls, making it more difficult for defenders to stay in front ball handlers, particularly the likes of James Harden. The strategic emphasis on spacing and the pick-and-roll gives quicker players with handles more room to operate.

But teams are specifically thirsty for point guards. The Pacers traded for Jeff Teague in a three-team deal that sent George Hill to the Jazz. The Hawks valued Dennis Schroder over Teague. Mike Conley is in for big pay day in free agency, and the Brooklyn Nets have agreed to a deal with free agent Jeremy Lin. The Knicks traded for former MVP Derrick Rose with hopes he can return to a top-tier level of play.

Summer League rosters are full of point guards drafted in the second round with no guarantees, and others that signed as undrafted free agents. The odds are long, but the emphasis on the position has organizations searching for diamonds in the rough.

It should be an intriguing 17 days of action.

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