Most of today’s top echelon NBA teams are engineered by very good to great point guards. NBA championship success has shifted from the big man as the predominant position to a point guard driven league. Take a look at the New York Knicks revival starting with the acquisition of Jason Kidd to replace Jeremy “Linsanity” Lin. The Lakers are putting the hopes of their team chemistry into finding a way to win with a 38-year-old point guard in Steve Nash.
The Los Angeles “Lob City / Show Time” Clippers have experienced uncharted water for the franchise with the two headed warriors of Chris “CP3” Paul and Chauncey Billups at the point. Once Tony Parker was teamed up with Tim Duncan the San Antonio Spurs have been champions and championship contenders ever since. Point made.
In the early stages of the game of basketball, and the NBA, there was the center, two forwards and two guards. The two guards were both expected to be able to dribble, run fast-breaks, set up the team, basically, do everything. In today’s game that has changed. The true skill commodity of today’s point guard position is far and few in between, hard to find and very valuable.
The center, power forward, small forward and shooting guard positions are easily identifiable as to what their roles are in principle and expectation. The point guard position encompasses a broader responsibility than any of the other positions, especially on the offensive end.
Point guards come in all forms, small and quick to tall and athletic. There are scoring type point guards, who look to score first then pass out of necessity or passing point guards who look to pass first and then there is the hybrid or combination, (combo), point guard. Hybrids or combo point guards have littered the basketball landscape for years because they can dribble, shoot, pass the basketball, are quick and in many cases have good court vision. They are converted to play the point guard position because they have all the attributes of a point guard, but they are not point guards at heart.
Many purest in basketball believe that point guards are born, not made. A very good point guard brings intangibles, instincts and skills that cannot be taught or coached. The point guard should represent the team’s head coach, on the floor making sure the plays, theories and tempo of the game best suits the team overall. These point guard responsibilities should continue depending on the opponent the team is competing against down to precise situations in a game. During these precise situations a good point guard should take control of the game by scoring and or making the best decisions down the stretch.
The NBA has a new crop of point guards on the risewho many believe will lead the NBA into their next level as the NBA continues to enhance and expand the brand. These young NBA point guards have risen to the top of the pack early in their careers have done so by actual performance, statistics or via potential. In ranking these young point guards I want to look at the upside of some NBA point guards who are 24 years old or younger; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland, Ricky Rubio, Minnesota, Damian Dillard, Portland, John Wall, Washington, Derrick Rose, Chicago, and Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City.
1. Russell Westbrook is at the top of the list because his statistics and team achievements confirm his ability to deliver for his team. Among point guards on this list, Westbrook second in scoring with a 21.7 points per game. He is first on the list in rebounding, assist and steals. Last season, Westbrook led his Oklahoma City team to the NBA finals eventually losing to the NBA champion Miami Heat. Westbrook is an athletic, hybrid point, not a born point guard. He may be the fastest player with the basketball from one end to the other end. His statistics reveal his assets at the point. Westbrook periodically makes poor decisions connected to the point guard intangibles is his liability. The question is whether his assets override his liabilities in guiding his Thunder team to an NBA championship.
2. Derrick Rose would be neck and neck with Westbrook, had he not suffered an ACL tear after winning his first NBA league MVP. The Chicago Bulls are a good team without Rose but have the potential to be a great team with a healthy Rose. Rose like Westbrook is a hybrid, athletic point guard, but was not born a point guard. Rose and Westbrook are explosive driving to the basket and strong finishers when they get to the cup. Rose also has more responsibilities than Westbrook without a sidekick on par with Durant(or Harden). Neither player Westbrook or Rose has led their respective teams to a championship, they will contradict the pure point guard theory that you need a pure point guard to win it all.
3. Kyrie Irving is the next intriguing point guard on the list. His talent/skill level as a basketball player is very high. Unlike Westbrook and Rose, Irving is as smooth as they come at the point. He is a knock down pure shooter from beyond the three point line in. He is also a great finisher at the basket and is like a small version of Carmelo Anthony when it comes to the ease and volume of points he can score at a time. When you think of recent history guards with this blend of talent and skill you think Stephon Marbury. Marbury could do everything, score inside, out and could get to the basket at will. Unfortunately Marbury did not possess the point guard intangibles to lead a team to an NBA championship. This will be the same challenge for Kyrie Irving who is averaging around 23 points per game this season. Once he has the pieces, the question is can he lead a team to the promise land?
- 4. Damian Lillard has emerged from the woods of Portland to establish himself as a point guard to contend with in his first year in the NBA. Though he plays the point guard position he possesses many of the qualities of former Portland Trailblazer Brandon Roy. Just like Roy, Lillard is never rushed, when he is able to set his feet on jump shots he is deadly from long and short range or when shooting runners. When he attacks the basket he is always under balanced control and able to finish like Brandon Roy before his injuries and eventual release. Lillard’s ability to score is not in question, the question is; is he a hybrid or was he born a point guard? The circumstances and the question that surround Kyrie Irving now will be asked of Lillard as this younger player continues to develop and season in his decision making as the Blazers rebuild their team from an injury laden recent past.
5. John Wall could easily be in the fourth position on the list. He has already proven himself in the NBA and only Damien Lillard’s outstanding outside shooting abilities put him above John Wall, (before his injury), at this time. Outside of shooting accuracy and scoring John Wall would be No. 4 among my young point guards list. When Wall was healthy he was explosive and athletic like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. Westbrook, Rose and Wall have improved their outside shooting since coming into the NBA. When John Wall was healthy the Washington Wizards were still on a climb to get out of the cellar. The Wizards are still on that rebuilding climb, so it will take a few more years and talent around Wall to see if John Wall can point the Washington Wizards to an NBA championship title.
6. Ricky Rubio is the one born, pure point guard in this group. Unfortunately, due to injuries, a full evaluation can not be made by reason of limited time served in the NBA. But I can say that Rubio is by far the best passer, with maybe the best court vision with the basketball and a high, maybe the highest ability to see the game two, three sometimes four steps ahead of plays as they unfold. He can make all the regular passes, all the must be able to make passes, as well as, the seemingly impossible passes you thought he did not see or could make. Ricky Rubio lacks the athletic ability out of all the young point guards listed possess. He makes up for it with his dribbling skill, talent and an uncanny know-how IQ that allows him to compete much like a Steve Nash. His inability to stay healthy is a concern as it is for other players on this list. The question is whether Rubio can charter a team to an NBA championship title. He will need to get stronger, be more durable, improve his shooting touch and be more aggressive. Will he be able to guide a team to a championship? Who he comes with to the dance with will be the determining factor.
As a general manager I would be confidently convincing my team’s owner, my boss that we are in good shape with any of these young point guards as we begin rebuilding or starting a new franchise.
If I were picking a point guard today, it would be Kyrie Irving. He has the best demeanor, the mindset, skill-set to make small adjustments and major learning curve changes that will be necessary to lead a team that has the talent to support him, to an NBA championship(s).
All of the young points listed here have the ability to be destined for greatness. Some have already shown glimpses of greatness and others are just starting out. The race to the top of the NBA is filled with point guards leading the way. Who among this illustrious list of talented young point guards has their eyes wielded on the prize of the point?