Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hybrid Point Guards - The Future of the NBA

For years, the most important factors for a quality point guard were his ball handling skills, his court vision, a great all around shot, and speed. These traits are still crucial for today. However, there is a new breed of point guard entering the league. A hybrid point guard combines those aforementioned skills, with power and size. When you mix all these intangibles, you are left with a player that is unguardable.

There have been players in the past and present that possessed most of these traits. Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, has most of these tools, his strongest asset being his ball handling skills. Chris Paul is tough, but is quite short, making it hard for him to see over taller defenders.

In terms of court vision, Jason Kidd is at the top of the list, even though he turns 38 years old tomorrow. He makes passes that most people wouldn’t even dream of making. If you are one of his teammates, you need to be constantly alert because he sees that you are open before you do. Although Kidd has worked tremendously hard on improving his shot, defenders can go under the screen and aren’t too afraid of the outcome.

Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns is the best all around shooter when talking about the point guard position. He consistently shoots 50% from the field, over 40% from three-point range, and over 90% from the free throw line. Larry Bird accomplished the 50, 40, and 90 twice. Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller and Mark Price are the only others to have done that. Nash has had four seasons with those lofty percentages.

Nash isn’t the quickest, and is at times a real liability at the defensive end. Every game the Phoenix Suns attempt to hide his inability to defend by putting him on the opponents’ worst perimeter guy.

There are a lot of speedy point guards in the NBA. The quickest is up for debate. Rookie sensation, John Wall may be the fastest. Sadly, at this young stage in his career, he is too fast for his own good.

Wall is averaging 3.8 turnovers per game which is good enough for second most in the NBA (trailing only Russell Westbrook at 3.9). As he gets more mature and gains more experience he will cut down on his turnovers. He also lacks size and strength.

Derrick Rose, of the Chicago Bulls is a perfect example of quickness and power, making him impossible to defend, one-on-one. His optimal mixture of skills ends the point guard debate. With Rose at the top, we are left to determine rankings two through five. He has cemented himself, in just his third season in the league as the best of the best.

Rose has great ball handling skills maneuvering around the court with ease. His court vision is near the top. He has developed a shot this year, even starting to expand his game out to the three-point line. When that comes into full effect next season, watch out. Still his defining ability is using his quickness to penetrate towards the basket, and to go past, through or over any defenders in his path.

Rose's power is the game-changer at the point guard position. Few players in the league, at any position, could get as high to throw down ferocious dunks like Derrick Rose. He entered the league a man. Most players come into the league with a lot of potential, but with a scrawny physique (take a look back at an old picture of Kevin Garnett to prove my point). It takes some newcomers years at the gym with trainers to grow into their bodies.  Rose, LeBron James and Blake Griffin are rare examples of instant beasts.

Derrick Rose is the only player in the league in the top ten in both points and assists per game. Not only has he ended the top point guard debate, but he also closed up discussion for this year’s MVP race as well. With approximately 12 games remaining, he has separated himself from everyone else in the NBA.

The Bulls are fighting for the top playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If you take Rose out of the line-up, the Bulls would struggle to just make the playoffs. Don’t get me wrong, they have a lot of nice pieces, but Rose lifts the caliber of play from all his teammates.

Carlos Boozer is fitting in well, playing at an all-star level.  He is giving them a post presence that they have sorely needed in their past playoff runs. Joakim Noah is a great young center. He puts his stamp on every game with pure heart and hustle. He is a true winner (winning two NCAA titles with his Florida Gators).

Luol Deng is the most underrated small forward, or player at any position for that matter, in the league. He is quietly averaging over 17 points per game. He is a complete player, that doesn’t get enough credit for his play on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

The injuries sustained to both Boozer and Noah throughout the season, further solidified Rose’s MVP status. While others filled in for Noah and Boozer, it was Rose that would take on an even bigger role by just continuing to dominate the league.

This league has seen some amazing point guard play in its existence. In no particular order, here are my top five point guards of all time.

Magic Johnson played from 1979-1991.  He also made a brief comeback to finish the 1996 season.  His  career was sadly shortened due to an affliction with HIV.  He brought passion, flair, and show-time to the Lakers.  He is the all-time leader in assists per game at 11.2.

Johnson also changed the look of the stereotypical point guard that was generally closer to 6 feet tall.
Magic at 6 foot 9, ran the show, causing mismatches every night, making it very difficult for the smaller guards to defend him.  He also won five NBA Titles and three league MVPS.

John Stockton, of the Utah Jazz, played from 1984-2002. He was one of the toughest players in NBA history, even though he had the appearance of your local accountant or banker. He finished his career as the all-time leader in assists (15806), and steals (3265). These two records may never be broken. He never won a championship (partly due to Michael Jordan and the Bulls).

The Big O, Oscar Robertson, played in a different era, from 1960-74. He is the only player to average a triple double for an entire season. Very few have accomplished this during a playoff series; Robertson doing this for an 82 game season is remarkable.  In 1971 he led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first and only NBA championship.

Isiah Thomas, of the Detroit Pistons played from 1981-1994. He was a very exciting player who led his “Badboy” Pistons to two NBA championships. What he lacked in size and strength, he was able to overcome with heart and determination.

Last but not least, Jason Kidd started his career in 1994, winning co-rookie of the year honors with Grant Hill. He is now in his 17th season and still playing at an extremely high level. He is second to Stockton on the all-time assists list.

Kidd is in the process of passing Michael Jordan for second on the all-time steals list. He is also the leading rebounder for any guard in NBA history (8176 and counting). He led his New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA finals appearances, but was thwarted by Shaq and Kobe one year, and Tim Duncan the next.

The future is bright at the point guard position.  Honorable mention should be given to Russell Westbrook. He has the innate ability (like Rose) to get to the rim with speed and power (hopefully he will take the summer to fix up his jump-shot and will join Rose at the top of the mountain).

Rose does not have Nash’s shooting skills or Kidd’s court vision, but he is improving every day. He has the power and speed which makes him a hybrid monster on the court.  In the next ten to fifteen years we should be seeing more Derrick Rose-like point guards, which can only improve the already amazing talent at the point guard position.

Derrick Rose has a lot more to accomplish in order to be mentioned with these other all-time greats. However, with his blend of skills, if he remains healthy, he will be among the elite point guards of all time when his career is over.

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