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March Point Guard Power Rankings

March 5, 2012

By Ross Mitchell

So…since the last rankings were posted the NBA, America, the world have been struck by the overwhelming force that is Linsanity. Hours-upon-hours, column-after-column have been dedicated to the driving force behind Mike D’Antoni’s resurgent New York Knicks and what the future holds now that they have a player who can run the offense the way it was intended. Perhaps more than any other system in the league the Knicks system is predicated on a point guard who can get the ball to the open man and dictate the tempo of the game. Jeremy Lin has been nothing short of outstanding. One could make the case that the only force bigger than Lin’s play has been the wave of media coverage and fan support given to a guy who a month ago was sleeping on his brother’s couch. To be fair, being unemployed and slumming it is still a better fate than playing for the Golden State Warriors.

Questions of racism have been a hot topic revolving around Lin. Do we judge a book by it’s cover? Do we assume that a lanky Chinese-American cannot play at an elite, or even consistent level in the NBA. Should we trust an athlete from Harvard? My response to these questions are this: Any current executive on a professional level does not care a single solitary bit about a player’s ethnicity or what religion they practice. If they did players like Shareef Adbur-Rahim or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would never have been given an opportunity to excel. Did they care about race in the 1940s and 1950s? Obviously. But as demanding and short lived as current era general manager or coaching tenures have can be, the notion they would jeopardize their career or franchise’s ability to win because of bigotry is preposterous. And if I’m wrong, and they do let stereotypes or personal prejudice blind them and cloud their thinking, they probably won’t garner much success.

Onto the rankings:

1. Derrick Rose- Back spasms schmack schmasms. Rose is the league MVP for a reason. There is one player in the league more dynamic and more physically gifted than Rose and that is LeBron James. Rose missed most of February but so far this season he has torched the likes of Chris Paul (29 points, 16 assists), Ricky Rubio (31 and 11), Rajon Rando (25 and 7), Derron Williams (22 and 8), Brandon Jennings (34 and 3), Mario Chalmers (34 and 6), John Wall (35 and 3), the pre-Lin point guards (32 and 13), and Tony Parker (29 and 4). To quote Ric Flair, “To be the man you have to beat the man” and Rose has yet to be beaten.

2. Derron Williams- The only guard in the NBA averaging 21.7 points per game and 8.0 assists per game. Imagine what he would be doing if he wasn’t serving out an 18 month sentence in New Jersey. The thought of matching him up with Dwight Howard is scary, but more than likely I see Williams jumping ship for another major market, possibly Dallas or the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that Chris Paul jumps ship after this season and the Los Angeles Clippers make a play at Williams. Lob City Revisited. Just a quick trade deadline idea: Williams to Philadelphia for Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner. This is predicated on the 76ers being able to resign Williams, but tell me how that doesn’t largely benefit both teams if Williams has no intention of resigning in New Jersey?

3. Russell Westbrook- He is the only player I know (other than LeBron James) who can be criticized for scoring 40 points and playing out of his mind in an overtime victory. Last month I commented that he needed to distribute the ball to Kevin Durant more and be more of a “classic” point guard. Upon further review I’d like to amend that analysis. Westbrook should give Kevin Durant the ball when he demands it or when he’s shooting lights out. But he is the second best player on that team. He is Oklahoma City’s second best scorer. He needs to score at least 23 on most night for the Thunder to win. To believe the notion that Westbrook is selfish or bullheaded because he, on occasion, out-shoots Durant or jacks up ill advised shots, I say, who would you rather have taking those shots? Serge Ibaka? Kendrick Perkins? Thabo Sefolosha? Daequan Cook? If those four names make you cringe, guess what? They are the forth, fifth, sixth, and seventh leading scorers on the Thunder. None of them average over 10 points per game. The only other player on the Thunder who does average double-digits is James Harden. I’ll defer to Westbrook, thank you very much.

4. Chris Paul- Am I the only one in the world who isn’t drooling over Chris Paul? Who doesn’t revere him as the point guard to end all point guards? Paul is dynamic. He is an elite player, but he cannot win without a lot of help. I will say that he makes those around him better, which is an inherent quality of a superstar, but to solely credit Paul for the Clippers turnaround is diminishing the improvements made by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. It is turning a blind eye to the contributions of Caron Butler, Mo Williams, Randy Foye, and the newly acquired Kenyon Martin. And lets not gawk at the Clippers improvement either. The Clippers are eight games over .500. They are the four seed, second in their division. With that much talent in a softened Western Conference, the case can be made that they are underachieving, considering where most had them after the Paul trade went through.

5. Rajon Rondo- Trade winds have been circling around Rondo for the better part of a week. Sunday Rondo sent a message to Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge by going absolutely bonkers, recording a triple-double, accumulating 18 points, 17 rebounds, and 20 assists. Look, Rondo isn’t the shooter as the aforementioned point guards. He isn’t the athlete Rose is, and lacks the speed of Rose and Westbrook, but that is where any knock on Rondo’s game (if there is any to begin with, which I don’t think there is) ends. He is still second in the NBA in assists. He is still the best player on the Celtics. If I were the Celtics I would never trade Rondo for Gassol. It doesn’t make them any better. But if he is truly on the block, there are twenty teams in the Association who should be on the phone with Ainge until Rondo is in their locker room. Trade deadline proposals: The Celtics trade Rondo and Brandon Bass to the Atlanta Hawks for Josh Smith and Jeff Teague. That makes the Celtics a little more versatile while maintaining stability at the point guard position and gives Atlanta arguably the best backcourt in the NBA with Rondo and Joe Johnson. Brandon Bass is an underrated talent and could really shine with more playing time. Trade two sends Rondo and Bass to Indiana for David West, Darren Collison, and their 2013 first round draft pick. David West would be Kevin Garnett’s eventual replacement while Indiana gets another true playmaker to accompany Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert.

6. Tony Parker- I honestly feel we forget how great Tony Parker has been over the course of his career. The San Antonio Spurs are contenders again in the West and not because Tim Duncan has reverted to early century Tim Duncan. Averaging 19 points and 8 assists per game, Parker has been the biggest reason a team that ranks 20th in rebounds per game and 15th overall in points allowed is only 3½ games behind Oklahoma City for best record in the Western Conference. It isn’t Tim Duncan, it isn’t the oft injured Manu Ginobili, or that guy wearing Richard Jefferson’s jersey. Look, I like DeJaun Blair. I think Gary Neal is a nice player. Tiago Splitter has a lot of promise, but leads the team in points per game and assists per game. He is the only player on the Spurs to average more than 30 minutes per game (34.3). Without Parker, the Spurs are just another team, possibly not even good enough to qualify for the postseason.

7. Kyrie Irving- Irving is everything John Wall and Tyreke Evans are not. Irving is already a lethal scorer who is carrying the Cleveland Cavaliers into playoff contention before his twentieth birthday. When I was twenty I was trying to concoct a way to maximize the syrup to ice ratio in my Slurpees and drinking jugs of Carlo Rossi wine because I was gainfully unemployed. Kyrie is the new foundation of a Cavs team that has recovered from losing LeBron James faster than any of us could have possibly imagined. It may be beneficial for the Cavs not to make the playoffs this season (as they will likely be swept by the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat). But with Irving leading a young core and with the potential (and cap space) to add accomplished veterans, Cleveland all the potential in the world to leap near the top of the Eastern Conference within the next two seasons. And a little foreshadowing: Gerald Wallace has a player option this coming off season; Elton Brand has an Early Termination Option; Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are unrestricted free agents; Michael Beasley is a restricted free agent, as is Brook Lopez. If the Cavs resign Antwain Jamison and add a wingman like Wallace and a low post option like Brand, Garnett, or Lopez, the Cavs are suddenly have more all-around talent than the LeBron James era.

8. Kyle Lowry- Lowry is the most underrated point guard in the NBA. Much like Tony Parker, Lowry has led the Houston Rockets to a plus .500 record and four games behind the Clippers for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Averaging 15.9 points per game (8th in the league for point guards), 7.4 assists (10th ), and 5.3 rebounds per game (1st), Lowry is also the Rockets second leading scorer and the catalyst behind the tenth best offense in basketball. Lowry has to be in contention for most improved player in the NBA. I feel he is having an All-Star caliber season (though I understand why he did not make the team). He is a bit undersized at 6’0” but in 2011-2012, Lowry has found a way to reach career highs in points, rebounds, and assists.

9. Jeremy Lin- Here is why I have Lin ninth; there isn’t a player on this list whom I have already named that I would trade for Lin. He is an exceptional story and is having an incredible run. I think his success and high level of play will carry on long past this season. But he is not a good defensive player. He is benefiting from Mike D’Antoni’s system, and I’m sorry, but as Rondo proved on Sunday, he will get torched, dominated, lit up by any of the elite point guards. As a Bulls fan, I cannot wait for Lin to match-up against Rose. To quote Bulls color commentator Stacey King, “Rose is too big, too strong, too fast, too good”. Does he make the Knicks a contender in the Eastern Conference? More than were before he stepped into the lineup. Does he make the Knicks a viable threat to the Bulls or Heat? Not at all. Lin had a great month of February. He deserves to be in the slot he is in on this list. But no higher.

10. Jrue Holiday- Holiday is tough defender and a reliable scorer. He is having his best professional season and helps lead a Philadelphia team that will be a nightmare for any team come playoff time. I find myself speaking more about the 76ers as a team than I do any one individual player, but Holiday deserves credit. Lou Williams is having a fine season as well. In fact Holiday replaces Williams on this list. Andre Iguodala is a bonafided All-Star and one of the premier man-to-man defenders we have. Doug Collins should be toward the top of the Coach-of-the-Year voting, if for nothing else than the fact he turned a mediocre-to-bad defense into the league leader in points allowed per game (87.0). Again, Holiday has been magnificent, and deserves individual praise. But that’s not what the Sixers are about.

Honorable Mention: Steve Nash, Ty Lawson, Ricky Rubio

The NBA on a whole has been fantastic this season. I know Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley would disagree, but the infusion of young talent and the overall competitiveness of games night-in and night-out has been a delight to watch. I will concede the point that there are plenty of bad teams. I will concede that the Bulls, the Heat, and the Thunder are head-and-shoulders above everyone else, but the days of the big brother Western Conference beating up on the little brother Eastern Conference are over. The entire Western Conference is up for grabs. The entire first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs poses interest storylines and intriguing positional and team match-ups. It’s an exciting time to be an NBA fan. And to think, we almost missed this because of the lockout.

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