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April Point Guard Power Rankings

April 8, 2012

By Ross Mitchell

With the playoffs beginning to take form, there are a few things we can say for certain about this season’s National Basketball Association:

1. The Larry O’Brien Trophy is up for grabs. The Eastern Conference appears to be a two horse race between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat. Not to slight the other playoff teams: the Indiana Pacers, the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic, and the New York Knicks, but they are not the are all fatally flawed. Boston is old and has no depth. The 76ers and Hawks do not have the front-court depth to beat the Bulls in a seven game series and don’t stand a chance in containing LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. The Pacers are one of the five best teams in the league, but still a step below the top four (Chicago, Miami, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and San Antonio Spurs). And the Orlando Magic have crazied themselves out of anything.

The Western Conference is a little more open but comes down to three, possibly four teams. The Thunder and Spurs are the favorites, with all signs leading to a Conference Finals series that has the potential be as entertaining as Bulls-Heat. The Lakers and Mavericks are also in contention but would need to put together and incredible stretch of games to defeat two teams that at this point in the season are clearly in a class of their own.

2. The race for Most Valuable Player is down to two players: LeBron James and Kevin Durant. They just are. I won’t drown you with statistics or the making the same case you can read in a thousand different places. If I had a vote, and I have seven, I’d vote for James. When he is at his best, there is none better, and for a large portion of the season he has been at his best. Durant is the better shooter, but James is the better player and having the best season. I have never seen a player who after dominating a games for the first 47 minutes be so heavily criticized for his performance in the final sixty-seconds. Even when James makes the correct decision and passes to a wide open teammate, hoping another NBA player can hit a wide open jump shot, he is skewered for not taking a tough running jumper while double-teamed. Some guys just can’t win. I remember in the early 90’s when experts said Michael Jordan would never win a title as long as he was the league scoring champion. Well, as the Showtime Lakers about that theory.

3. Kevin Love is a top five player. I don’t care who you have to take out of your top five to put him in there but he belongs. He’s averaging over 27 points-per-game and 13 rebounds-per-game. He can shoot from literally anywhere over the time-stripe and has a fantastic post game. Fellow “The PUP List” contributor Vince and I were considering posting a Dog Fighting column about who was the better Power Forward, Blake Griffin or Love. Then we both decided supporting Blake in this debate was the equivalent to tying someone to a car and having them run a marathon against a person driving another car.

Onto the Point Guard Power Rankings. I’ve omitted Derrick Rose from the list this month due to injury. Same for Kyle Lowery and Jeremy Lin, though Lin played himself out of the standings:

1. Russell Westbrook- His play has put him on the cusp of the MVP discussion. He will face the same scrutiny all season: He should never shoot more than Durant, he turns the ball over with too much regularity, his ego is too big. When Westbrook out shoots Durant the Thunder are 22-6. Please don’t argue with fact.

2. Derron Williams- If only he played an NBA team like the Kentucky Wildcats. This leads me into a debate which Sir Charles Barkley sparked a few days prior to Kentucky cutting down the nets in New Orleans: Could Kentucky beat the Toronto Raptors? I say no. I also say they could not beat the New Orleans Hornets or New Jersey Nets. But I do think they could beat the Bobcats. I’m sorry, when a collegiate team has three potential lottery picks and five to seven players who have the potential to be selected in the next two NBA drafts, beating the worst team in recent NBA history is not that far fetched. Consider that whichever Kentucky player the Bobcats will no doubt draft will be the best player on their team. Consider that age is less of a factor in basketball than it is in any other sport. Scouts said LeBron James in his Junior year of high school would be the best player on the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were right. Kyrie Irving, nineteen years old is one of the top forty players in the league. Derrick Rose is the reigning MVP at 23 years old. Age is just a number baby, and in a single game I trust Antony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, Kyle Wiltjer, and Darius Miller more than I do Bobcats leading scorer Corey Maggette, Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker, D.J. Augustin, Boris Diaw, Bismack Biyombo, and Reggie Williams.

3. Chris Paul- Anyone who can overcome Vinny Del Negro and Donald Sterling deserves some kind of award. The Clippers hit a bit of a snag in the early weeks of March but have righted the ship as of late. They are not the same team without Chauncey Billups however, and any early season title aspirations Lob City had should be put on the shelf. Paul has continued to be one of the elite players in the league and will be the top prize in free agency this summer.

4. Rajon Rondo- The Celtics have been playing at a torrid pace since the All-Star break. The two biggest reasons? Head coach Doc Rivers and Rondo. They have been the only two constants the C’s have had since the season began back in December. Kevin Garnett has been up-and-down, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have been battling injury. Avery Bradley has solidified the defensive end of the court for Boston, but when it comes to guards and defense Rondo is in a league of his own. How many other point guards make you think defense? Magic Johnson, Mark Jackson, Kevin Johnson, and Greg Anthony are four of maybe ten shutdown point-guards in the past twenty years. Rondo is in elite company and while he isn’t the best shooter, he can get to the rim as well as any point guard not named Rose or Westbrook, largely attributing to his .50 field goal percentage.

5. Tony Parker- I wanted to put Kyrie Irving here. I almost put “5a” and “5b” but I cannot ignore their team records. Parker is the best player on arguably the best team in the league. There is unquestioned validity behind the case that he should higher, perhaps even topping this list. In March alone he averaged 19.9 ppg and 7.6 apg. The Spurs are the top seed in the Western Conference as of this posting and have beaten their main competition, the Oklahoma City Thunder twice (where he averaged 28 and 10). There is no flaw to Parker’s game. With Manu Ginobili getting healthy, the Spurs are a force in the Western Conference.

6. Kyrie Irving- He could not play another game this season and be the unquestioned Rookie of the Year. I keep saying it, the Cavaliers are not far away from being a contender in the Eastern Conference again. The Cavs will add another lottery pick in the approaching draft. Irving will 20 years old during the 2012-2013 season. The Atlanta Hawks are showing signs of decline (though they will have Al Horford back), the Celtics could blow the whole team up, and who knows what else can happen with the Arkham Magic? Keep in mind Irving has yet to take his game to “the next level”. He should be in his Sophomore season of college. Instead he’s giving the beleaguered fan base of Cleveland to believe again.

7. Steve Nash- If Paul is the gold medal in this season’s free agency class, Nash is the silver. He is 38 years old, will be 39 next season. But he takes such good care of his body and remains in such good condition year round he plays at a much younger age. Did you know Phoenix is only a game out of the playoffs? I’ll give you one guess as to why (hint: it isn’t Marcin Gortat). And as he has virtually all season, Nash leads the Association in assists at an eye-popping 11.2 per game. He was actually ranked fifth on the list but he’s Canadian and with the exchange rate…

8. Brandon Jennings- As of this posting the Milwaukee Bucks are 28-28 and .5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. Monte Ellis has helped revitalize the franchise and with Jennings they make one of the best and somehow unknown backcourts in the game. In the month of March Jennings averaged 20.5 ppg, 5.9 apg, and 3.2 rpg, his best month by far. He has been long overdue on this list, to my own admission. Does he need to improve on his defense and shooting percentages? Yes, but like most guards on this list he is young (22). And according to his bio he’s straight out of Compton.

9. Lou Williams- Still having a great season despite the 76ers slide from the Atlantic Division lead.

10. Mike Conly- I mentioned the four teams who have a legitimate chance to win the Western Conference earlier. I intentionally excluded the Memphis Grizzlies so I could talk about them now. Much as they did last season, the Grizz have come on strong in the waning hours of the regular season. Zach Randolph is healthy again and Marc Gasol is a presence up front. If there were ever a long shot team to usurp the Western Conference heavyweights it would be the Grizzlies. And Mike Conly is the cog that turns the wheel. Also, who would have thought he would have a better career than his Ohio State teammate Greg Oden?

Honorable mention: Jru Holliday, John Wall, Ramon Sessions, Ty Lawson

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