The NBA Is Missing a Lot of Good Point Guards Right Now

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2014

The NBA Is Missing a Lot of Good Point Guards Right Now

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    It seems to be the season for injuries in the NBA right now. Nowhere is this more apparent than with some of the league’s most notable point guards.

    From those who have gone down due to sudden mishaps to those whose careers are growing increasingly questionable, it’s simply a lousy time.

    Is there any rhyme or reason here? Has the NBA become a more dangerous place lately for floor generals? It’s doubtful that there’s an actual positional liability except in the sense that basketball, like many other sports, has become increasingly competitive and faster-paced.

    Given an 82-game schedule, the fatigue posed by back-to-back games and the inherent danger of 10 guys running, jumping and fighting through screens, is it any wonder that things have gotten so bad?

    The following list isn’t a ranking of who’s better or more beat-up or more likely to be named an All-Star in absentia. It’s just a roundup of nine point guards whom we really miss at the moment.

Chris Paul

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    The loss of Chris Paul to a shoulder injury has raised the question of playoffs viability for the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul is expected to miss five to six weeks with a Grade 3 AC joint separation, and if there’s a silver lining, it’s that surgery won’t be required.

    CP3 epitomizes leadership for the Clippers and has been leading the league in assists at 11.2 per game through 34 games played.

    As D.J. Foster for Bleacher Report explains, there’s simply no substitute for one of the league’s elite guards:

    Perhaps no team has relied more heavily on one player to make things work than the Clippers have with Chris Paul. He's at the center of everything, by design, and so the Clippers are now tasked with basically reinventing themselves on the fly.

    Los Angeles is currently in fourth place in a jam-packed Western Conference playoff race. With approximately seven games separating first from eighth place, it wouldn’t take much to slide considerably.

    Paul suffered the injury on January 3, when he fell on his right shoulder, trying to go around Monta Ellis of the Dallas Mavericks.

    CP3’s injury has made for a ripple effect as the team looks to shore up the point guard position. Eric Patten for reported on the waiving of veteran forward Stephen Jackson and the signing of Darius Morris to a 10-day contract. Here's how coach Doc Rivers explained it:

    Once Chris [Paul] went down we needed guards and in my opinion, multiple guards. We’ve already signed one and we’ll probably sign another here in the next day. It’s just what we had to do.

    Indeed, the Clippers also re-signed Maalik Wayns to a 10-day contract after releasing him several days earlier.

    Darren Collison is a solid backup, but he’s no CP3. Morris or Wayns won’t be filling that bill either. For now, the Clippers will try not to lose too much ground in the West. Doing that without their six-time NBA All-Star will be a tall order.

Derrick Rose

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    For the Chicago Bulls, losing Derrick Rose was the cruelest of fates. Rose is out for the season after surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in his right knee, and it seems like a case of history repeating itself.

    As the reigning MVP, Rose played only 39 games during an injury-plagued 2011-12 season before tearing his left ACL in the first game of the 2012 Eastern Conference playoffs. He missed the following season in its entirety. 

    This season brought high hopes for the return of one of the NBA’s true stars, as well as the opportunity for the Bulls to go deep into the playoffs.

    Rose’s return wasn’t a particularly smooth one—there was still residual soreness in his repaired knee and stretches of inconsistent play. Ten games in, the unthinkable happened. Cutting to the basket without the ball against the Portland Trail Blazers, Rose’s right knee went out.

    Ben Strauss for The New York Times relayed the assessment of former Bulls guard and TNT analyst Steve Kerr:

    Its devastating. Everything really was lined up for them this year, and I think most people felt like they could make a great push. Big picture, it throws everything out the window. They may have to totally reshuffle the deck.

    Reshuffle the deck, they did. On January 7, the Bulls traded free agent Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for some draft picks and the contract of chronically injured Andrew Bynum. The former All-Star center was waived the next day. The move is expected to save the team $15 million. 

    The Bulls aren’t exactly tanking—they’ve won their last five games in a row and are in the middle of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. Yet, the loss of Rose has underlined the transitory nature of the NBA and the need to plan for the future.

    The former Rookie of the Year was once the team’s unquestioned centerpiece. His massive contract runs through the 2016-17 season. Since being drafted as the top overall pick in 2008, however, he’s played just 289 games. Does the best part of Rose’s career still lie ahead?

    Only time will tell.

Russell Westbrook

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    Russell Westbrook is a tough-as-nails NBA baller, but his right knee has gone through some misery. The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard has had three surgeries in eight months and is currently working toward his return.

    Westbrook tore his meniscus in the first round of the 2013 playoffs and had season-ending surgery. He had a second surgery on the same knee to deal with loose stitches shortly before the start of this season. He only missed two games, however, and was soon swaggering back into action.

    And then it happened again. On December 27, the team’s top exec, Sam Presti, dropped a bit of a bombshell, telling of a third surgery that hadn’t been previously announced. Per the team’s official website:

    Russell has been playing pain free, but recently had experienced increased swelling. After consultation and consideration by his surgeon in Los Angeles, a plan was established to monitor the swelling that included a series of scheduled MRIs. On the most recent MRI it was determined by the surgeon that there was an area of concern that had not previously existed, nor was detectable in the previous procedures, and it was necessary to evaluate Russell further. The consulting physician determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary to address the swelling that was taking place. We know that Russell’s work ethic and commitment will help him return to the level of play that we have all come to appreciate.

    The press release concluded with a cryptic note that Westbrook was expected to return “post All-Star break.” So when exactly will that be?

    Westbrook isn’t a guy who likes to complain, and if you take him at his word, he was feeling just fine this season. When you watched him walk, however, you had to wonder—he looked like a bowlegged cowboy. That’s just kind of how he moves, though, until the whistle blows and he’s off and running again, threading the needle and going hard to the basket.

    Darnell Mayberry for The Oklahoman interviewed Westbrook recently, and per usual, the three-time All-Star wasn’t giving much away. Mayberry asked about the areas of concern, and Westbrook replied, “Just a little swelling. That was about it.” Was there any pain when he was playing? “Not at all.” Could he share what he was thinking this time around? “No.”

    So as it stands, Russell Westbrook will be back at some point, doing Russell Westbrook things and hopefully at the same productivity that he showed through 25 games this season at over 21 points and seven assists per game.

    Plus, wearing those awesome postgame shirts.

Rajon Rondo

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s not all repeat injuries and misery—some point guards are on the mend and hopefully returning sooner rather than later. Case in point—Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics.

    According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the Celtics point guard has a date in mind:

    Rajon Rondo is targeting the Boston Celtics’ Jan. 17 home game against the Los Angeles Lakers for his possible season debut, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Rondo said he could play limited minutes, but his conditioning needs to improve. He was initially concerned about a “clicking” in his right knee during practice, but his doctor and former Celtics teammates Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins who have both had knee surgeries, told him it was normal. Rondo will wear a knee brace covered by a sleeve when he returns.

    Per Spears, Rondo feels a possible return against the Lakers would give him the time necessary to improve his conditioning:

    I feel like Im ready now, but I'm not in shape, I can go out there and I can give the team 10 minutes. I want to be productive out there. I dont want to limp or drag behind because of my cardio. That would be hurting the team. I dont want to be selfish and go out there and not be able to go up and down every possession and give it all I got. Thats what I cant do right now.

    It’s been a lengthy layoff for the NBA champion and four-time All-Star. Rondo tore his right ACL in late January 2013 and underwent surgery the next month. Since then, his team has undergone a radical transformation. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets, and head coach Doc Rivers is now with the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Rondo, who came to the Celtics in a draft-day trade in 2006, has now become the face of the franchise, albeit a face that hasn’t seen any game time in a year. Meanwhile, the Celtics under rookie head coach Brad Stevens are 13-25 with eight straight losses. The team is clearly hoping that Rondo can work some of his old magic once he returns.

    Asked by Spears why he’d want to stay with a rebuild project, Rondo said:

    Why would I not want to be? I talked to a lot of people, not necessarily about leaving, but my situation and how fortunate it is. Its a great situation for me. Im taking another step into a leadership role.

Steve Nash

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    Will Steve Nash ever be a real factor on the basketball court again? This has been one of the more discouraging sports stories over the past two seasons.

    One of the greatest NBA point guards in the history of the game, Nash joined the Los Angeles Lakers before the 2012-13 season as an integral piece of what many assumed would be a new championship roster. Nash was the second part of a one-two punch during the offseason. The first and presumably strongest punch was the free-agent acquisition of Dwight Howard.

    Nash fractured his left leg in just the second game of the season, and it seemed to set the tone for the entire team. The Lakers eventually hobbled into the playoffs after losing Kobe Bryant to a ruptured Achilles and were swept in the first round. This past July, Howard joined the Houston Rockets.

    Nash never really recovered from last season’s injury, which has been complicated by nerve root irritation, chronic back problems and the one thing that time can’t heal—time itself.

    According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni is hopeful that both Nash and Bryant can play January 28 against the Indiana Pacers. D’Antoni, a former point guard himself, explained the recent rash of point guard injuries in terms of diagnosis and treatment:

    We had [injuries] all the time, except with MRIs they diagnose them a little bit better. You played with them and you didn’t know you had them. But now you’re out four weeks. It’s better for players’ careers and it’s better for the health of them in the long run. Before you just saw them tape ’em up, play and take a painkiller, you’d be fine. That wasn’t the right way to do it, and now they’re doing it the right way.

    D’Antoni was Nash’s coach during the Phoenix Suns glory days and would no doubt love to see his former franchise star go out with a bang, not a whimper. Unfortunately, Nash’s disintegrating body hasn’t been responding that well to modern cutting-edge medical advances, let alone painkillers and tape.

    The eight-time All-Star and two-time MVP turns 40 in February. He has managed to play six games so far this season and is once again working toward a comeback. Meanwhile, the Lakers have been reliving many of last season’s trials and tribulations. Four other key players are also on the shelf, including Bryant, who returned to action only to be injured again.

    The Lakers have lost 10 of their last 11 games and are heading for last place in the Western Conference real fast.

    Can Nash make a miraculous return against the Pacers a week before his 40th birthday? It would be a perfect Hollywood ending.

Eric Bledsoe

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    One of the latest casualties in the point guard war of attrition is Eric Bledsoe of the Phoenix Suns. Bledsoe was originally thought to have sprained his right knee in an appearance against the Los Angeles Clippers on December 30. Upon closer inspection, it was learned that he had suffered meniscus damage and would need to go under the knife.

    According to the team website, Bledsoe underwent successful arthroscopic surgery on January 10 and will immediately begin a recovery and rehabilitation program. The news release indicates a possible return to action during the second half of this NBA season.

    A “possible return” doesn’t do much for the Suns at the moment, and that’s just how it goes with the vagaries of sports injuries. The Suns point guard had already missed several games with a bruised shin before going down with the knee injury.

    Phoenix has been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises this season under rookie coach Jeff Hornacek. This could put a big dent in its playoff hopes. The team was recently vying for fourth place in the West and is now hovering around seventh in a hotly contested division.

    Paul Coro for The Arizona Republic spoke with former Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl about the Suns’ team chemistry:

    Bledsoe has this tremendous passion to play the game and it’s become the heart and soul of the team. With (Goran) Dragic and (P.J.) Tucker and how they play with heart, it all fits into this competitive spirit.

    The Suns had essentially been employing a two-point guard backcourt with Bledsoe and Dragic. Gerald Green has now stepped into the starting lineup, replacing Bledsoe. Backup guard Ish Smith will also see increased minutes.

    Bledsoe spent his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers and arrived in Phoenix this past summer via a three-team trade. His stats have since gone through the roof, improving from 8.5 points per game to 18 points and nearly six assists through 24 games.

Jrue Holiday

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    The breaks keep coming—on January 10, the New Orleans Pelicans announced that Jrue Holiday would be out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his right tibia. Per an Associated Press report (via Yahoo! Sports), the point guard believes he may have been playing on the wounded leg for an undetermined time.

    It’s been that kind of season for the Pelicans. First, wonder-sophomore Anthony Davis broke his hand. More recently, sharpshooter Ryan Anderson went down with a herniated disc. And now, it’s Holiday’s turn.

    This is the first season in New Orleans for Holiday, who was traded in July by the Philadelphia 76ers. In return, the Pelicans sent back the rights to rookie draft pick Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-round pick.

    Holiday was an All-Star last season for the 76ers, averaging a career-high 17.7 points and eight assists per game. His scoring has dropped off a bit with the Pelicans, with a 14.3-point average through 34 games.  

    In an interesting article for Bourbon Street Shots, Michael McNamara explored data suggesting that Holiday is far more effective when paired with Tyreke Evans rather than Eric Gordon. Unfortunately, Evans has been dealing with a problematic left ankle for much of the season.

    Holiday is currently in a walking boot and will be re-evaluated in about a month. Meanwhile the Pelicans have lost five games in a row and are five games out of eighth place in the Western Conference.

Deron Williams

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    Deron Williams has been in and out of the Brooklyn Nets lineup all season. The problem is his chronically trashed ankles—the three-time All-Star has already missed 16 games.

    Williams’ ankle issues seem to have been around forever—dating back at least as far as a preseason game with the Utah Jazz in 2008.

    As for the here and now, Mike Mazzeo for ESPN New York charts the most current problems:

    Williams has sprained his left ankle on three occasions this season. He originally sprained it Nov. 15 at Phoenix and missed the next two games before returning Nov. 20 at Charlotte, where he sprained it again and missed another nine games as a result. It is unknown when or how Williams sprained it a third time.

    In a separate column, Mazzeo revealed that Williams will not be accompanying the Nets on their upcoming trip to London to play against the Atlanta Hawks.

    According to the Nets’ website, Williams was recently treated with cortisone shots and platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections to both ankles.

    Per Fred Kerber of the New York Post, Nets coach Jason Kidd recently offered an interesting perspective on Williams’ productivity:

    “For three games, he was playing at a very high level. We’ve got to get him healthy, but we still all believe that he can get to that level of carrying this team.”

    Three games is a pretty small sample size at this point of the season.

    Williams was once one of the league’s emerging superstars. Despite all the problems, he’s still averaging 13.6 points and 6.9 assists per game in 30 minutes this season, well under his 36.5-minute-per-game career average.

    In July 2012, Williams signed a new five-year contract with the Nets valued at $98 million. For now, the undeniably talented point guard continues his treatment and his rehab. What the future holds is anybody’s guess.

Patrick Beverley

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    For Patrick Beverley, not playing the game of basketball is the worst possible thing. The Houston Rockets’ second-year guard fractured his right hand on December 21 against the Detroit Pistons.  

    Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle relayed the impatience of the 25-year-old:

    I’m on the bench jumping around like a maniac. It’s just hard. It’s hard just watching. I am so bored at home doing nothing. Taking basketball away from me is awful. I can’t wait to get back out there.

    The broken hand required surgery but seems to be healing nicely. Beverly is hoping to be back on the court by the end of January.

    Beverley’s basketball journey has played out much differently than the other eight guards on this list. He was an Arkansas Razorbacks standout who left during his sophomore year in 2008 without declaring for the draft. He played a season in the Ukrainian league and was subsequently taken as the 42nd pick in the 2009 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. His rights were promptly traded to the Miami Heat for a future draft pick and cash.

    The Heat didn’t have any use for Beverley either—he headed back overseas and played in both Greece and Russia. The combo guard was signed by the Houston Rockets in January 2013 and assigned to the D-League.

    This season, Beverley has started 24 of 25 games for the Rockets, averaging just under 10 points per game. With a current salary of $788,872, Beverley isn’t going to cause anyone to question whether he’s worth the money.

    He may be the last one on the list here, but Patrick Beverley has plenty of upside.

    As for the NBA’s seemingly endless parade of bad backs, broken ankles and missing cartilage, let’s hope the rest of 2014 is kinder.