The 2005 NBA Draft heralded a new generation of elite point guards. Deron Williams and Chris Paul were respectively selected third and fourth overall, and both immediately entered the select elite of NBA point guards (it took Williams until his second season).
It was a much needed invigoration, as, at the time, the standing crop of elite point guards, including Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and Chauncey Billups, were deemed to be entering later stages of their careers. the glories of John Stockton and Gary Payton had long since faded. A new guard of point guards was required.
The magnified importance of great and visible point guards cannot be understated. The point guard position is so visible and so scrutinized because point guards are not just the leaders and orchestrators of their teams, but also quick, crafty, and imaginative, akin to artists of the game and the court.
Point guards supply the aesthetic appeal of basketball (watching Nash and Paul play is always a treat), but are also revered as gritty winners, as with Isaiah Thomas and his Bad Boys Pistons.
In this sense, the emergence of Paul and Williams was nearly as important to the restoration of the league's positive image as was the class of LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Carmelo Anthony.
A few short years later, there appears to be a new wave of uber-talented guards, who intriguingly bring a diverse set of skills.
Derrick Rose, hailed and praised since the eighth grade as the next great Chicago point guard after Thomas, hailed as the NBA's next elite point guard, is the old man of the new wave. Drafted last year first overall, Rose, with his all-world athletic abilities, met expectations and won Rookie of the Year.
Rose, however, still has enormous questions to answer. Neither a great shooter or distributor nor a fiery leader, Rose has yet to form a definitive character, and one is left wondering if he is overly reliant on his exceptional athleticism.
Once thought to be THE next great point guard, Rose has company alongside. Tyreke Evans, Rose's replacement as Memphis point guard and the odd-on-favorite to be this season's Rookie of the Year, is already making waves in the pro game.
With the body of a pro tight end, Evans is the rare point guard made in the Magic Johnson mold, an advantage he uses to bully opposing guards and get into the lane at will. In just this, his rookie year, Evans is averaging stunning rookie-year averages of 20.8 points per game and nearly five rebounds and assists per game, respectively.
His leadership skills and winning edge are apparent too as he helped the previously woeful Kings to a respectable record; this in contrast to Rose, whose Bulls have not met expectations.
Brandon Jennings is the most surprising of the lot of the new wave of point guards. Under-performing in Italy a year ago and considered a showman and a poor shooter, expectations and commentary for Jennings were largely cynical leading up the June draft.
His rookie season has thus far defied such cynicism and reaffirmed the high praise Jennings received as a high-schooler. Jet-quick, occasionally dazzling, and demonstrating an eye for the pass, Jennings forms the closest approximation to Paul in the new batch of point guards. Much like Evans, Jennings has helped his team, the Bucks, to a mini-resurgence, although both him and the Bucks have met a cool stretch.
While the aforementioned three have been busying plying their trade professionally in Chicago, Sacramento, and Milwaukee, the last of the new wave of point guards is logging minutes in Lexington. John Wall, thought by many to be the best player in college as a freshman, is the unquestioned star of No. 1 Kentucky.
Drawing comparisons to Rose, Wall is able to dominate by sheer athleticism. His game, though incomplete, bears signs of polish, and he has the look of a winner, making a plethora of clutch plays this season. Though almost certainly the first overall pick this coming June, Wall's impact on the NBA point guard scene is speculation at this point.
The point guard hierarchy is ever-evolving and will be a storyline to watch the coming seasons. How long will Nash, Kidd, and Billups stay on top of their games? Will and Paul and Williams be the behemoths of the coming years, or will Rose, Evans, Jennings, and Wall reach the same, if not higher, point in the hierarchy? Which of the new wave will be the best: Rose, the beefy Evans, the speedy Jennings, or the young Wall?
Right now, the league is gifted with two batches of great young point guards, and their development will be exciting to follow over the coming years. Such developments will impact the league tremendously, affecting both the NBA's marketing appeal and, let's hope, changing the playoff landscape, as nothing is quite so exciting as seeing dueling point guard wizards deep in the playoffs.