Despite Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash’s excellent performances last night, the fact remains that Deron Williams is simply the best point guard alive.
Before you start writing angry Chris Paul rants in the comments section, let me say that Paul is my favorite point guard and that I think if he returns healthy he will regain his throne. But after the way he played at the end of this season, coming back from multiple leg injuries (including a very worrisome knee surgery), he has to prove he can still play his stratospheric level.
What makes Williams so special, and what separates him from every other elite point guard in the game, is that he can excel in any style of play against any defender.
In the full court, Williams’ devastating combination of size, speed, and control make him an absolute nightmare. His signature move, a full speed crossover he stole from Jason Kidd, allows him to get his broad shoulders past his defender so he can use his strength to finish at the rim or draw a foul.
While Williams may look like a runaway train barreling down on defenders tied to the track, he always has his head up and rarely makes the wrong decision. His combination of physicality, control, and awareness, while moving at breakneck speed, is outstanding.
Besides LeBron and Durant, there isn’t a more difficult player to stop once he gets a head of steam.
When Paul’s explosiveness returns, he may have something to say about this.
As for Nash and Rondo, they are primarily distributors in transition because they lack the strength and explosiveness to finish as consistently as Williams. Check out this dunk and tell me you disagree.
In the half court, Williams benefits from a Utah offensive system that caters to his wide ranging abilities. Utah’s half court possessions usually go one of two ways.
1) Deron Williams runs an excellent pick and roll with Boozer, Milsap, or Okur.
2) Williams relinquishes the ball and becomes his team’s de facto shooting guard, sprinting off of screens and either dishing to cutters or elevating into his pure jumper.
See the theme?
Williams runs the pick-and-roll nearly as well as Chris Paul and Steve Nash because all three players can drive, dish, and shoot well enough to make the "p-n-r" action nearly unstoppable.
But Deron is also the best catch and shoot point guard in the league.
While Nash has a purer stroke and a slightly more consistent pull-up three, Williams’ ability to sprint off of picks a la Ray Allen and get great, balanced elevation under long distance shots separates him from Nash.
Again, Nash has a purer stroke, but he cannot get it off at will the same way D-Will does. This skill is where Williams separates himself from other explosive guards as well.
Rondo, Westbrook, and Rose can be left alone, or at least given a significant cushion, when behind the three-point line. This simply makes them easier to defend, especially in the half court.
If you had to stop Williams, what weakness would you point to?
He doesn’t turn the ball over like Steve Nash, he never disappears from a game like Rose, Rondo, or Westbrook, and he has the wheels to blow past any player big enough to handle him, unlike the slowing Billups.
Aside from the currently weakened Paul, he has no equal.
Next time you watch Williams, try to count the possessions that he wastes, not just with turnovers but with bad shots or passes that find ill-equipped teammates late in the shot clock. Williams not only has elite abilities, he is a consummate floor general.
As much as I love Nash, who I think is second in line as the league’s best maestro, I can’t look past his inability to lock up big or quick guards or his propensity to cough the ball up to long armed defenders.
Like Williams, Nash plays in an offensive system that hides his weaknesses and emphasizes his strengths.
Nash isn’t really a bad defender, and he works hard to stay in front of his man, but just about any guard can shoot over him with ease, and the quickest PGs in the league turn his ankles to soup.
Williams, on the other hand, can not only guard Westbrook, Rose, and Rondo, but also Kobe, Pierce, and Joe Johnson.
Being critical, the main knocks on Williams are that he doesn’t have elite quickness and gets padded assist numbers by dishing to shooters coming off of screens rather than creating the shots himself. He often gets to the line through a very annoying move in which he basically drives straight into his defender and tosses up a shot while yelling “bail me out!”
But this season, and especially this postseason, Williams has entered himself into the top three or four players in the NBA.
My top five (in order) are LeBron, Wade, Williams, Howard, and Duncan (not happy with Howard so far this postseason, but he scores an average of 18 points and is the most intimidating/best defender in the league).
Before you protest, answer this: In a Game Seven, tied ball game, with five minutes left in the fourth, what point guard would you want orchestrating your finish?
Keep in mind that you know nothing about who’s playing well on your team, the pace of the game, or who your point guard’s defender is.
You would want a player with a steady disposition that will keep his teammates calm.
You would want a player who can score in a variety of ways and is physical enough to earn cheap points at the line, but skilled enough to make three-pointers with a hand in his face.
You would want someone who could score no matter what the defense chose to take away and who wouldn’t be a liability on defense.
And you would want a guy with balls as big as Texas, a guy you can trust to find and make a game-winning shot.
You would want Deron Williams.
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