Happy St. Patty's Day: Saint Mary's Patrick Mills
Point Guard Derrick Rose was the number one draft pick this year and is making a strong case at Rookie of the Year by averaging 17/4/5 in a supposedly crowded Chicago backcourt. Behind him came point guards Russell Westbrook and Jerryd Bayless, who both dominated their respective summer leagues. Even D.J. Augustin has started to contribute while sharing the 1-spot with Raymond Felton. Yet next summer's draft could be the most stacked class of point guards since 2005, when Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Felton went 3-4-5 and Monta Ellis and Louis Williams got snagged in the second round.
At the top of 2009's point guard mountain stand the Euroleaguers, Ricky Rubio and Brandon Jennings. The December 11 meeting of Rubio's DKV Joventut and Jenning's Virtus Roma should be epic, if only for the sheer number of NBA scouts who'll be present (what'll also be epic is the the dump I'll be taking into the paper bag I send my local Comcast office for not allowing me access to ESPN360 to watch the game). Yet Jennings is still struggling to make an impact in the nascent Italian League season, while Rubio hasn't played at all yet after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his wrist.
Meanwhile the NCAA season is tipping off here on the other side of the pond, and a whole new crop of point guards are setting out to make their cases for the NBA. One to keep an eye on is Patrick Mills, the lightning backfielder from Australia via Saint Mary's. He led Saint Mary's last year with 14.8 points and 3.5 assists, carrying the Gaels to the first round of the NCAA tournament. However, this summer in Beijing was when Mills really padded his resume, leading the Australian Olympic basketball team with 14.2 points in 23.5 minutes. Not only did he score efficiently (47% FG, 36% 3PT, 83% FT), he also took care of the ball, averaging only one turnover to two assists and two steals per game.
Of course, when it comes to the Olympics, all NBA teams seem to see is how you do against Team USA, and this is where Patrick Mills shined. Ricky Rubio made defense his calling card this summer, but he was spanked over and over again by Deron Williams and Chris Paul. Well what those two did to Rubio, Mills did to them. In particular, Mills matched Paul, one of the NBA's quickest players, step for step. In the exhibition round, Mills scored 13 points while Paul, Williams, and Jason Kidd combined for only 5 total. The story wasn't much different in the medal round, as Mills scored 20 while USA's three point guards combined for 16. Granted, Mills was asked to carry his team's scoring load, while Kidd, Paul, and Williams were only asked to distribute the ball. Yet to score so efficiently against the top point guards in the NBA and not be outclassed defensively (ahem, Rubio) has to be impressive. If he can raise his game even higher this year and take Saint Mary's on another run in March, look for Patrick Mills's name to appear even more in June at the NBA draft.
1. Brandon Jennings, Virtus Roma - Explosive athlete with amazing court vision. I originally had my doubts about whether he was too showy to be effective, but if he buys into his role, playing second string QB in a team-first European environment, then he's the best on the table in my book.
2. Ricky Rubio, DKV Joventut - That wrist injury concerns me, but those Pistol Pete comparisons flat-out piss me off. Yes, he's a white guard who has that flop-mop haircut. Yes, he is a great ball-handler and genius passer. That's it. Pistol Pete was also phenomenal scorer. He was averaging 40 ppg in diapers. Rubio doesn't have that yet. He does have great size for his position at 6'4" and a reputation for being an aggressive defender, but only good-not-great athleticism. His skills and vision put him this high.
3. Patrick Mills, Saint Mary's - Lightning fast with an invisible first step, he also takes care of the ball, can stroke from distance, and keeps in front of his man on defense. However, unlike the two guys ahead of him, he lacks the court vision all great point guards have. He also needs to learn how to change gears like Jennings can and control the tempo of the game. Then again, Saint Mary's uptempo offense is built around him. I was also going to mention how Mills and Ty Lawson are only 5'11", but then Chris Paul gave me a dirty look and said, "So what?"
4. Jrue Holiday, UCLA - He's not a great ball-handler or passer, but he's athletic, versatile, and a good size for PG, so somebody's going to love him. He's also been spectacularly misspelling his first name for the past 18 years.
5. Ty Lawson, UNC - Super quick just like Mills, but with better court vision. Not as talented a scorer though, and, after three years in the national spotlight at UNC, teams have got to wonder how much upside is left.
6. Stephen Curry, Davidson - Apparently showed off some smooth point guard skills at the LeBron James Skills Academy, but if a team drafts Curry, it's going to be for his world-class shooting.
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