Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and the Top 15 PGs of 2011-2012 Season
Five years later, the former elites are fading into their twilight years, opening opportunities for a new generation of athletic young players to run the show.
Who's rising and who's falling? We will take a look.
15. Jason Kidd
Kidd is old, and it certainly shows in the way he plays. He has lost most of his speed, quickness and athleticism, and he is no longer the triple-double machine he once was.
On paper, however, Kidd is still a solid point guard. His numbers won't shock you, but are still very solid, especially considering his advanced age. But at this stage of his career, the intangibles are what makes Kidd valuable. His court vision, experiences and composure was invaluable to the Mavericks winning their first ever NBA championship.
Despite all the talent on the Dallas Mavericks team, a repeat seems unlikely, and Kidd knows that. His legacy is now complete with the championship ring on his finger, and he might decide to exit with grace. Don't expect him to play hard or play much. After all, this might be his final year on the hardwood.
14. Mike Conley
Mike Conley had a bit of a breakout season last year. His numbers were consistent, and he was fairly productive for a young Memphis Grizzlies team. He really stepped up his game in the postseason and was a major contributor to that surprising playoff run. A very complete player, though his assists per game was a bit low for a point guard who is surrounded by talent. But it's not entirely his fault. Playing alongside Zach Randolph and OJ Mayo, both basketball black-holes, will hurt your assist numbers a little.
However, with Rudy Gay back and OJ Mayo likely gone at some point, Conley will take on an even larger role for his team, and his numbers won't go anywhere but up. He has the potential to be a top-10 point guard in this league if he keeps up his hard work and gets consistent playing time, which he showed he deserves.
13. Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry is sort of a late bloomer. Last year was Lowry's best season in his six-year NBA career. He took over where Aaron Brooks left off and led the Rockets to a respectable record in the ultra-tough Western Conference.
At six feet tall, Lowry is built like a bull. Although not the best shooter, he can get to the basket and score at the rim. He is also an underrated passer and a very good rebounder for his size.
But where Lowry truly shines is at the defensive end. A relentless and pesky defender, he takes charges in bunches and comes up with tons of steals. If he can dedicate some work on his outside shot and court vision, he can be a less-athletic version of John Wall or a more muscular version of Chris Paul.
Although some think Lowry is a one-hit-wonder, I tend to look at the positive and believe he will continue to improve.
12. Raymond Felton
Raymond Felton has always been talented and productive. But playing for a small-market team like the Bobcats limited his media exposure, and his name is mostly unheard of to many casual NBA fans.
And it wasn't until last year that he finally got the recognition he deserves. Playing under the spotlights in Madison Square Garden only seemed to fuel Felton, as he reached career highs in almost every statistical category.
Unfortunately, his glory was short lived, as he was traded to Denver. But he received an opportunity for a fresh start this summer with the Portland Trailblazers. As of now, Felton is the only point guard on the Blazer team, and he should get plenty of playing time throughout the season. He is a great fit for Portland, and playing alongside shooters like Jamal Crawford, Wesley Matthews and pick-and-pop bigman LaMarcus Aldridge will only make his job easier. Look for another quietly brilliant season from Felton in 2011-2012.
11. Jrue Holiday
Holiday is one of the most promising young players in the NBA. Last year, he saw significantly more minutes than his rookie season and he did not disappoint. The big speedy point guard took over the starting spot from Lou Williams and never looked back.
The 76ers have a bright future. With trade rumors swirling around Andre Iguodala, it seems like Holiday is the player the 76ers are trying to build around. But with Iguodala, the Sixers have one of the more athletic backcourts in the league. Along with Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Marreese Speights and even Elton Brand and Lou Williams, the Sixers have nothing to worry about going forward. Holiday should continue to improve and potentially become an All-Star.
10. Tony Parker
Parker is one of the very few bright spots left on the old Spurs team. With both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili on the wrong side of 30 and no spectacular young talents, the Spurs are entering the final years of the Duncan Dynasty. And in the center of that still running championship dream is not Duncan, but Tony Parker.
Parker is the youngest of the Spurs' "Big Three." At 29 years of age, Parker hasn't shown signs of slowing down. But he does seem to be planning ahead.
Parker's game is based on speed and quickness. But as he ages, these qualities will regress. Knowing he can't keep sprinting forever, Parker improved his mid-range jumper and was using it quite effectively last season.
There is no doubt Parker will have another outstanding season. His numbers will go up, especially his scoring. With Duncan's dropping numbers and a constantly injured Ginobili, Parker will have to take on most of the scoring responsibilities. The Spurs won't go far, but Parker will, perhaps even to an All-NBA selection.
9. Tyreke Evans
Last year wasn't Tyreke Evans' best year. Due to some injuries, the former Rookie of the Year saw his production drop quite a bit last season. And when he came back from the injuries, he was noticeably affected and seemed uncomfortable.
With that said, Evans is still a very good player at a very young age. Although he might fit better as a shooting guard, he does a solid job handling the ball. The only problem is, he needs to pass the ball more. Evans is already a solid ball-handler, a good finisher and a decent mid-range shooter. But if he is willing to pass more, players like John Salmons, Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette will make him look real good by making all the open threes his mismatches create.
The Kings' success rests on Evans' shoulders. He needs to learn to work with the new scorers around him. If he does, look for the Kings in the seventh or eighth seed in the West.
8. Stephen Curry
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the next Steve Nash.
Curry and Nash are essentially the same player. Both are great shooters and passers. Both have below-average athleticism. Both play in fast-paced offenses. And the similarity doesn't end there. They are even of the same physical build with same height and similar weight.
Of course, Curry still lacks Nash's experience and court vision, but he will get there eventually. At this point, Curry seems to be a better rounded player than Nash ever was. Not only does he shoots and passes, he rebounds and steals as well. Unfortunately, like Nash, Curry's defense is lacking, though his offensive contributions more than make up for it.
Some believe that Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis cannot coexist. But it seems to work out fine so far. However, if Ellis does get traded, Curry will have a lot more room to expand his game and numbers. Five years down the road, Curry might be up there being considered as the best point guard in the league.
7. Steve Nash
I wish I can say Nash is still a top-five point guard, but sadly, he no longer belongs in that range. But that doesn't mean he's no longer good. True, the man is a fossil, and true, the Suns did struggle. But Phoenix still managed to win 40 games last season, and without Nash, the Suns might win less than 20.
There is no better passer in the NBA today than the former two-time MVP, not Rondo, perhaps not even Chris Paul. To understand how good of a passer Nash is, you need to first analyze who he is passing to. Rondo was passing to three future Hall-of-Famers, while Nash was passing to an ancient Grant Hill, an moderately athletic Jared Dudley, an inconsistent Channing Frye and a former backup center Marcin Gortat.
But somehow, Nash was able to lead the league in assists again. He can spot the slightest defensive mistakes and squeeze the ball through the smallest openings to an open teammate.
And his shooting only adds to his lethality. He is among the best shooters in the history of the NBA. Last season, he had an off year by his standards, just falling short of achieving 90 percent free-throw shooting, 50 percent field-goal percentage and 40 percent three-point percentage, which he has accomplished four times in the past.
Nash's legacy is complete with or without a ring. But it hurts all basketball fans to see him retire without a taste of a championship. If he gets traded to a contender, be ready to see a Steve Nash who will give 120 percent night in and night out. He will instantly transform any contenders to title favorites.
Enjoy watching Steve Nash; there won't be much time left to do so.
6. John Wall
You can tell someone's got swagger and confidence when he can dougie in front of 16,000 people. You know someone is well accomplished if there is a song and a dance dedicated specifically to him.
And yes, he is allow to do all of those because he's got the skills to back up the talk.
Wall should have won the Rookie of the Year; Blake Griffin sort of cheated. Wall was overshadowed by Griffin's dominance, and not many people noticed Wall's spectacular performances.
But if you analyze his game and numbers, Wall had one of the better rookie seasons in history. He gave the Washington Wizards an identity and showed their fans glimpses of hope.
Wall is still in development mode, but it's already obvious that he is an all-around franchise caliber talent. With a few more solid players and a couple more years to develop, Wall can take the Wizards deep into the postseason.
But for now, his No. 1 priority is to stay healthy. He needs to learn how to protect himself from his fast and crashing style of play. The last thing fans want to see is his talents wasted on injuries.
The Wizards didn't do much in the free agent market this summer to help out Wall, but he will still play well next to young talents like Javale McGee and Nick Young.
5. Rajon Rondo
For about one and a half months last year, Rondo was the league's best distributor, averaging nearly 15 assists per game. But then the injury bug hit him, and he was unable to regain his pre-injury form. He was still solid, but his points per game, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage all took a step back from the year prior.
What jumps out of the page for Rondo is his 11.2 assists per game, which was good for second best in the NBA. Because of this number, people assume he is an elite point guard. But that number is inflated. Rondo was able to get so many assists partly because he plays with Garnett, Pierce and Allen. It's relatively easy to get tons of assists when you are passing to three future Hall-of-Famers.
But in all fairness to Rondo, he is definitely a top-tier point guard in this league. He passes well, competes hard and plays terrific defense. Although he only averages 10 points per game, he can drive and score if needed. He does need to improve his outside shot and free-throw shooting, which have both been horrible throughout his career. For a guy who drives into the lane to create, Rondo needs to draw more fouls, and once he does, finish the job at the charity stripe.
4. Russell Westbrook
Despite the brilliance of Kevin Durant, no one will argue the impact Russell Westbrook has on the Oklahoma City Thunder last season. Without Westbrook, the Thunder would have never reached the playoffs. And interestingly, without Westbrook, the Thunder would have won a few more games against the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.
Westbrook is an amazingly gifted scorer. His athleticism allows him to get to wherever he wants and however high he wants. But it seems he relies too much on his physical abilities and neglected some of the fundamentals. The result is low field goal percentage and high turnover ratio.
He has the ability to pass the ball, evidenced by his 8.2 assists per game. But he tends to shoot too much when the team needs him to pass. In the five-game series against the Mavericks, he shot 36 percent in 100 attempts and only averaged 4.8 assists per game.
He needs to understand that the Thunder is Kevin Durant's team, that Durant is the key to the offense. Westbrook needs become more of a facilitator and less of a ball dominator. He must look around him and know that he is the second scoring option on the team and Durant's talents won't steal his glory.
3. Deron Williams
Even amidst the controversy that eventually sent him to the Nets, Deron Williams never stopped playing at a high level. He was the heart and soul of the Utah Jazz and later became the heart and soul of the New Jersey Nets. His play wasn't totally satisfactory in New Jersey, but given a summer of team meshing and Turkish basketball, he is expected to return to his former All-Star form.
Williams is a very complete point guard. He can shoot, drive, pass and defend. His size and strength gives him a huge advantage over pretty much every point guard he faces. His shot was a little off after the trade, but his percentage should rise once he gets use to the system.
The Nets see Williams as their future, and who can blame them? Williams is just entering his prime and still has some room for improvement. The Nets will do everything they can to keep him, including the possibility of trading for Dwight Howard from Orlando to form the most formidable one-two punch in the league.
2. Derrick Rose
Can you believe this guy is only 23 years old and has only been in the league for three years? He is the youngest MVP in the history of NBA and still has boatloads of potential. If he keeps his current performance up, he might get his own statue next to MJ's outside of The United Center.
Rose is probably the most athletic point guard in the league. His incredible top speed and ability to quickly change direction allows him to get to the rim with ease. He significantly improved his mid and long-range shot last season. Defenders now must respect Rose's shooting and play him close, which Rose then exploits and drives to the basket.
Rose is also an underrated passer, and he is not to blame for his relatively low assist total. The Bulls don't have a second go-to scorer expect for maybe Luol Deng. Rose had to score most of the points himself, but there's only some much he can do.
But things might change this season. With the addition of Rip Hamilton and a healthy Carlos Boozer, Rose can finally pass more and trust his teammates to score. It helps Rose to have someone else to share his scoring low, as Rose's play style takes quite a toll on his body.
Rose probably won't win MVP again this year, but the Bulls might go further than the Eastern Conference Finals.
1. Chris Paul
The job of the point guard is to make his teammates better. But in some scenarios, such as the one Chris Paul is in, the teammates will make the point guard look unstoppable.
Paul forced his way out of New Orleans this summer and finally landed in LA after some crazy drama. He will likely get booed when he returns to New Orleans as a Clipper, but he is finally on a competitive team that has a serious chance to pursuit the title in the recent future.
Paul is already a great point guard, and playing with the league's most athletic front court combo can only make him better. Even if somehow the Clippers' record disappoints, fans can still expect to see the most entertaining team in the NBA. The combination of the league's best point guard and the league's most athletic power forward will result in very efficient scoring.
If anyone ever counts the number of alley-oops a team throws, the Clippers will lead the league by a huge margin. Paul will also find open shots for shooters like Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams, but look for the Clippers to trade one of the two for an actual shooting guard.
It's hard to imagine Paul getting any better than he already is, but he will. He has a chance to lead the Clippers over the Lakers in the Pacific Division. Although the Clippers probably won't win the championship this year, the future looks good for the former lesser team of LA. And Chris Paul's name will be at the top of the MVP list behind only LeBron and Durant.
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