Tue May 04 01:30pm EDT
Because I'm a little slow, the thought didn't really cross my mind until I was watching George Hill(notes) and Rodrigue Beaubois(notes) trade visions of the future during the San Antonio Spurs' 97-87 first-round, series-deciding victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 last Thursday night.
There I was, watching Beaubois as he came off the Mavs bench like a banshee. He got anywhere he wanted on the floor en route to a momentum-altering 16 points and five rebounds in just 21 minutes of play. More interesting than his helping Dirk Nowitzki(notes) spin Dallas' certain doom into an outcome in doubt was the way he did it, appearing to move in double-time and looking every bit the exclamation point punctuating the Internet's plaintive wails for Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to please, please unleash the Plague.
On the flip side, there was Hill, totally at home playing the sadistically effective brand of controlled ball that's been a San Antonio staple since Gregg Popovich met Tim Duncan(notes), forcing a league once mighty to look on their works and despair. Just a year removed from Pop's postseason no-fly zone, Hill played 42 minutes in the clincher -- more than any Spur save Duncan -- and grabbed six rebounds to go with 21 points as he stepped closer to cementing his place beside the Big Three.
It was exhilarating stuff. And it was important because it sparked the thought I promised three paragraphs ago: "Holy cow, there are a lot of good young point guards in these playoffs." Hill (who turned 24 Tuesday) and Beaubois (21) are just two of the members of the new point vanguard who've displayed their talents in the 2010 postseason. And they're not alone.
Russell Westbrook's(notes) too-green-to-peel Oklahoma City Thunder bowed to the Los Angeles Lakers, but they gave the defending champs a damn stiff six-game test. In the process, Westbrook (21) averaged 20.5 points on impressive field-goal/three-point/free-throw percentages (47.3/41.7/84.2), along with six rebounds and six assists in just over 35 minutes per contest. While the brightest lights shined on teammate Kevin Durant(notes), Westbrook turned in a performance that went a long way toward making him a star (or at least a celestial body capable of creating thermonuclear fusion).
Brandon Jennings(notes) (20) didn't compile stats as gaudy as Westbrook's, averaging 18.7 points, 3.6 assists and three rebounds in 35.6 minutes per in the Milwaukee Bucks' series loss to the Atlanta Hawks. But factor in the degree of difficulty: Milwaukee was without its only real post threat (Andrew Bogut(notes)) and best wing scorer (Michael Redd(notes)), and relied almost exclusively on Jennings' creativity to generate any offense. That the reed-thin rookie led Milwaukee to a seventh game against a superior Atlanta team seems more impressive. (His 3.13-to-1 first-round assist-to-turnover ratio also topped Westbrook's 2.57-to-1 mark.)
The quality play has come from further down the depth chart, too. In smaller doses, Phoenix Suns second-year reserve Goran Dragic(notes) (who turns 24 on Thursday) and Denver Nuggets rookie Ty Lawson(notes) (22) have each provided a spark and given their respective fan bases reason to feel good about the backcourt of the future.
In the Nuggets' six-game loss to the Utah Jazz, the speedy Lawson averaged 7.8 points and 2.7 assists in 19.7 minutes per game backing up Chauncey Billups(notes), while Dragic added 6.8 points (shooting a 46.7 percent clip from downtown) and two assists in 15 minutes spelling Steve Nash(notes) during the Suns' first-round victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. Whether from the big names or the bench mob, the youth movement has been beautiful for fans to watch.
That's not even counting the superstar efforts of established-but-still-young guns like Utah's Deron Williams(notes) (25), Boston's Rajon Rondo(notes) (24) and Chicago's Derrick Rose(notes) (21). Or 28-year-old relative greybeard Jameer Nelson(notes), who came back from last year's torn labrum to prove in a first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats that, even with All-Universe talents like Dwight Howard(notes) and Vince Carter(notes) in tow, he's the Orlando Magic's big, beating heart. Or the guy forced by injury to abdicate the best-point-guard-in-the-game throne (in the minds of some, at least), Chris Paul(notes), who turns 25 on Thursday. Let's not forget that, when healthy, he can carry a team to the playoffs damn near by his lonesome.
And there's more good news, guys: We could see another wave of talent breaking on the playoff shores in the years to come. Fellow rookie Darren Collison(notes) (22) acquitted himself quite nicely in CP3's stead for the Hornets, and could team with a healthy Paul to give New Orleans as good a lead-guard combo as any in the league. And while Thunder backup Eric Maynor(notes) (22) had a tough series against the Lakers, he did average nearly 11 points and 7.5 assists per 36 minutes over the course of his rookie season, and Oklahoma City looks poised to make sure this year's maiden playoff voyage is just the first of many.
It's tough to see newly-minted Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans(notes) (20), runner-up Stephen Curry(notes) (22) or the Minnesota trio of Jonny Flynn(notes) (21), Ramon Sessions(notes) (24) and the across-the-sea Ricky Rubio(notes) (19) making a playoff impact anytime soon, given how much their teams struggled this season. Ditto for incoming possible studs like John Wall and Evan Turner, who will likely wind up in the league's more heinous hinterlands. But hey, it could happen. Stranger things certainly have. Jerome James(notes) literally was once offered a five-year, $30 million contract. It's the NBA. Anything is possible.