September 24, 2009
OK, we know the first decade of the 21st century doesn't really end until 2011. We think. But we also know there have been 10 full NBA seasons played since the phrase "Y2K" was on all of our lips (1999-2000), and here at Ball Don't Lie we've decided to use this as an offseason excuse to rank some of the best and not-so-brightest of the 10 campaigns in question. The result? Why, top 10 lists!
You didn't invent the position, Bob Cousy, but ... well, yeah, you invented it.
Invented the showmanship. That's, at least, what you're best known for. But you should also be appreciated for inventing the ability to dominate the game in a way that kept others involved, not nearly in a style that reminded of football quarterbacks or pitchers in baseball, but in one that still made the point guard position a step above the rest in terms of on- and off-court importance.
It's a damned near-impossible position to run. Run it too accurately, exactingly and people tire of you. Run it too efficiently and fans become dubious. They'll call you a product of the system. Shoot too much and you're a gunner. Try to entertain and you're a hot dog. You're too street. You're just all wrong. All wrong! All of you!
Every player on this list has had to deal with major, major criticisms of their game along the way. Every one of them. And I've repeated some of them, even in this list. And you know what? They're brilliant! Every one of them. And we still nitpick. Even when Shaq and Dwight Howard(notes) have 4.5 offensive moves, between them.
So it goes. Even Red Auerbach took years to appreciate Cousy's brilliance. Let's not wait as long to learn to love the 10 best point guards of the last decade.
Any list that would have ended after the 2005-06 season would see Cassell closer to the top, but he didn't play last season, wasn't much of a factor the season before that, and struggled through injury-plagued campaigns in 2004-05 and 2006-07.
When the man was on, though, he was on. His stats from this particular season won't blow you out of the water (though 19.8 points on 49 percent shooting, 7.3 assists and a 22.8 PER is nothing to sneeze at), but Cassell's turn as Minnesota Timberwolves point man in 2003-04 was about as good as I've ever seen a point guard play. Ever, ever, ever.
Baron could have been an all-timer, but he's battled injuries, weight problems and an unhealthy obsession with the 3-point line. He's averaged 5.3 per game, on his career, in fact. In spite of shooting just 32.3 percent over the course of 10 seasons. The worst came in 2003-04, when Baron chucked a nonsensical 8.7 3-pointers a game, making just 32.1 percent of them. That kills a team.
When Davis has it going, however, and the weight is under control? When his attitude is in the right place? When he's ignoring the 3-point line? Um, these are a lot of qualifiers.
He's still great, when things are going great, by his own design. He averaged 17 points, 7.3 assists, four rebounds and about two steals per game on his career (one that started the year this list did) in 35 minutes a contest.
As it stands now, Williams is the second-best point guard we have in this league. But because of an injury-plagued 2008-09 (even as he posted career highs of 19.4 points and 10.7 assists), and the weight issues that dogged his rookie season in 2005-06, he just doesn't have the resume to stand on at this point.
Here's what he does have to step up and be proud of: 16.2 points, career 47 percent shooting, 8.7 assists in 35 minutes a night. He's 25 years old. Give this cat a clean bill of health and a pick, and look out.
Miller does have a resume to stand on. We don't care much about total stats in basketball, but Dre has dished 6,020 assists in his career, good for 28th all time.
There's also something about him. I don't want to call the man indifferent, but he often seems it, usually in a cool way. Sometimes, if we're honest, in a way that tells you that he doesn't want to be there. There's a definite confidence to his game, as if he doesn't have time for your nonsense, and I can't help but dig that.
In May of 2001, the Spurs were coming off a 58-win season, a tough playoff loss to a steamrolling Lakers team and looking forward to next year with Avery Johnson as starting point man. He'd have to re-sign with the Spurs, of course, but there was no reason to believe Avery, David Robinson and Derek Anderson(notes) wouldn't want to come back to play around Tim Duncan(notes).
By October of 2001, Johnson was in Denver. Anderson was in Portland, Robinson had returned to San Antonio after a contentious (for David) negotiation period, Spurs fans were ticked and a 19-year-old rookie out of France that nobody had heard of back in May was the starter at point guard. The Spurs didn't even sign a replacement. Things worked out.
Three rings later, Parker is a three-time All-Star who is coming off career-high averages of 22 points per game and 6.9 assists per contest.
Rings aside, Chris Paul has had the best first 300 games of any point guard in NBA history. He's that good, that soon.
The slow pace the Hornets have always played at makes it so his stats won't knock you out, but 47 percent shooting, 19.4 points, 9.9 assists, 2.4 steals (high) and 2.6 turnovers (real, real low), with four rebounds a contest are killer. Absolutely killer.
Listen, the Wizards start Arenas at point guard. I don't know if he is a point guard, but he dominates the ball and acts the part of a point guard, even if he isn't passing much. And he plays damn, damn well when healthy, as the Wizards' point guard. This isn't a case of something like Tim Duncan masquerading at power forward.
I'm not here to argue as to whether or not this is a good thing for the Wizards to have Arenas handling the rock as much as he's done, for as long as he's done it. But for as long as he's done it, he's done it. He's averaged 22.8 points and 5.8 assists on his career, and despite the injuries, he's only 27.
Here's a resume. Six teams, one of them twice, one he never played for. So ... six teams?
One ring, four All-Star teams, and the man didn't even start more than 60 games for the second time until his sixth season. This is a long way of telling you that, six years ago, any thought of any impending inclusion of Chauncey Billups on a list of the decade's best point men would be met with confusion and/or derision. And yet, here he is. And some will argue for his presence at the top spot, and I'd have a tough time shouting them down.
Sturdy D, standout offensive efficiency on slow-down teams, lots and lots of wins. He leads, he executes, and sorry for resorting to a cliché, but Chauncey Billups is proof that persistence often pays off.
Ask me, ask anyone else you know who read this list, ask yourself who, exactly, you'd like to play alongside the most on this list, and the answer will invariably be "Steve Nash."
We'd be wrong in that regard, of course. We'd be destroyed on defense, and we may have a little issue with turnovers. But we'd still want to play with him, in spite of a nagging suspicion that the second pick in this particular draft might be a bit better.
We play to win, I guess, but we're also playing because it's
fun. Nobody says, "I'm going to go down
to the Y later this afternoon to try and contribute to a winning cause." We
say, "I'm going to go play basketball,"
a game, a game that's fun. You've seen this dance before.
So, he'll get burned on D. And at the end of the day, other players will have more points, rebounds, steals and assists, even. But man, isn't his game something to behold?
Put it all together - the stifling defense, the pinpoint passing, the burgeoning shooting acumen, the scoring touch in transition, in the paint, or his staunch rebounding abilities - and you nearly have the perfect point guard.
And the best point man of our era.
The off-court stuff, you might not like. The trade demands, the contract issues or the way he was probably pretty overrated during his last few years in New Jersey. Overall, it doesn't matter much. Kidd averaged 13.8 points, 9.2 assists, 6.7 rebounds, two steals, three turnovers and absolutely killer defense for the better part of this decade.