HANG TIME HQ, ATLANTA — It’s a big man’s game, always has been and always will be, and if you doubt that, just check out the number of zeros on Kwame Brown‘s paycheck.
And yet: The season of the point guard is taking shape quite nicely. With few exceptions, the majority of championship contenders and playoff hopefuls are getting strong play from the point and in some cases, two point guards. This isn’t a surprise, though; we all saw this coming, because of the number of point guards taken recently in the Draft who have developed quickly and efficiently.
Let’s take a quick sampling:
- The Wolves are flourishing with Luke Ridnour starting and Ricky Rubio finishing games. Coach Rick Adelman is doing the right thing by bringing Rubio along slowly and keeping all pressure to a minimum. The kid’s going to be special, why rush it?
- Ty Lawson has come into his own in Denver, and the quality of play at the point doesn’t suffer when he’s replaced by Andre Miller. The Nuggets are getting 12.5 assists a game from the duo and are off to a credible start.
- While they aren’t challenging for a title anytime soon, the Bobcats are giving heavy minutes to both D.J. Augustin and rookie Kemba Walker, who often are on the floor together; arguably, they’re the Bobcats’ best hope for the future. That is, if Charlotte doesn’t trade one of them (Augustin most likely) in the future.
- Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul have been the starting backcourt for the Clippers all season. This is an ideal situation because the Clippers are loaded with finishers, primarily Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, so it helps to have a pair of guards who know how to deliver the ball. Lob City, you know.
- Oklahoma City has Russell Westbrook in contract drive, and then with Eric Maynor lost for the season with a torn ACL, Reggie Jackson had 11 points and four assists off the bench against the Spurs on Sunday.
- In Miami, rookie Norris Cole has been a big discovery, and he has lit a fire under Mario Chalmers, who was big (29 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Atlanta last week.
Of course, there’s also the returning MVP, Derrick Rose; Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash are among the league leaders in assists and Kyle Lowry is having a career season in Houston. And we should mention the No. 1 pick in last summer’s draft, Kyrie Irving, is beginning to blossom with the Cavs.
Interestingly, point guard was a big topic Sunday in D.C., where Rubio had 14 assists and outplayed John Wall, the No. 1 pick a few years ago. This was a curious case because the Wizards gave Minnesota the No. 1 pick that became Rubio. Here’s how it happened: Back in 2009 the Wizards were in the lottery, but when they drew the No. 5 pick, they decided to ship it to new Wolves GM David Kahn for immediate help. Kahn sent Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Wizards, who figured Foye (the No. 7 pick in 2006) was ready for a breakout and would be better than anyone available at No. 5.
Kahn then took heat for drafting two point guards, Rubio and Jonny Flynn, back-to-back. And Rubio’s people were very hesitant to send him to the Wolves, a perennial loser; Rubio subsequently re-signed with his team in Spain. Meanwhile, the Wizards were expecting a big 2009-10 season, with Gilbert Arenas back from knee surgery and ready to regain the form that made him dangerous at both ends.
Well, we know what happened. Gilbert brought his guns to the arena five months later and the Wizards crumbled. At least they grabbed the No. 1 pick in the next lottery, and Wall had a promising rookie year. But Wall has regressed, especially his shooting. He made only 3-of-10 against the Wolves and two of those were dunks. Plus, the Wizards fell to 0-8. Rick Kamla of NBA TV had an interesting question: If you were starting an NBA team today, would you want Rubio or Wall?
Anyway, here’s the account from Minnesota:
Afterward, Wolves coach Rick Adelman was asked when Rubio — who has started the season by playing every second of every fourth quarter — was going to be promoted to starter.
“I get real tired of answering that,” he said. “He’s doing just fine.”
Fine enough that one Verizon Center press room wag commented on how Rubio, at first glance, makes his teammates better while Wall doesn’t. The Wolves, by the way, have seven players on their roster who were top-six lottery picks. The Wizards’ only other player chosen that high is last summer’s No. 6 pick, Jan Vesely.
“If it had been Rubio, who knows, John Wall might not have been here,” Washington coach Flip Saunders said, referring to that 2009 trade the Wizards hoped would bolster a team that at the time included Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. “There were a lot of things that went into the whole equation.”
Rubio said Sunday he is happy where he is.
“I don’t know, Minnesota was the team that drafted me and I don’t think anything else,” Rubio said. “They were the ones who trusted me and I’m so glad they did.”
Rubio is only a month younger than Wall, but he was just 17 when he started for the silver-medal-winning team from Spain in the 2008 Olympics. He also won a Euroleague title with FC Barcelona in 2010 and won the Spanish League title last season. Rubio didn’t put up great numbers in Europe or in the European championships last summer, but he has found an NBA game that is more compatible to his style of play.
“Here, you can find more space to penetrate and for passes,” Rubio said. “I don’t want to say I played bad last year. My team won almost everything, so I did something well, right? So that’s teamwork and sometimes you don’t need to shine for your team to win.”
Oh, and speaking of teams off to a poor start, the Nets are still optimistic about re-signing Deron Williams next summer, when he becomes a free agent. And if Williams does sign up, would Dwight Howard follow? That’s a good bet, because while this is a big man’s league, Howard wants and needs a point guard to make him look even better.