Breaking Down the Best Point Guards Left in the NBA Playoffs

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On Monday, May 21, 2012, my favorite television series of all-time will be coming to an end after a successful run of eight seasons.  House, which has aired on Fox for the past eight years, centers on Dr. Gregory House, a once-in-a-generation genius, but unconventional doctor who leads a team of diagnosticians through medical mysteries that no other doctor can solve.

How does this apply to anything in sports?  After watching the first few games of the conference semifinal round of the NBA playoffs, I have come to a conclusion as to why the favorites to win the NBA Championship are the favorites, and it is based on an ever-present assumption that House makes while treating every patient – everything is connected. Coincidences do not exist.  If a patient experiences two symptoms that affect two different areas of the body, it does not point to there being two different illnesses.  In House’s world, the correct answer is always a single illness that causes every symptom.  The challenge lies within the challenge of being able to diagnose what that one illness is.

For these NBA playoffs, I have done my best Greg House impersonation, and figured that one umbrella characteristic out.

In my opinion, given the way these playoffs have played out thus far – factoring in aspects such as injuries and team match-ups—the three championship favorites have to be, in some order, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtics.  These teams have one advantage over almost any opponent they will play for the duration of the playoffs – the point guard position.  Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo are all in the conversation of being the best overall point guard in the league.  It cannot be considered a coincidence that their teams have looked absolutely dominant at some point in this series featuring the final eight teams.

Therefore, in honor of the end of an era for me, personally, here’s a countdown of the eight point guards left in the playoffs, each being signified by a famous quote from a House episode over the years.  You might notice that as the countdown gets closer to No. 1, the team for which that particular guard plays happens to be one of the top teams in the playoffs.

8.  Mario Chalmers – Miami Heat

Quote: “I was never that great at math, but next to nothing is higher than nothing, right?”

Let’s all be honest here…anyone who reads this column could play point guard for the Miami Heat.  Aside from Mario Chalmers’ ability to guard his opponent and hit an open 3-pointer from time to time, his role in the Heat offense is just as simple as mine would be if I played – give the ball to LeBron, Wade or Bosh and do not get in the way.  Stand on a wing or in a corner, and wait for your opportunity to hit an open three.

Obviously, the situation cannot be blamed on Chalmers, but the fact is that he’s a mediocre defender at best, and cannot be relied on to create any offense for the Heat. Do you want Mario Chalmers playing any type of an important role for your basketball team, especially down the stretch in a game? Probably not.  However, when you have perhaps the two best players in the world playing alongside him, you can hide that weakness more than other teams can.

7.  Ramon Sessions – Los Angeles Lakers

Quote: “We all make mistakes, and we all pay a price.”

Can someone – anyone – tell me exactly what Ramon Sessions has brought to the Lakers that Derek Fisher did not?  Yes, Sessions is twice the athlete, and has the ability to get to the rim that Fisher does not.  But those two superior aspects fail in comparison to what Fisher brought to the Lakers – experience, toughness, the ability to be trusted with late-game shots, and the ability to realize that he is the fourth offensive option on the floor at all times, behind Kobe, Bynum and Gasol.

As ESPN’s Bill Simmons tweeted during last night’s game, “…There’s a reason I played for 4 teams in 5 years by Ramon Sessions.”  Yes.

Russell Westbrook has completely and utterly abused Sessions while Session has guarded him, forcing Kobe Bryant to spend most of his time on defense against Westbrook, which makes him spend the majority of his energy on the defensive end of the ball.

Lastly, did anyone notice that Sessions was not on the court during the last two minutes of last night’s game?  That honor went to Steve Blake, who I’m sure that none of us would call a star player in any facet.

6.  Darren Collison/George Hill – Indiana Pacers

Quote: I got nothing

Even though the “starter” for the Pacers has been George Hill since Collison had a mid-season injury, Collison gets the majority of the playing time for the Pacers, and has been making the most of it.  However, for the purpose of this column, we’ll just combine them into one player.

Hill and Collison combined for 20 points and nine assists on 50% shooting in their game one loss and 21 points in their game two win.

Obviously, because of the match-ups in the series, most of their time has been spent delivering the ball to the likes of David West and Roy Hibbert in the post, but they’re doing their job the right way – not turning the ball over, playing adequate defense and attacking the basket when necessary.

5.  Jrue Holiday – Philadelphia 76ers

Quote: “Arrogance has to be earned.”

No player in this year’s playoffs has surprised me more thanHolidayhas. I had never really heard of the guy, other than some high outputs during my fantasy basketball season this past year.  However, after seeing him on the grand stage of the playoffs – the kid can play.

He seems to have the ability to shoot the ball from outside, the ability to finish at the rim, and the ability to take over games for short stretches.  Obviously, he is not higher on this list because he, like most young players, has glaring weaknesses.  He has done a poor job defending Rajon Rondo, and has often taken some shots way outside the flow of his offense.

However, there’s no question that I would take him over the previous three players.  He has opened some eyes, but he’s still a young player trying to make a name for himself against the next four players on this list. For Philly fans, though, there has to be a grin on their face when they think of this 21-year-old growing and maturing along with the rest of that team.

4.  Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers

Quote:  “The only problem with that theory is it’s based on the assumption that the universe is a just place.”

EVERYONE RELAX.  No, I do not believe that Chris Paul is the fourth-best point guard in the playoffs right now.  In fact, as an aside, I believe that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league by a wide margin.

However, we’re not talking about the regular season. We’re talking about the playoffs.

In the playoffs, right now, in the present time, Chris Paul is hobbled.  He’s battling perhaps the most one sided match-up, on paper, of any team in the league against the Spurs.  He’s not going to work his magic in this series like he did againstMemphis, in which he essentially went 1-on-5 for long stretches in games.

Against the Spurs, who can guard him with so many different players and different looks, with a groin injury that has been bothering him, Paul will play like the fourth-best point guard in these playoffs.

Right now, Chris Paul is the only LA Clipper that can create his own shot.  As good as Blake Griffin is, his main offensive ability is that he catches alley-oops, and uses his freakish athleticism to his advantage.  While being defended by the likes of Tim Duncan, he will be hard-pressed to create his own shot on the post, and with the Spurs having seemingly figured out how to defend the pick and roll, he’ll find few opportunities to finish at the rim.

All the responsibility to score will fall squarely on Paul’s shoulders, and with the defense against him, he will not be able to do so on a constant basis. Like the quote says, the universe is not a just place.

3.  Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs

Quote:  “The eyes can mislead, the smile can lie, but the shoes always tell the truth.”

Did I know that Tony Parker was this good?  No.  Do I believe that he is this good now?  Yes.

Although he struggled somewhat with Chris Paul guarding him, only having 7 points on 1-for-9 shooting, Parker still finished in the top five in MVP voting this regular season, in which he averaged 19 points and 8 assists.  Against the Utah Jazz in round one of the playoffs, Parker was the leading scorer in three out of the four games, with point totals of 28, 18, 27.

With his ability to get to the rim at will, Parker remains one of the most dangerous offensive options of the playoffs.  He also shoots from outside extremely well, shooting over 50% from the field in three of five playoff games thus far.  He also shoots just as well from the free throw line, making him unafraid to attack the basket at any point during the game.

However, what makes Parker so great right now is his decision-making.  In game one against the Clippers, I constantly found myself in amazement of Parker making the best possible pass the majority of the times he had to make a decision.  The way he navigated through the Clippers’ defense was, as Charles Barkley said, surgical.

2.  Rajon Rondo – Boston Celtics

Quote:  “This guy, he knew he wasn’t accepted by the staff, didn’t even try…he didn’t pretend to be one of them.  But he was right, which meant that nothing else mattered – they had to listen to him.”

As a Celtics fan, I have seen Rondo play his entire career.  I’ve had the ability to see the best, and worst, of our enigmatic point guard.  You can sum up the best and worst of Rondo in games two and three in this current series against the 76ers.

In game two, I saw Rondo constantly get to the rim at will, but then kick out to the likes of Brandon Bass for mid-range jump shots, and sometimes simply pass up open layups to seemingly stockpile his assist count early in the game.  He finished the game with only 8 points on 4-for-12 shooting, most of which being mid-range jumpers.

In game three, Rondo got to the rim at the exact same rate.  This time, he finished the job himself.  He had 17 points at halftime.  His stat line of 14 assists and 1 turnover has been done three other times in the last 25 years.  He finished with 23 points, 14 assists, and 6 rebounds on a very efficient 9-for-16 shooting.  He also made all four of his free throws.

In my opinion, Rondo has gifts that no other point guard in the league has.  In this series, against a very goodPhiladelphiadefense, I have found myself wondering why Rondo cannot get to the hoop, literally, every single time down the floor.  Regardless of who they put in front of him – the quicker Jrue Holiday or the bigger and stronger Evan Turner, it seems like Rondo has the ability to leave both of them looking at the back of his jersey.

I’ve also found myself leaving my seat and screaming at my TV for both positive and negative reasons.  I’ve seen myself in awe of Rondo’s ability to fake passes and score, or to see players cutting that no one else in the league can see.  I’ve seen him be able to keep every point guard in the league in front of him on defense at all times.  However, during the same series, I’ve also been practically begging Rondo to stop relying on the likes of Bass, Pietrus and Bradley to shoot corner three’s after he’s made it all the way to the rim.

Hopefully, in the remainder of the playoffs, we see game three Rondo instead of game two Rondo.

1.  Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder

Quote:  “There is not a thin line between love and hate.  There is – in fact – a Great Wall of China with armed sentries posted every 20 feet between love and hate.”

At the beginning of this year, lots of viewers looked at Westbrook’s early season performance, and last year’s playoff falters and wondered why OKC signed Westbrook to a very long, very lucrative contract extension.  “West-brick,” was a commonplace replacement for his real last name.

Are we all regretting that now?  I sure am.  Other than Derrick Rose, I’ve never seen a point guard with the athletic gifts that Westbrook has.  He could be the most un-guardable player in the NBA other than his teammate Kevin Durant.  Westbrook has the quickness to go by most point guards, and the strength to overpower the others.  He has the athleticism and explosiveness to not only finish at the rim, but also finish at the rim with authority.  Now that he’s improved his outside shooting, defenders can no longer lay off him like they do point guards like Rondo.

Because OKC has the likes of Durant and James Harden on their team, opponents cannot commit their best defender to Westbrook, meaning that he often is guarded by opposing point guards who cannot match up to both his strength and quickness.

Simply put, Russell Westbrook has the ability to totally dominate a game that rivals that of the greats like Chris Paul and Derrick Rose.  That ability to win games from the outside with his mid-range jumper, or inside with his ability not only to finish at the rim, but also to draw contact and fouls while doing so, makes him a different animal than everyone else in the playoffs.

The bigger picture of the playoffs, regardless of ranking, is that we are all witnesses to some fantastic backcourt play.  The chess game between great point guards that we get to watch, like the current match-up of Parker and Paul, and the possible future match-ups between Parker and Westbrook, Rondo and Westbrook, and the like make the NBA playoffs one of my favorite times of the year.

In honor of House coming to an end, I leave you with some great words of advice to remember during the remainder of the playoffs:  “You can think I’m wrong, but that’s no reason to quit thinking.”

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