The nature of the point guard position dictates that those who play the position should have the foresight, experience and leadership capabilities needed in order to spearhead his team’s attack, all qualities that suggest a veteran player is best suited to the position.
Not anymore, apparently.
This postseason has shaken up the position’s pecking order league-wide, as good players have become great, great players have made the jump to superstardom and, conversely, some seem to be experiencing a fall from grace.
Quickly making his way to the top of the point guard heap is Deron Williams, who has unquestionably become The Man in Utah and even caused ardent Chris Paul supporter Bill Simmons to admit that D-Will is the top point guard in the NBA. After what was already a stellar regular season, Williams has upped his scoring average by almost seven points in the playoffs and still owns the second-best postseason assists average. He and Chicago’s Derrick Rose have used the NBA’s second season to announce their presence as league superstars.
It’s ironic, given Williams’ rise, that the player he idolized growing up and shares a similar skill set with would endure such a precipitous decline in the very same play-offs. Not only did Jason Kidd fail to lead his second-seeded Dallas Mavericks out of the first round, but his struggles inspired Mavs fans to clamour for more of the exciting, young Rodrigue Beaubois, who turned heads in short stints of playing time. Kidd could be heading towards a steep decline, with dwindling skills, an onerous contract and a surrounding cast that could be in flux this off-season.
Kidd isn’t the only prominent NBA floor general with a younger back-up nipping at his heels. With his 28th birthday still weeks away, Spurs point guard Tony Parker is just entering his prime. But that hasn’t stopped George Hill from nabbing his starting spot with steady playmaking and a reliable jump shot. Of course, Hill’s grasp on the starting job hinges on Gregg Popovich’s patience with the second-year player, who will need to improve upon a Conference Semifinals Game 1 showing in which he made just two of nine shots from the field and could not handle Steve Nash, who is 12 years his senior.
But Hill shouldn’t feel too bad about being outplayed by his aging Suns counterpart. After all, Nash is a physical freak of nature who has spent much of the year responding to critics who questioned whether he was on the downside during last season’s tumultuous Shaq campaign. In a year that has also included lighting the Olympic Flame, Nash led the run-and-gun in Phoenix for almost 33.0 minutes per game while playing in all but one contest. An impressive regular season has paved the way for a play-off campaign in which his minutes have gone up, as have his scoring numbers. Nash’s backup, Goran Dragic, has enjoyed a breakthrough of his own this season and could be stealing someone’s starting job if the incumbent weren’t Steve Nash.
Nash is one of a dying breed among the teams still alive in postseason play. That is, he’s on the south side of 30 and still holding the reins of a championship contender. Just three of the eight second round teams and six of the 16 play-off squads boast a point guard beyond their 20’s. Of the three members of the old guard still around, Nash has found some kind of fountain of youth, Mike Bibby has lost a step but still has range and has plenty of offensive weapons around him and Derek Fisher is a role player, veteran leader and defensive liability with the Lakers.
On the other side of the age spectrum, you have budding guards like Williams, Rose, Rajon Rondo, Jameer Nelson and Russell Westbrook (all of whom have arguably been their team’s best player this postseason) leading the youth movement. Throw in this year’s rookie point guard trifecta of Brandon Jennings, Steph Curry and Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, along with odds-on No. 1 pick John Wall, there is no doubt as to what the ‘in’ position is among the league’s elite youngsters.