Penny Hardaway. Allen Iverson. Stephon Marbury. Steve Francis. Gilbert Arenas. Derrick Rose. Russell Westbrook.
The combo guard. The scoring guard. The 2-guard trapped in a point guard’s body. Basketball’s evolution has led us to these players, and many other like them, aspiring to be like them. Not every great scorer can be 6’5″ or taller. Basketball has grown to include these smaller dynamos. We’ve adjusted to them, not them to us. We have bigger players handle the ball more saying thing like point-forward, or he’s a deft passer and ball-handler for a man his size. The Scottie Pippen’s, Grant Hill’s, Jalen Rose’s, and Hedo Turkoglu’s made it so the game could adjust for the combo guard.
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio may help the NBA and basketball refocus it’s priorities. The hype machine began about 4 years ago when the young Spanish point guard impressed the world, and the Americans in the Olympics. He was drafted, but we waited. And waited. And now, we can say, he was worth the wait.
Rubio has come in and helped lift the T’Wolves to a level of competitiveness they haven’t had since KG played in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. Minnesota comes into Orlando tonight at 13-15, just two games out of the final playoff spot out West, a year after picking second in the NBA draft. The numbers (11 points, 9 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals) may or may not wow you, but watching Rubio orchestrate an offense and play the position of point guard will.
Rubio isn’t alone, but he is enough of a phenom that the attention he’s attracting can perhaps change the way so many young players play it. The pass can become cool again. The entirety of the play, from the initiation to the set-up to the finish, can become more fulfilling than just the finish itself.
The true point guard, the pass-first point guard is still around, but perhaps Rubio can put a new, young, fresh face to it. Jason Kidd and Steve Nash are both almost 40 years old. Their time in the spotlight has mostly come and gone. Basketball needs more of them, and may just be in luck.
Rubio is just one example.
Jeremy Lin and Linsanity might get a chance to prove that having a ball-handler and passer with that certain feel for the game can make all the difference.
Chris Paul has been, and still is for my money, the best point guard in the world. Rose, Westbrook, and Deron Williams are great, great players, but all still lean shoot first mentality while collecting assists because they handle the ball so much. LeBron James probably has a better feel, better passing skill, than any of those guys.
Rajon Rondo is about the only other pass-first natural point guard in the NBA worth discussing. Rubio just looks like a slightly flashier version with a slightly better feel for running things. Both, ironically, and maybe it is the blessing in disguise that allowed them to become such floor generals, struggle shooting the ball. CP3 and Linsanity aren’t known for their shooting touch either.
More players like these make basketball a more fun game to watch. It makes it a more fun game to play. Let’s hope the rise of the Clippers, Linsanity, and Rubio can lead to more like them.