Who’s No. 1?
A case for Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo.
by Quinn Peterson
If the season ended today, Derrick Rose would be the MVP. The things he’s done, putting that team — and the city — on his back, have been nothing short of spectacular. As predicted in the preseason, the jumper he’s added to his arsenal has rendered him completely unguardable.
Before you spaz like Pharrell, I’m using the term “point guard” in the truest, most technical sense of the position. As a synonym for floor general and extension of the coach. Utilitarian and efficient to the utmost. The unquestioned, democratic leader who makes his teammates better. One who deftly picks his own spots and finds others where they operate best.
Not that Rose fails at any of these, but Paul and Rondo appear to have mastered them. So, while Rose is the best player playing point, the best point guard — and yes, there is a difference — is playing in New Orleans or Boston. (I say “or” because both players have equally strong cases, and to pick one is would be a disservice to the other and ourselves. America loves binary opposition, one or the other, but it’s rarely that simple and this situation is no different.)
In examining this, it’s imperative to understand that in no way can the best PG be determined strictly in a one-on-one matchup. None. It has absolutely nothing to do with that.
Of course, as the league has greatly progressed in the last few years, positions and responsibilities have been blurred by speed, athleticism and power. At the 1, then, have arrived Rose, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, etc.
Being physically superior is a great advantage, no doubt, but unlike other positions, the productivity of the point guard goes far beyond how well he fills up the scoring column. It’s about the intangibles. About getting the most from your comrades. About being in complete control of the game, both your team’s and the opponents, and dominating without even having to attempt a shot.
Ray Allen just surpassed Reggie Miller as the NBA’s top 3-point shooter of all-time. Since 2008, when he arrived in Boston, Allen has knocked down 645 threes. This season, he’s shooting at the best rate of his career — 45 percent. Allen’s shooting prowess is obviously secret and playing with four all-stars certainly helps, but one cannot deny the fact that he gets the ball in his spots — on the wings and in the corners.
He gets it there because Rondo, the league’s leading assist-man (12.2 per), finds him. That’s being a PG. Getting guys the ball in optimal positions.
KG gets it where he wants it. Pierce and every other Celtic, too. No one in the league does a better job determining when to push the break and when to slow it down. Again, having all-stars helps, but there is no way (zero, at all!) that Boston’s operation runs as smoothly as it does with any other point guard (other than Paul or Jason Kidd).
Rondo orchestrates that Celtic thing like Barry White on “Love’s Theme.”
Paul is a mastermind in his own right. That New Orleans team — the one where Aaron Gray logs 14 minutes a game — that surrounds Paul is brutal. In fact, it always has been. Yet Paul has them sitting at 33-25, and the sixth seed in the West.
Now, I know Rose has carried a battered team himself (the beaten up Bulls are still better than the Hornets’ squad, in my opinion, but nevertheless). But what they do is two different things. While Rose singlehandedly takes games over himself by scoring, and as a result, when defenses help and collapse, he can dish.
Paul tactfully schemes and finds way to get guys involved. He plays at one pace: his. He reads defenses, draws defenders, then serves up one his teammates.
Let us not forget that he spoon-fed Tyson Chandler, essentially resurrecting his career, getting him on this year’s national team and earning him a more million dollars.
As we think about great PGs, let us also remember the wizard that is Jason Kidd. What he did for New Jersey — granted, the league sucked — is quite similar to what CP3 is doing in the Bayou. In ’02 and ’03, with Lucious Harris, Keith Van Horn, Kerry Kittles Kenyon Martin, Mutumbo and Todd MacCulloch, JKidd took those boys to back-to-back NBA Finals.
The most points he averaged in those years (also remember, he couldn’t shoot then! Much like Rondo now…) was 18.7 — his career high — but it was the assists, the direction and the steadiness he provided that were even more valuable.
What Paul does generally isn’t flashy or immediately impressive, so he easily gets overlooked. Rondo’s team is so strong that he quickly gets brushed to the side, as well. Equally important is the fact that neither ever turns the ball over. (Paul is second in Assist-Turnover ratio — 3.98 — Rondo is seventh — 3.24; Rose is 38th at 2.34)
So again, this is not to take anything away from DRose. The young man is amazing (and the MVP), and if people want to call him the the best 1-man or the best lead guard, that’s fine by me.
But the best point god? That’s a different story.