State of the NBA Point Guard


State of the NBA Point Guard

With everything thats transpired over the last 24 hours, Im having a hard time focusing on sports this morning. To be honest, theres just too much going on. The worlds spinning way too fast. In the aftermath of Obamas big win regardless of whom you voted for were all trapped in a glass case of emotion. (And if youre Mitt Romney, milk was definitely a bad choice.)

Ill tell you what, though: When Im eventually elected President (keep an eye out in 2042), my first act of duty will probably be to laugh at the word duty, but after that, I swear Im going to establish the Wednesday after Election Night as an official national holiday.

I really think we need it.

It will give the whole country a chance to catch its breath. It will give members of the winning party a chance to exhaust all their gloating and narrow their poop-eating grins down to a smirk. It will give the losers a chance to harness their anger, reconsider that move to Canada or North Korea and begin adjusting to life in an America that, at least for the moment, doesnt meet their standards or expectations. Then, on Thursday, well reconvene and resume business as usual, and hopefully do so with our feet firmly on the ground.

Or maybe not.

I dont know. Maybe it would make more sense for everyone to just move to Colorado and chill out for a while?

Either way, I really think this national holiday idea has some legs. But unfortunately, it will be at least 30 years before I can bring the dream to fruition. In the meantime, life goes on effective immediately. Sports go on, too. And unless I want to join the ranks of the unemployed, I better start writing. So here we go.


This past Monday night, I was randomly among the handful of fans in attendance at Staples Center to watch the Clippers and Cavaliers write the next chapter in their storied rivalry. And while thats definitely not the match-up I envisioned for my first live NBA action of the season, I really cant complain. After all, Clippers vs. Cavs equals Chris Paul vs. Kyrie Irving. The best point guard in the NBA going head-to-head with a kid whos destined to snatch that title at some point over the next five years. Thats a beautiful thing. Thats like watching Tom Brady face off with Andrew Luck (only if they were both forced to also play middle linebacker). Thats gold, Jerry. Gold!

And the fellas didnt disappoint.

Actually, by Pauls ridiculous standards, he wasnt entirely up to par. He never really found a rhythm, and the Clippers never got it going as evidence by their somewhat shocking 108-101 loss. But by normal standards, CP3 was still pretty damn good. He scored 17 points (on an efficient 6-10 from the field) to go along with nine assists, five rebounds and one dribble-drive that defied logic and explanation. Seriously, I wont even try. Just watch.

"Paging Mr. Anderson Varejao . . . Sir, we've located your groin. It's available for pick up at the Staples Center Lost & Found during normal business hours. 10 am-5 pm, Monday through Friday . . ."

Speaking of being at a loss for words, what can we possibly say about Kyrie Irving? Its scary, man. The kids still four months away from being able to legally order a drink, but hes already established himself as a bonafide star.

He has the quickness and handle to beat anyone off the dribble (Sidebar: I'd love to see him try to break down Avery Bradley. Although, I guess that would leave Rajon Rondo on Dion Waiters and that's a whole different can of worms. Anyway, where were we? Oh, right.) Irving can get to the rim at will, and once he gets there, he possesses the resilience and athleticism to either absorb contact or avoid it all together. No matter the choice, hes going to finish.

You want to foul him? Thats cool. Last year, Irving shot 87 percent from the free throw line. You want to step back and dare him to hit a jumper? No problem. As a rookie, Irving shot 40 percent from three. Sure, he might need to improve on the defensive end, but that will come with time, experience and packing a few extra pounds of muscle onto his 6-3 (6-3!) frame.

On top of having the pure talent to become one of the games best players and we're talking an annual MVP candidate here Irving also boasts that compulsive, almost insane drive, edge and swagger that typically elevates great players to a level of transcendence. Did you catch the video of him challenging Kobe Bryant at the Team USA workouts last summer? Considering the clip has nearly four million hits, the answer is probably yes. But if not, check it out. And keep in mind: Going after Kobe is nothing like taking on LeBron or Durant or anyone in the NBA (other than maybe Kevin Garnett). Messing with the Black Mamba takes balls the size of Shaquille ONeals fists. Not to mention, the fact that Kobe even entertained Irvings trash talk is indicative of how much respect he has for the young star.

A couple days after this video was taken, Irving broke his right hand in a Summer League game; an injury that occurred when an enraged Irving slapped a padded wall behind the basket after committing a careless turnover. On one hand (seriously, no pun intended), that's probably not something you want to see from your franchise player. On the other hand, that's DEFINITELY something you want to see from your franchise player. A guy who's so insanely competitive that he can muster up that kind of intensity and emotion in a meaningless Summer League game? That's amazing. It may have been a stupid decision, but it came from an important place. So with that being said, it should come as no surprise that Irving brought his "A" game on Monday night, in his first ever regular season duel against Chris Paul.

The total damage: 37 minutes, 24 points, 10 assists, 4-8 from long range, 4-5 from the foul line and one big, fat upset win.

As an unbiased spectator, it was honestly captivating to watch Paul and Irving go at it. As an NBA fan in general, there's really nothing quite like seeing two premiere point guards lead their teams into battle; watching them spend 40-some-odd minutes jostling for control, while simultaneously trying to dictate the tempo and straddle the line between getting theirs and keeping the other guys involved. And lucky for us, it's hard to remember a time when NBA point guard play was as across-the-board exciting and competitive as it is right now.

First off, any discussion of NBA floor generals should begin with a nod to the elders.

Jason Kidd turns 40 in March, which is wildly depressing for those of us who remember him running the break with a mouthful of braces, but hey, we all get older. These days, he's may not be much more than spot up shooter, but he still ranks second all-time in steals and assists damn you, Stockton and is third in three-pointers made (still one of the most bizarre developments in NBA history.) How great was Kidd in his prime? Take a closer look at the rest of the names on those Nets teams that he led to back-to-back Eastern Conference titles. My God.

Andre Miller turns 37 in March, has played for six different teams over 13 seasons and, in that time, has built an extremely steady and underrated resume. Last year was the first season in which Miller failed to average at least 10 points a game (he averaged 9.7), and only twice has he averaged fewer than six assists. The most ridiculous aspect of Millers career? In 13 seasons, hes missed a total of six games. SIX! That's respect! On the other hand, hes never made it past the first round of the playoffs. In fact, last season was the first time that an Andre Miller team won more than two games in a series. As a result, hes one of those guys who will ultimately fall through the cracks of NBA history, but in the meantime, Dre deserves some love.

Speaking of old men, it's probablydefinitely premature to list Steve Nash alongside Kidd and Miller, but at the same time, Nash turns 39 in February, he's already been hit with a significant early season injury, and plays for a coach who's not so interested in running an offense that suits his veteran point guard. Obviously, it's a long season. We'll see what happens. But either way, here's to one of only two point guards in NBA history to win multiple MVPs, and a guy who's 76 assists shy of becoming only the fifth player to register 10,000 in a career.

After the old guys, there's heavy helping of youngsters that are still on the way up, but already capable dominating in spurts and providing even the league's top tier of point guards with all that they can handle. Portland rookie Damian Lillard has exploded onto the scene with the poise and confidence of a seasoned veteran. Brandon Jennings is playing with an extension-less chip on his shoulder and has led the Bucks to a 2-0 start. Kyle Lowry's finally found a happy home in Toronto and (assuming his ankle's all right) will take things to another level. Ty Lawson's already there in Denver, Jrue Holiday's getting closer in Philly and if Steph Curry can just stay healthy, he's a nightly threat for Golden State. Tyreke Evans has all the tools (expect the one between his ears) in Sacramento and is always a risk to go off. Ditto for Jeff Teague in Atlanta and Mario Chalmers in Miami.

Who knows what to expect from Derrick Rose and Ricky Rubio this year, but once they're back, you'd be nuts to take them lightly especially Rose. John Wall still has a lot to prove in Washington, and will hopefully get a chance sometime later this month. But the talent is still there, and if that knee doesn't slow him down, I'm not sure what will. (OK, maybe his jump shot.)

And that brings us to the top of the heap. We've already discussed Paul and Irving (who might not be there yet, but it won't be long). Then there's Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook. Tony Parker's getting older, but he's still fast as hell and has maintained a firm grip on his elite status.

We spend a lot of time these days arguing over who really deserves the title of "NBA's Best Point Guard." It's impossible to broach the subject without things instantly getting heated. Like a debate over healthcare, abortion and everything else we've been screaming about in circles for the last few months.

When the question was posed to GMs in this year's NBA.com survey, the majority (69 percent) went with Paul. And really, at this point, it's hard to disagree. While we still haven't seen him lead a team to the Finals, never mind a championship, Paul enters this season with the most consistent and reliable track record. He's got the fewest holes in his game. He's still the standard by which all other point guards should be measured. But unlike the presidential election, the race for supremacy among NBA point guards is far from over. In fact, it's never ending. Over the course of this season, we'll be watching closely, waiting for the answers to an assortment of essential questions that can and will shape the course of the "Best Point Guard" argument:

Are we done worrying about Paul's knee? Can Rondo maintain his focus and dominance over the course of 82 games? How big of a fire might Brooklyn's revamped roster light under Deron Williams' ass? Will the absence of James Harden allow Russell Westbrook to flourish or leave him exposed? When, if ever, will Derrick Rose be Derrick Rose? And after watching him in person on Monday night, here's one question that I'll be following under a microscope (Note: I don't really have microscope):

How long until Kyrie Irving renders all these other questions irrelevant?

How long before he becomes the new standard?

Only time will tell. But for now, here's what we know for sure. In a league where the concept of "positions" grows exceedingly blurry with every game, the role of the point guard in today's NBA is as pure and defined as ever. And in so many ways, the future's never looked so bright.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Irving: Struggling Celtics must 'weather the storm'

Irving: Struggling Celtics must 'weather the storm'

BOSTON – While it’s too soon to hit the panic button on the Boston Celtics’ season, Sunday’s 103-95 loss to Orlando is disturbing on multiple fronts. 

For starters, the Magic (14-32) have been in the NBA basement most of the season, so for them to see the light towards victory, on the road nonetheless, against the Celtics is bothersome for the Green Team. 

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from C's-Magic

Boston came into Sunday’s game with an impressive 17-3 record against teams with a sub-.500 record.

Making matters even worst, it was Boston’s third straight loss – a first for the Celtics this season - with all three defeats coming at the TD Garden. 

Celtics big man Al Horford said the team needs a “Fight for our lives’” mentality heading into Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers. 

While no one wants to lose game, having to overcome some hurdles along the journey isn’t always a bad thing.

“Gotta have some adversity,” said Kyrie Irving who led all scorers with 40 points - the second time he has reached the 40-point plateau this season (47 points, Nov. 20 at Dallas). “We need it as a team. There’s a lot more adversity down the road. You have to be able to weather the storm no matter what.”

Aside from Gordon Hayward’s dislocated ankle injury in the season-opener, dropping three straight is probably the biggest adversity the Celtics have had this season. 

And this latest setback came against an Orlando franchise that the Celtics have absolutely owned at home. 

Prior to Sunday’s loss, Boston had not lost to the Magic at home since Feb. 7, 2010 with 14 straight wins.

"We didn't underestimate them," said Boston's Jaylen Brown who had 17 points. "They've been playing a lot better than they've been playing all year."

Al Horford echoed similar sentiments.

“You can’t underestimate any team,” Horford said. “I don’t think we necessarily did, but we need to have that sense of urgency like we started the game and be able to hold that throughout the game. That’s important.”

So is making the most of transition scoring opportunities which was an area of play in which the Celtics struggled mightily all game. 

Boston wound up with six, fast-break points on just 3-for-9 shooting. 

“We had some transition opportunities that we didn’t covert,” acknowledged Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. 

Failing to capitalize on those easy scoring opportunities came back to hurt Boston and in hindsight, proved to be one of the key differences in the game’s outcome. 

“Whether you’re doing things at an optimum level as you would like, that’s part of the game of learning one another,” Irving said. “Being able to figure out how to respond from that. Us as a group, we’ve come together in the last four months, five months, it’s new. We need to hit something like this in order for us to grow. It’s part of the game; part of being on a team, part of being a professional. Any team, any environment, you have to have stuff like this where you have to figure it out.”


Celtics' losing streak reaches a season-worst three games with loss to Magic


Celtics' losing streak reaches a season-worst three games with loss to Magic

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics’ defense had its moments on Sunday. 

Ditto for the offense. 

But overall, the sense of urgency that we saw when they reeled off 16 straight wins and skyrocketed to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, was nowhere to be found on Sunday against the Orlando Magic. 

And because of that, the Celtics now find themselves riding a season-worst losing streak that has reached three games. 

While it may not seem like that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, Boston understands all too well how momentum works. 

It is a catapulting force that can elevate teams for a stretch of games, or set them back which is exactly what’s happening now with the Celtics (34-13).

“In my eyes, I feel like we’re fighting for our lives,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “That has to be our mindset gong into Tuesday’s game (against the Los Angeles Lakers).

Horford added, “We have to understand that teams are coming for us. I felt that we’ve handled it okay this season. We have to do a good job of making sure we’re bringing the fire and them not bringing it to us.”

Lately, that has proven to be easier said than done. 

At the end of the day, Boston’s success comes down to one thing and one thing only – improving their play. 

“You know, you’ve got to play well,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We haven’t played well consistently on both ends for a while now.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 103-95 loss to the Orlando Magic which snapped the Celtics’ 13-game home winning streak against Orlando. 



Kyrie Irving: The Celtics came up short, but that doesn’t diminish a strong bounce-back game for Kyrie Irving. Irving, who did not play in Boston’s loss to Philadelphia on Thursday, returned to the floor and dropped 40 points on 14-for-23 shooting. He also had seven rebounds and five assists with just one turnover.



Elfrid Payton: By no means did he shut Kyrie Irving down, but his scoring off the dribble certainly provided a much-needed boost for Orlando. He had a team-high 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting along with six rebounds.

Evan Fournier: He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (8-for-19), but made some clutch baskets for the Magic in pulling off the upset win. 

Aaron Gordon: He tallied his 10th double-double of the season and second straight on Sunday, finishing with 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

Marcus Morris: Getting the starting assignment, Morris gave the Celtics a nice lift with 12 points on 4-for-9 shooting to go with five rebounds.

Jaylen Brown: Early on, Brown and Kyrie Irving were the only sources of offense for the Celtics as they combined to score 23 of Boston’s first 25 points. For the game, Brown had 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting to go with seven rebounds.



Celtics third quarter: There were other less-than-stellar stretches of play for Boston, but this game was truly decided by Boston’s horrific play at both ends of the floor in the third quarter. That is when the Magic outscored Boston 32-12.

Celtics transition offense: Easily one of the keys to Boston’s inability to get over the hump once after spending most of the second half on the comeback trail. Boston had six, fast-break points while shooting a woeful 3-for-9 in those opportunities. The Magic had almost twice as many fast-break points (11) while doing so on fewer fast-break field goal attempts (8).