I know Ricky Rubio will come back to us in six to nine months like most victims of torn ACLs do, but it doesn’t ease the pain, the sense that we’re all being deprived of something or someone with rare abilities. Ricky Rubio is that someone and it sucks that he’s gone too soon, but when we get out of bed in the early morning hours and walk out the door, we put ourselves at grave risk every single day. Ricky was doing what he what loved when he tore the aforementioned ACL…just like so many blessed basketball players before him—and my fiancée when she tore her ACL on a trampoline last year.
So instead of sitting in a windowless room with the light of a single candle burning while Michael Jackson’s “Gone to Soon” fills the silence and I swallow Xanax to calm my worried mind, I decided to get tough and force myself to see a bright side of this situation. The truth is there is no bright side to Rubio tearing his ACL.
But there are other truths. Like this one: Today’s NBA is cram packed with men of average-to-just-above-average height (worth noting that the point guard position, based on the physical pre-requisites of the position, has a larger pool of humans to select from than all other positions combined) who play the point guard position extremely well. For my buck, none of them have that je ne se quoi that Rubio possesses, but what they may lack in some poetic Spanish essence, they make up for in burst and tenacity, abruptness and precision. As much as I want to stack rank these players (it feels so damn natural), I realize that rankings obfuscate the point and result in arguing and debates that have nothing to do with this celebratory acknowledgement that I wish Walt Whitman and Curtis Mayfield could collaborate on instead.
We’re in the midst of a point guard boon and even with the loss of one of its most joyfully entertaining members (it’s temporary!); it remains a group bound together by ability and time. To investigate the “why now?” is to embark on a Freakonomics journey that I’m not presently being paid enough to embark on. In place of said investigation, I’ve included an homage to the shabooya roll call, giving out respect and love to the architects who laid the blueprints for this position and the torch bearers who continue to shed light on its borders:
Bob Cousy: One handed, but he greased the wheels of the most successful machine we’ve seen.
Oscar Robertson: Elgin Baylor at the point. The Big O would’ve been big for a PG in today’s game. In the 1960s, he was pretty much a predecessor to LeBron.
Isiah Thomas: Lord lord lord, the original baby faced assassin. I hated his guts, but Zeke was the last great point guard (Rondo?) to lead his team to a title … 20+ years ago.
Unseen 80s buddy flick: Zeke and Billy's Wacky Summer
Magic Johnson: The greatest nickname for the greatest point guard of all time.
John Stockton: Slow and steady wins the race. Watching Stockton and hearing stories about him, you get the feeling he has a cockroach-like ability to survive any situation. If and when the nuclear holocaust happens, Stockton will be one of the few to survive and re-build our civilization.
Tim Hardaway: It was all about the UTEP Two-Step, but little Timmy was a founding member of RUN-TMC and was one of the original jitterbug point guards. If Rubio needs inspiration during his recovery process, he need look no further than Timmy who tore his ACL and bounced back to become one of the most dynamic points of the 90s.
Jason Kidd: Cut from the Magic mold, Kidd could’ve retired five years ago and still made the Hall on his first ballot. Still ticking away and winning a title in his late 30s, he makes me wonder what Magic could’ve accomplished if he hadn’t retired prematurely at 31—I’m 31 and I know I’ve still got some good hoops left in me.
Nate Archibald: I don’t know much about Nate except he preceded Hardaway at UTEP and led the league in scoring and assists. How you do that?
Steve Nash: When Nash was decked out in Santa Clara red, I never would’ve imagined he’d be a two-time MVP and retire as one of the greatest passers and consummate PGs in league history. Not knowing is what makes this game so lovable and addictive. Who’s going to fuck up your misguided misconceptions next?
Kevin Johnson: Fred Hoiberg’s already got the “Mayor” trademarked, but KJ acting as the savior for the NBA in Sacramento exceeds anything he accomplished in a Suns uniform… although Hakeem might disagree.
Mark Price: Bobby Cremins’s original point guard extraordinaire. Price has won free throw competitions in all 48 of the contiguous United States as well as Hawaii.
Stephon Marbury: Sticking with Georgia Tech, Marbury’s resume is debatable, but he was one of the original one and done players and is a poster child for the mid-90s malcontents. Hate if you must, but there’s a place in the point guard pantheon for Marbury; I just don’t know where it is.
Gary Payton: Yakety yak, Payton loved to talk smack. A 6’4” point with a post game, Payton is regarded with universal positivity. The northwest adores the man to this day and his NBA TV partnership with Chris Webber is as entertaining as his partnership with Shawn Kemp…albeit for completely different reasons.
Mark Jackson: It’s not fun to watch a man start backing another man down at the half court line, but Jackson made a career out of utilizing his superior size and apparent “old man” strength. The league changed the rules because of his constant abuse.
Chris Paul: In terms of pure point guard-ability, CP’s my preferred flavor for today’s game. He might be a dirty player, but he controls the timing and tempo of any game he’s in. The only drawback to his game is when he over point guards—that’s a term for point guards who are so insistent on getting teammates involved that they essentially remove themselves as scoring threats and allow the defense to play 5 on 4 basketball: *Over point guarding*.
Deron Williams: Hard to believe the Hawks passed (no pun) on Deron and CP3, but they did. Deron’s a fullback of a point guard at 6’3”, 200lbs+. He can score, pass, provide court generalship and plays Lex Luger to CP’s Ric Flair.
Rajon Rondo: People should be nicer to Rajon. He’s a point guard who can’t shoot worth a damn, but I don’t remember Mark Jackson or J-Kidd hitting too many jumpers either. Rondo’s an underappreciated innovator…with a ring.
Chauncey Billups: Is a he a Hall of Famer or isn’t he? Should he really be called “Mr. Big Shot?” These aren’t the questions to consider. Instead of questioning, let’s all appreciate Billups for being a power point guard whose value always exceeded the conventions of a box score.
In all seriousness.
Derrick Rose: An MVP at 22 and completely incorruptible by the LeBron-led “cool kids” clique. Rose is a point guard version of Kevin Durant—a young man wholly committed to the game of basketball. Let’s just hope his back is up for the task.
Russell Westbrook: The pressure he applies on the offensive end is unrelenting and suffocating. He plays point guard, but if he was two inches taller, he’d be a younger, more explosive D-Wade. As it stands, we’ll just have to accept him as the league’s most explosive point guard (sorry, Derrick).
Rod Strickland: He might have a serious problem with drinking and driving, but nonetheless Strick enjoyed a 16-year career as a pure point guard.
Kyrie Irving: His game doesn’t match his age at all and I’m probably the first who thinks someone should check his birth certificate, but my paranoia aside, Irving is taking the right steps towards a career of accomplishment and accolades. When you think Kyrie, think poise.
Mike Bibby: Maybe had the best mid-range game of any point guard here. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Dennis Johnson: He wasn’t the best passer on his own team and he left us far too soon, but DJ’s completion of “a steal by Bird!” is a signature moment of the 80s NBA.
Anfernee Hardaway: Injuries robbed Penny and robbed us of what appeared to be a HOF career in the making. What’s not to be won’t be and we’ll have to settle for memories of Butch McRae tossing lobs to Neon Boudeaux while Coach Pete Bell watches; anxiously waiting for the other foot to fall.
Ricky Rubio: It was love at first pass. I have a terrible memory, but like LeBron James’s debut several years ago, I can remember exactly where I was when I saw my first Rubio NBA highlights.
Baron Davis: When I was in college (early 2000s), I got in an argument with someone about the similarities between Baron’s game and Allen Iverson’s game. I disagreed Davis would ever be an Iversonian scorer then and I disagree now. Unfortunately, that’s my first thought when Baron’s name comes up. It’s not his fault, but he’s definitely to blame for regularly showing up out of shape.
Lenny Wilkens: I’ve only seen faded clips of Lenny playing ball, but his sideburns and coaching (most losses in NBA history) have embedded memories that can’t escape.
Doc Rivers: He’ll always been remembered more for coaching the Celtics to the title, but when I was six years old, Doc averaged a double double running point for the Hawks.
Mookie Blaylock: The original inspiration for Pearl Jam, M-m-m-m-m-m-Mookie played integral roles on mediocre teams. Does that make him mediocre? I say no.
No doubt, Omar picked up 3 assists on this one pass.
Omar Cook: Some people might scoff at Omar’s inclusion on this list, but just know that for the one year he played for St. Johns, Cook was a point guard prodigy who broke Mark Jackson’s single-game school assist record with 17—as a freshman. While I’m hesitant to question any of Cook’s decisions, he most likely could’ve benefited by staying at St. Johns for a few more years and fine-tuning his all-around game. Omar Cook, we won’t forget.
Walt Frazier: If you have League Pass or watch Knicks local broadcasts, then you’ve no doubt heard Clyde’s legendary vocabulary narrating their games. And then there’s his game seven Finals performance in 1970: 36 points, 19 assists and five steals.
Michael Adams: If a baseball player’s career stat-line followed the diminutive (5’10”) Michael Adams’s, someone would be pointing the accusatory PED finger at him, but since pro basketball players would never take PEDs, no one ever questions anything. Anyways, Adams was mostly known as a shoot first, shoot second, shoot third point guard with good, but far from great talents. He averaged 14.7ppg and 6.4apg for his career. And then there’s the blip on the radar that I remember all too well. In 1991, his 6th year in the league, Adams exploded (over 66 games) for 26.5ppg and 10.5apg.
Scott Skiles: 30 assists in a single game is good enough for me.
Derek Harper: Harper was his best playing alongside Rolando Blackman with the Mavs, but I remember him more for his redefined role as an enforcer of sorts on the 90s Knicks.
Norm Nixon: What do I know about Norm Nixon except he was pretty much forced out by Magic? Not too much.
Terry Porter: Porter was firing threes before it became the popular thing to do. He was never a speed/quickness-modeled point guard and I have my doubts that he’d be as successful in today’s game, but in the late 80s and early 90s, he was a key component of Rick Adelman’s Blazer squads.
Micheal Williams: Still holds the record for most consecutive free throws made at 97.
Micheal Ray Richardson: A victim of the 80s drug explosion. Everyone who saw him gushes about “Sugar,” but sadly isn’t that the case for most of the players who are either corrupted by drugs or tragedy? Despite my skepticism, there’s no arguing with Richardson’s stats: 15ppg, 2.6 steals/game, 7apg and 5.5rpg.
Brandon Jennings: The fact that Jennings probably isn’t a top-10 point guard is more reflective of the league’s depth at the position than it is an indictment of Jennings’s abilities. He’s Chris Rock skinny, but he’s got the stones of a leader.
Tony Parker: No one said you had to be a model citizen, friend or teammate to make the shabooya roll call for point guards and that’s a good thing for Parker. He’s been and done everything the Spurs ever asked from him and then some.
Fat Lever: One of the original triple double machines. Lever played for 80s version Mike D’Antoni in Denver’s Doug Moe and his stats reflect it. Over a four-year stretch in the late 80s, Lever put up 19ppg, 8.9rpg and 7.5apg.
Damon Stoudamire: Mighty Mouse won a rookie of the year award, shot over 3,000 threes and was pulled over with Rasheed Wallace for speeding and driving under the influence of reefer while driving from Seattle back to Portland after a game against the Sonics. Stoudamire’s also notable for statistically declining season over season as opposed to the natural bell curve we see with most players.
Kenny Anderson: Bobby Cremins strikes again. Kenny was a second overall pick and was supposed to be the next great NYC point guard. He never lived up to the lofty expectations, but he did marry Tami from the Real World.
Muggsy Bogues/Spud Webb: Both were great players who unfortunately can’t escape the association of being short men in a tall man’s game.
Nick Van Exel: My fond memories of Nick the Quick chucking ill-advised threes with that cock-eyed lefty release are accompanied by the hand-held Rodney King-quality video clip of Van Exel and some cronies of his stomping the shit out of some poor guy. Of course, I can’t find any reference to this on the internets, so I can only assume it’s a figment of my imagination (wink wink).
Ty Lawson/Jrue Holiday: A pair of speedy, talented, under-represented guys. Holiday and Lawson are perfect examples of the league’s depth at the position. They’re 21 (Holiday) and 24 (Lawson). The future is bright.
Andre Miller: The future might be bright for some, but we keep expecting the sun to start setting on others. Andre Miller refuses to recede into the horizon. He’s tough as pollution (ask Blake Griffin), knows his role and gets the job done every night. Is he underappreciated? Most likely, but even in his under-ratedness, he knows his role and plays it well.
John Wall: I feel bad for this kid who’s forced to play with mind benders like JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Nick Young and Jordan Crawford. Then I see him pull shit like that behind the back dunk he ripped off in the rookie/sophomore game and I’m like, “Hell no, I don’t feel bad for him.” I feel bad for us for not getting the chance to see what Wall’s all about. Until the Wizards finally bite the bullet and push the reset button all the way in, “How good is John Wall?” will continue to be asked on message boards and in cubicles.
Steve Francis: Is Steve Francis gay or isn’t he? I don’t think it matters, but typing his name into a search engine, the first few recommended searches include “Steve Francis gay.” Where does this it come from? I don’t have time to worry about it as I’ve already spent 2500+ words taking a trip down memory lane and present day boulevard to revisit point guards who have stepped on NBA courts in NBA jerseys over the past seven decades. Francis isn’t memorable because he was possibly gay. He’s memorable for doing things like driving for a game-winning dunk and disintegrating from NBA relevance overnight.
This was never meant to an all-encompassing list of NBA point guards (it was meant to be about Rubio), but rather players who, for one reason or another, stood out to me. If there was a question mark around a player’s position (Iverson, Jerry West, Steph Curry, the Jones boys from the Celtics), I left them off. Like Monica sang, “don’t take it personal.”
Tune in next week as I tie Hamed Haddadi and Omri Casspi into America’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
Beautifully and creatively written .Can’t wait to read more!!
It’s just NBA gold. Hahaha.
Thanks much for the kind words.
Stockton “slow and steady”? Eh, don’t particularly agree, Certainly one of the best examples of longevity, but that’s only half the story. At his peak, he outplayed Magic in their only playoff matchup, averaged about 14 assists per game, shot, one season, nearly 58% from the field, and broke the all-time assists record after only seven years of starting.
Stockton’s peak worth is being dumped on or ignored way too much.
A cockroach? Come on. Backhanded at best, woefully inadequate at worst. Yes, he :”survived”. But he also dominated.
As a Lakers fan, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree if someone called Stockton the perfect example of Point Guard Play — amazingly controlled, could run a game without taking a shot, was spectacular at on and off-ball facilitation and could control through pace perhaps better than any other player.
John Stockton actually wrote his section in the third person with just a bit of editorial encouragement. I suggested he avoid the “cockroach” analogy, but he was insistent on it.
It all seriousness though, I appreciate the thoughtful, sober and unbiased comments.