Chris Paul. Deron Williams. Tony Parker. Rajon Rondo. Russell Westboork. Derrick Rose. Steve Nash. Jason Kidd.
If the first half of this season is any indication, Damien Lillard will be joining that echelon someday soon.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: the NBA is a guard's league now. No handchecking has turned quick, decisive perimeter players into the ultimate weapons; all it takes for them to work is a couple good shooters and a big man who can set screens and throw down.
Fifteen years ago, Tyson Chandler would have been a blue collar bench guy. Today, he's one of the league's best centers and leads the NBA in FG%, because all he has to do is set picks and throw down Kiddy-oops. The rules and sheer simplicity do the rest, and everyone is catching on. The Spurs completely retooled their offense to put the ball in Parker's hands. He's got Timmy for his screens and pretty much the rest of the whole damn SA roster to shoot threes. Rondo won a championship with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and screens from Garnett. Westbrook has the ultimate shooter in Durant, and screens from Ibaka (or brick walls from Perkins...)
And then, last night, Chris Paul made a sideshow out of the Lakers, crossing up Kobe twice and decimating LAL's defense with shooters like Matt Barnes and the ultimate pick-and-roll finisher in Blake Griffin.
It's enough to make even the most jaded soul appreciate what Allen Iverson was able to do playing in an era where defenses hit hard enough to make Michael Jordan cry.
Last year, the point seemed to get made loud and clear: Ricky Rubio's best asset was his defense. And games against a Damien Lillard show what the Wolves lack without him. In a league where you can't put your hands on the guy with the ball at all, being able to stay in front of him is everything. That single element drives the success of every pick-and-roll playbook and keeps otherwise lukewarm players like Thabo Sefalosha and Tony Allen happily employed. Rubio has that gift. And we've missed it no worse than in these two game so far against the Blazers.
If you can't stay in front of the speedy point guards, you get victimized. The Blazers did tonight what the Clippers and Thunder and Spurs do to everyone: they ran the Wolves out of the building. Credit 'Sota for making it a hell of a fight in the fourth quarter...they might have even won if Williams hadn't gotten over-zealous trying to heat check himself, and Barea had made a couple better passes. But the game was really decided in the first three periods when Lillard pushed a ridiculous pace that let Wes Matthews and Nic Batum make it rain like Travis Porter.
Hopefully Rubio is the definitive answer to this. The league has plenty more Damien Lillards to add the the stockpile....Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, Kyle Lowry, Ty Lawson, Kemba Walker, John Wall....that trend isn't changing anytime soon. JJ Barea makes it work to his advantage on offense, but he's a one way street in a sport where everyone plays both ends of the court.
This team needs its own upper echelon point guard. For them to get anywhere, Rubio has to be that guy.
- Dante Cunningham continues to be awesome. In yet another standout performance substituting for a fallen star, the Inferno put in 10 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, and a Mississippi barge worth of intangibles. At his price, I say sign the guy to a contract for life.
- Alexey Shved was decidedly less awesome tonight. Unbeknownst to most, Shved and Lillard are almost identical statistically (separated, really, only by playing time) but you couldn't have told that by tonight. 1-11 from the field. Even though he managed to make big contributions elsewhere (and isn't that a nice change from the Jonny/Beasley/Wes years) his poor shooting and lackluster defense cost the Pups a lot.
- Even though 'Sota won the battle of the free throws, one couldn't help but feel a little cheated. Particularly standing out is Pekovic starting the game 1-7. Because an immovable Mafia mountain man is obviously going to miss three consecutive shots from 8 inches in one play %%%%
- Kirilenko has gotten me to a point now where seeing 15-7-2 from one of our wing players isn't a shock anymore. For that, to Kirilenko goes all the awards.
- Every step forward is another step back with Williams. Even on a night where he scored 18 points in 18 minutes, and can't let it slide that he started jacking up shots and had a really, really bad travelling call at the end.
- Pekovic looked like Pekovic again tonight. Hopefully that stays that way.
- Minnesota attempted 16 threes. Portland made 16 threes. There's your ballgame folks.
- Chase Budinger needs to get healthy post haste.
- I would happily pay $12mil/year for this Nic Batum.
- With Love out, the Pups need to find another quality big man, even if the body count doesn't agree. If Inferno is going to be starting, then we're relying on Williams, Stiemsma and Amundson as our primary backups. To a starter who was picked 34th overall in his draft class. That won't make the playoffs, people.
- And find that guy quick, because the Heat are looking at the same players.
- And yeah. That's what happens when you start a guy who hasn't thrown a single pass all season. Not that Ponder is RGIII, but at least he was prepared.