Saturday Starting 5: Revel in the Great Point Guard Era

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Hey, so, you’re stuck with me on the weekends, so I thought we’d put together something you can count on. Every weekend here at PBT we’ll have the Saturday Starting Five. Five elements, chosen thematically (so I’m not just basically vomiting words onto a screen for you) and brought for discussion about the NBA. Today’s topic? The era of point guards we live in.

Chris Paul Runs The Game… Right?

Chris Paul’s the best point guard in the league. You’re going to be hearing that out of about a hundred thousand pundits, columnists, bloggers, and fans this season, once more. Regardless of stats, nationally televised games, or highlight reels, Paul has “it.” His play has of course been the biggest part of the Hornets’ early season success. The floater is his offensive weapon of choice, but that pull-up jumper is nothing to sneeze at. Now, most people will want to tell you Chris Paul is undoubtedly, 100%, no questions asked the best point guard in the league. Hold up on that. But saying that has nothing to do with Chris Paul and everything to do with the incredible quality of point guards we get to watch every single night. Chris Paul is barely human, he’s so good. But that doesn’t make the other guys any less the last sons of Krypton. Oh, yeah, and there is one area Paul isn’t well-rounded. Drop him the post on defense and watch him slump. But given the fact that he could throw a ball fast enough to knock the dust off a twelve foot high bookshelf and not ruffle a page, we’ll let it slide. Paul leads among point guards playing at least 20 minutes a game in PER. Paul also needs to improve his free throw shooting by 2% to hit the 40-50-90 mark.

Jazz Hands

You know what happens if you attempt to roll a boulder into a mountain? It just kind of bumps against it and then stops. That’s your average point guard trying to roll down Deron Williams in the post. Oh, and when the Jazz need that shot? That one big shot? Deron Williams is the guy. He works the pick and roll as well as any point guard outside of Steve Nash and with Al Jefferson now on board, odds are his proficiency in the set will only improve. Williams has tremendous leadership and while he doesn’t have the soft touch that Paul has on his float-passes, he can jet with the best of them. Williams leapt to the top dog spot last season with Paul on the shelf and all he’s done this season is lead his team to wins over the Heat, Magic, and Hawks. You know, not bad.

Rondo-A-Go-Go

I get it. He has more talent around him than anyone else. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, even Glen Davis the Drunken Seal, that’s a wealth of options for Rondo to dish to. But let’s face it, if you need proof of how a loaded team of offensive weapons can go down the tubes without a maestro to make the strings sing, look no further than the current unfolding disappointment in Miami. So while teams with phenomenal talent cry out for a savior, the Celtics employ the league leader in the following categories: assists, weighted assists, and assists-at-rim. He’s second in Assist Ratio (percentage of all possessions he dishes dimes on) behind Jason Kidd, and that’s on a team with some pretty good passers (Nate Robinson not withstanding). Rondo’s a defensive leader, a steal whiz, blocks shots, can post up, can guard elite guys like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and has the sickest ball-fake in the business. Oh, yeah, and he’s a championship point guard that was 12 minutes away from a second ring. That sound like the best point guard in the NBA to you? His jumper is a nightmare, always has been, always will be. But when you look at his poise, leadership and God-given speed and vision, you can let that slide. It’s not just that Rondo’s been the most dominant point guard on the floor this year, and he has, it’s that he’s done it against some pretty stiff competition in key games. If Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league, Rondo has arguably been the Most Valuable Point Guard so far.

Speed Kills. Well, Mostly Just Russell Westbrook Kills

Russell Westbrook is second among point guards playing 20 minutes a game in PER. Which is interesting, so I thought I’d take a look as to why. He’s the leading rebounder among that group snaring nearly 10% of all available boards from that position. He hasn’t been a great passer this season, nor is he shooting at a ridiculous clip. What he is doing is getting a ton of rebounds and getting to the line. There may be no more fearless point guard than Westbrook, who always seems to be a step faster than his opponents, even when they’re ready to clobber him. Westbrook explodes like nearly no other point guard and has established himself as Alpha 1B to Durant’s 1A. And when the opponent doubles Durant, as the Blazers chose to last night on a key possession, Westbrook takes advantage, getting to the rim with ease and drawing fouls.

The Calipari Trifecta

This should actually be the Saturday Starting 8, because to me, the next level here is the trifecta  of Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, and John Wall. Rose is the best pure scorer among all of these players, averaging 25 points per 40 minutes on 46% shooting. He hits some of the most daring, amazing shots you’ll see. That mid-range jumper? It’s actually taken as step back this season at 36%. But he’s still attacking, finding angles you shouldn’t be able to. Tyreke Evans? No big deal, just doing what he does. Less than a point (.6) off of his average of 20-5-5 last year, with a hobbled ankle, and still one of the most dangerous players in the game. He may not be considered a point guard by some at this point, but with as much as he handles the ball, it’s hard to argue he’s not the point of the offense. And Wall? Well consider that he’s 8th among point guards playing 25 minutes a game in assist ratio. He also leads that group in steals per 40 minutes. Don’t look now, but while you’re fawning over Blake Griffin, Wall’s putting together a spectacular rookie season so far.

The point of all this? We are blessed. This is an era of unparalleled talent at the point guard position. Oh, yeah, and that Steve Nash guy? He’s pretty good too.

Carmelo Anthony standing ovation in return to Madison Square Garden

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Knicks fans may have had their frustrations with Carmelo Anthony, but they know how much he has meant to the franchise over the years. He pushed to be a Knick and chose to stay, he carried the franchise for years.

Saturday night he returned to Madison Square Garden in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform after a trade this summer, and he was welcomed with a retrospective video followed by a standing ovation from the crowd (you can see all of it above).

Well done Knicks fans. Well done.

Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will not travel with team for 25 days due to legal issue

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The Lakers’Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed his new team’s first two games this season due to a suspension for a DUI case in Michigan.

But that was not all. Caldwell-Pope’s came with probation, and to get out of it early the Lakers’ forward has to go through an intensive rehab program — one that does not allow him to leave California with the team for 25 days. He did not play against the Cavaliers and that is just the first of multiple games he will miss, a story broken by Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Caldwell-Pope was originally cited for operating a vehicle while intoxicated but pleaded guilty in May to the lesser charge of allowing someone to operate his vehicle while under the influence, which carried a 12-month probation.

On Thursday, Caldwell-Pope had to return to California to begin an intensive program over the next 25 days that will result in some travel restrictions and could cause him to miss additional games but will end his probation early.

The Lakers are in a home heavy part of their schedule, and by my calculations KCP would only miss one or two games (for sure against Houston Dec. 20, then maybe against Golden State Dec. 22, but that is in California). The Lakers next road game after that is Dec. 31 in Houston again.

Caldwell-Pope signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Lakers last offseason, and he has gone on to become one of the few reliable three-point shooters on the team, hitting 36.1 percent from beyond the arc, taking 6.1 shots from there a game. He’s been solid on defense and a player the Lakers’ need, although his overall efficiency is closer to average.

If the Lakers are successful with their big game hunting during free agency next summer, Caldwell-Pope will not return to the team. In a tight free agent market, he may once again not see offers near what he sees himself worth next summer. That said, his play in Los Angeles has been good. And now he will not have this legal issue hanging over his head during free agency.

LeBron James is good with televising All-Star team selections

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From the moment the NBA announced changes to the All-Star Game team selection format for this season, most NBA fans — as well as most media members I know — have wanted a live team selection show.

As a reminder, this year (as in past years) fans will vote for their favorite All-Stars, and those votes will be combined with media and player votes to name the five starters from each conference. Then the coaches will vote to select the teams.

What’s different is the top vote-getters from each conference — let’s be honest, it will be LeBron James in the East and Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant in the West — will be named captains and they will then pick their teams from the pool of other selected players. No East vs. West. If LeBron gets to choose first and he picks James Harden, then Harden is on that team. Curry can go second and select Giannis Antetokounmpo or whoever he wants from the starters pool, then the captains move into the reserves pool. Old-school playground style team picking.

Who wouldn’t tune it to watch that selection show?

The NBA officially has not decided yet if the selection process will be broadcast, but it probably won’t be. The reason is some player is not going to like being picked last (or next to last) and his agent will like it less. It gets political (would Curry have to choose Durant or Draymond Green first to keep his teammates happy?).

LeBron basically said Saturday why not televise it? From Nick Friedell of ESPN, when LeBron was asked if it would bother him to go against teammates in the All-Star Game:

“I hope not,” James said after Saturday’s shootaround. “We’re all grown men. It doesn’t stop their paycheck from coming. It won’t stop you from playing time once the season starts.”

And is he good with the pick order being made public or done live.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” James said. “It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, if I’m rewarded to be a part of the All-Star Game again, that’s cool for me. It doesn’t matter. All that other stuff is extracurricular.”

That’s the right attitude, and whoever got picked last would say that publicly. But privately… who knows? Depends on the guy.

That selection show would be must-watch television. The NBA needs to broadcast this. But it won’t. Politics will win out.

Carmelo Anthony returns to face improved Knicks (but without Porzingis)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony is coming to Kristaps Porzingis‘ house.

Three months after the Knicks traded Anthony to Oklahoma City, their former All-Star is gone and quickly forgotten. Porzingis is playing nearly as well as Anthony ever did in New York and seems to enjoy unyielding support from both fans and the front office that Anthony never had.

Porzingis has something else Anthony doesn’t: a winning record.

The Knicks welcome Anthony back on Saturday, trying to extend their surprising start though perhaps without the new main man in Madison Square Garden.

Anthony said after a triple-overtime victory in Philadelphia on Friday that he expected a fun night in New York.

“I think it’ll be an appreciation. It’s not like I was there for a year or a season or two seasons. I spent a lot of time there, almost seven years there,” he said. “There was great times, there was bad times. Regardless, I always stuck with it. I always remained professional. I always came and did my job whether people liked that or not. Hopefully people recognize that.”

Unlike team management, Porzingis didn’t want his friend to leave.

But it sure looks like it was the best thing for him and the Knicks.

“Well obviously, I would love to have had him here to continue to learn from him,” Porzingis said. “But without him this year I’ve had more of an opportunity. I am featured more, which is normal.”

Porzingis is listed as questionable to play after he left the Knicks’ game in Brooklyn on Thursday in the third quarter with a sore left knee. New York held on after he left, improving to 15-13 with its third straight victory.

If Porzingis plays, count on the usual raucous ovation when he’s the final starter announced, the spot that previously belonged to Anthony.

And what of the reception for Anthony, who led the Knicks to three straight playoff appearances after arriving in 2011, led the league in scoring when they won 54 games and a division championship in 2013, and always made it clear that he loved New York and didn’t want to go?

“I don’t think he deserves to be booed, but you never know,” Knicks forward Lance Thomas said. “Regardless, he is going to bring his `A’ game and we’re going to bring ours as well.”

Former team president Phil Jackson longed to unload Anthony last season, but the Knicks weren’t sure what to expect when they finally did make a deal on the eve of training camp. He was their leading scorer and team leader, and coach Jeff Hornacek had already said Anthony would be in the starting lineup if he remained on the team.

But new president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry found a trade the next day and it’s been a good one for the Knicks. Enes Kanter is giving them 13.4 points and 10.3 rebounds a game as the starting center while providing positivity that for years rarely existed in the home locker room. Doug McDermott is bringing another 8.5 points a night off the bench.

Anthony is struggling right along with the Thunder, a top-25 scorer in NBA history potentially on his way to the worst season of his career. He went into Friday’s game averaging just 17.7 points on 40 percent shooting before scoring 24 points.

And after placing him with MVP Russell Westbrook and fellow All-Star Paul George for the NBA’s latest Big Three, the Thunder were under .500 before Friday’s victory.

“I didn’t know that to be honest,” Thomas said. “But regardless, (they) will figure it out. I am not worried about them. I am worried about the Knicks.”

There’s less reason to worry than in Anthony’s final years in New York. Jackson alternated between trying to win and trying to rebuild seemingly every season, and his insistence on running the triangle offense appeared out of touch in an era when NBA teams are pushing the pace. And his stance toward Anthony last season angered teammates who appreciated the veteran’s efforts on and off the court.

Mills and Perry took aim at the culture and signaled a desire to build behind Porzingis, whose average of 25.5 points would be even higher if not for a sprained ankle that forced him to leave one game after 2 1/2 minutes. He looks happy after he was so disillusioned by the atmosphere under Jackson that he blew off his exit meeting last spring.

And while the Knicks appear on the rise, Anthony is trying to keep the Thunder from getting down.

“For the most part what I like about it, guys are trying to figure it out,” he said earlier this week. “Guys are trying to make it work. Guys are trying to be unselfish and figure this thing out and we’re sticking with it.”