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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.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine slam dunks the ball during the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: