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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.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Associated Press
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee go make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.

Russell Westbrook laughs off question about Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.

But not right now. He remains silent.

This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.

Rudy Gay, Vlade Divac clear the air

Rudy Gay
AP Photo
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Rudy Gay expressed displeasure with how the Kings were handling trade rumors. Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac retorted that Gay had his phone number.

Apparently, Gay found it.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Following those comments, Gay told ABC10 on Thursday afternoon that he had since spoken with Divac.

“I have talked to Vlade,” Gay said from his Nike Skills Academy at Hardwood Palace in Rocklin. “I can’t say since Monday stuff has changed, but I just feel like we have a little bit of time to start changing things.”

Gay, who will be entering his 11th NBA season, has insisted he hasn’t demanded a trade and should he remain a member of the Kings by the time training camp opens in October, he says he’ll report and be ready to go.

“At this point in my career I just want to be happy,” said Gay. “I talked to Vlade and we’re trying to make that happen.”

Even if he hasn’t demanded a trade, it sure sounds like Gay would welcome one. I doubt the Kings would mind moving on, either.

But it takes another team to trade for Gay, and so far, one hasn’t emerged.

In the meantime, tensions appear to be eased. Open communication usually helps.