Coach Nick at BBallBreakdown has once again put together some video footage and commentary that takes a look at some key elements which distinguish elite players in the NBA.
Previously, he had done some great analysis on Kevin Durant, which we also posted on here:
This time out, he is examining what he thinks are the top five point guards:
- Derrick Rose
- Chris Paul
- Rajon Rondo
- Deron Williams
- Russell Westbrook
As you can see, Coach Nick breaks down his evaluation into three categories. For each of them, here is how he summarizes Westbrook:
- Assists - He relies almost exclusively on his athletic talent in order to get the ball to open players. While he has gotten better at seeing the floor, Westbrook has probably benefited more than any other player in playing with an elite scoring option (Kevin Durant). In fact, if you look at the other four point guards, only Rondo now can boast to possessing above average scoring threats to pass the ball to.
- Scoring - Westbrook gets to the front of the rim better than any other point guard in the league. Unlike Rose, Westbrook seldom tries to get cute with the way he finishes. He goes hard to the rim and looks for contact. However, his offensive efficiency is too low and he has a tendency to force shots.
- Intangibles - Westbrook's greatest strength is his ability to grab defensive rebounds and push the fast break all by himself. Once he gets his shoulder past the defender, nobody can catch him because of both his horizontal and vertical explosiveness. On the downside, Westbrook has not yet learned to catch and shoot without putting the ball on the floor. His need to constantly be in motion often means that he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to offensive charges.
- Rebounding - Westbrook, Rose, and Rondo are all exceptional rebounders. However, where I would put Wesetbrook head and shoulders above both is in the category of offensive rebounding. When Westbrook misses a shot, he goes after the ball with a fierceness that others don't possess, and he uses his athleticism to catch and shoot the put-back in quick fashion.
My all time favorite rebounder (aside from Magic, who was a bit of an anomaly) is Jason Kidd in his younger years, when he could grab defensive rebounds, spin, take two dribbles to get past half court, and then make a pass to a finisher on the fast break. At his best, he could convert a defensive rebound into two points in a matter of seconds.
- Passing - One of the greatest assets a true point guard can have is the ability to make his teammates better passers. This rare quality is what separates a player like Jason Kidd, a future Hall of Famer, from someone like Stephon Marbury, who often had comparable statistics but never influenced the game the way Kidd does. In this category, Chris Paul reigns supreme because of how he changes the pace of an offense simply through his passing. I would probably rank Rondo behind him, but like Westbrook, he probably gets his stats padded by virtue of who he plays with.
I think that the biggest thing Westbrook will need to learn, because he does not have the innate ability to do it like Paul, is to visualize how an offensive scheme is going to unfold and then shift his players into place with his passing. Seldom does Westbrook show the same urgency in his passing as he does in his offensive drives. Russ has the players around him to learn it though, but he has to have the patience and commitment to do it all the time, not merely in the first quarter of games.
- Defense - This is one area where Westbrook should be better than he is, but has the athletic tools to improve greatly if he chooses. Westbrook plays passing lanes extremely well, but his on the ball defense leaves something to be desired. When sizing up his man, Westbrook doesn't get as low as he needs to, and as a result often lets his man drive past him off the dribble. Westbrook isn't frail; he can body up against guys. And because of his quickness, he should be able to stay in front. I think another year of seasoning and coaching can lead Russ to grow exponentially in this area, and being a tenacious on the ball defender fits well within his personal ethos.
If Paul were healthy, I'd probably give him the nod as the best defensive point guard because of his instincts and talent. Since Paul has struggled with his knee though, I would slide Rondo into this spot because of his commitment to defense and ability to seal off passing lanes. It certainly helps Rondo that he's playing in an elite defensive scheme and it makes him better, but he makes the scheme better, too.
In conclusion, the point guard position is as much an art as a science, and I have a somewhat unorthodox test that I call the "Almost Famous" test. If you're familiar with this movie, you might remember this memorable scene:
That ethos, to me, is what being a great point guard is all about. The great point guard is the one who can connect; he finds the one guy who needs to get off (his shot ;-), and he MAKES him get it off. He forces everyone to raise their games.