Rose-Wall: A changing of the guard
Young NBA stars ready to challenge each other in first regular-season matchup
CHICAGO -- Kurt Thomas has seen it all in his 15-plus years in the NBA.
The former Texas Christian star was drafted five spots behind Kevin Garnett, who revolutionized the brief preps-to-pros era. Thomas has lived through the Euro invasion and endured the steak salad days of Shaquille O'Neal.
Now he's a wizened vet, bearing witness to the crossover generation: the rise of the hybrid scoring point guards, who have the speed to get to the paint and often the hops to jump out of the gym.
These are the young turks who are fighting to replace the old guard of pass-first point guards, like Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups, and the in-their-prime established stars Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Deron Williams.
The points are being made across the league, and people are paying attention.
"It just comes in waves," said Thomas, who was drafted in 1995, a year before Allen Iverson and Nash entered the league. "You see big-time power forwards coming out, and then years go by and you see centers, and then here we go again with the point guard wave coming through again. It just comes in cycles."
Thomas, now a reserve, will have a front-row seat, literally and figuratively, as his teammate Rose goes up against Wall on Saturday night in a much-anticipated regular-season matchup between the two electric young scoring point guards, each of whom played for John Calipari for one year before being drafted No. 1 overall.
Wall is already proving his draft status was no joke after dominating at Kentucky. He was averaging 19.3 points, 10.2 assists and a league-leading 3.17 steals per game heading into Friday's game against Charlotte.
Rose is off to a torrid start in his third season, despite a recently acknowledged case of "turf toe." He's averaging 23.6 points and 9.7 assists. The scoring surge has been partly due to the absence of the injured Carlos Boozer.
"Two exciting up-and-coming guards in this league," Thomas said. "There's definitely going to be a lot of buildup leading to this game."
Rose knows the comparisons between him and Wall are out there, and he's ready to see how Wall looks in their first regular-season matchup. Rose had 18 points and five assists in their preseason matchup, while Wall had 11 and six.
"Of course, just to see how he handles it," Rose told me before a blowout win over Golden State on Thursday. "I know I'm going to come at him just to see where he's at."
I know I'm going to come at him just to see where he's at.” -- Derrick Rose, on facing John Wall
Wall had his first career triple-double, putting up 19 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in a win over Houston on Wednesday. He's the sixth player in NBA history to record his first career triple-double within his first six career games.
"That's great," Rose said. "I don't think I can get one of those."
Gracious as he may be, Rose is ready to teach Wall a thing or two.
"I've got an old-school mentality where I'm trying to get people to fear me," he said. "So every night I'm going to come at you."
Calipari came to their first meeting in the preseason at the United Center, where he said he "embarrassed himself" by asking both guards to pose for a picture with him. Rose's year at Memphis -- if it still exists thanks to NCAA infractions regarding Rose and others-- allowed Calipari to land at Kentucky, where he got an incredible year out of Wall.
Calipari won't play favorites between the two, but on Chicago radio, he laid it on thick for Rose.
"This is the greatest compliment to Derrick Rose: They asked him who's faster, and they're both really fast, and [Rose] says, 'I think he's faster,'" Calipari said on "The Waddle and Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "That's Derrick Rose.
"I will say this: Derrick is really, really quick. I've never seen anyone as quick as him. But I think they're both good. At the end of the day, Derrick's going to try and go beat his brains in. But he'll wish him well and hope he gets better. He's not the kind of kid to root against anyone. But he wants to win."
Neither player is anywhere close to leading the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, and aside from Wall's penchant for thievery, neither is considered a shutdown defender. Both have room to improve.
But that's not really the point of these points, is it?
Defense may win championships, but their offensive games put butts in the seats and are responsible for more dropped jaws than Brooklyn Decker.
"It's fun," Rose said of playing fellow high-scoring guards. "It brings excitement to the game, and everybody loves it. I'm loving the competition that's out there."
Rose had no problems against Curry, Ellis and the freewheeling gang from Golden State, scoring 22 and adding 13 assists.
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After taking on Wall and the Wizards, the Bulls head on their "Circus Trip" out West. Rose will have a five-game stretch in which he's matched up against veteran point guards in Parker, Kidd, Derek Fisher, Nash and Billups.
Whether facing young or old, Rose relishes the challenge.
"It's competing," Rose said. "That's why people are in the NBA, to compete.
"They've been competing their whole life, just trying to be the best on their team, in their city, in college. You're just competing your whole life, and just to get to this level and play against the best, it's a dream come true."
While Rose is finally loosening up in front of the cameras and microphones, the young Wall is a quick study.
After all, how many players have a dance named after them in college?
Wall thrilled the Wizards fans, and annoyed sports nags everywhere, by doing a little dance as he was introduced at Washington's home opener.
Would Rose do that?
"No, man, that's him," Rose said. "I'm going to leave that up to him. I don't dance like that. Only in clubs."
While you won't see him doing the Dougie, Rose is ready to teach Wall how Derrick does it.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.