By Greg Anthony
Point well taken
You've heard it before. Everything runs through the point.
OK, there's a built-in bias for me as a former NBA point guard to talk about the importance of that position.
But there's been some phenomenal play at that position this year that few saw coming at season's start. This demonstrates just how vital a good point guard is to a team's success.
Sam Cassell, injured last year in Minnesota, is having a huge impact on a Clippers team that now has third-best record in the Western Conference. At Golden State, Baron Davis came in last year and changed how the Warriors play. His teaming with Jason Richardson gives the Warriors one of the NBA's top three backcourts.
Some teams have had success through great individual players at the point -- others do it by committee. T.J. Ford and Mo Williams have become a great point tandem in Milwaukee. The Bucks have had as many big wins as anyone. They've beaten Cleveland, Philly (three times) and Dallas. Williams is the second-leading scorer on the team and he's got an almost 3-1 assist-turnover ratio. You see a pattern among teams playing good basketball; the point guard position has had a big impact.
Among the known quantities at the point, here's how I rank five who have had the biggest impact on their respective teams this season. These are the guys who are what I call the "usual suspects" -- point guards who are always among the elite:
1. Steve Nash, Suns -- MVP last year, having another MVP like season. He just makes people better. Great shooter, scorer and decision maker.
2. Allen Iverson, Sixers -- The guy has made transition to the point holding together a young team, including Kyle Korver and Andre Iguodala, and a hobbled veteran in Chris Webber. The only reason he wouldn't be my MVP because his team isn't that good.
3. Chauncey Billups, Pistons -- I went with Chauncey over Tony Parker for the three spot because his Pistons have the better record. He's versitile, can play the 1 or the 2, and he can guard a 1 or a 2. And he is money with free-throw shooting down the stretch.
4. Tony Parker, Spurs -- Tony's having his best season. He leads the entire league points in the paint. His type of relentless attack puts pressure on a defense and gives the Spurs a winning formula. (Unless they're playing the Hawks!)
5. (tie) Davis and Cassell. Davis is physically the best all-around talent at the point. But he has not played as consistently as his talent dictates. There isn't anything Baron can't do. Sam's like a fine wine, better with time. When he has the ball in his hands, everyone knows he's capable of making a play to win.
There's some teams that could benefit greatly from improved point guard play.
Boston doesn't have a point guard at 8-12 -- the departed Gary Payton gave them stability. They could end being the worst team in the Eastern Conference. It's easier making a point guard into a shooting guard, than what Boston's done with Delonte West, turning a SG into a PG.
Cleveland gets good perimeter shooting from Damon Jones, but he can be a liability defensively. When T-Mac was out, Houston could have benefited from solid play from its point guards, but they weren't defending or penetrating well.
Even a team that's winning like the Indiana, at 12-7, could get better direction from Sarunas Jasikevicius.
Having a great point allows other guys to prosper. Pau Gasol and Elton Brand are having great seasons. Both teams have had changes, but certain additions stick out that have made a difference. Hmm, wonder what position that might be?
I think you get my point.
Shaq, who returned to action after missing 18 games with a sprained ankle, hops over Wizards center Brendan Haywood. O'Neal had 10 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes before fouling out in OT, where the Heat won, 104-101.
Mike D'Antoni has proven that the success the Suns enjoyed last season is just as much a result of his coaching style as it is attributed to the individual talents of Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire. D'Antoni has one of the brightest minds in the NBA, yet he doesn't "over-coach." He emphasizes a relentlessness on the offensive end that is based upon conditioning, discipline, and floor spacing. He puts them in the right positions on the court and then trusts them to make decisions and move the ball to the open man.
Of course, it helps when the best decision maker in the NBA runs your team. Since being teamed up with D'Antoni, Steve Nash (18.6 ppg, 10.7 apg, 95.7-percent from the line) has played the point guard position as well as it can possibly be played and has put to bed all whispers questioning the legitimacy of last season's Most Valuable Player award.
LeBron James scored an NBA season-high 52 points in a 111-106 loss to the Bucks on Saturday night. James was 19-for-29 from the floor, including 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range, and 9-for-10 from the line. He fell four points short of his career high of 56 set in a loss at Toronto on March 20. "I don't want to score 50 again for the rest of my career because I am now 0-2 when I score 50," James joked after the game. "I don't look at it as me playing well. It's the fact that we didn't get a win and that's all I care for."
• The Suns' nine-game win streak ended at the hands of the Clippers on Saturday night. "We wanted to keep our winning streak going, but this was a good test for us right now," Suns forward Shawn Marion said. "They're playing great ball, just like us. We've been watching them. With the addition of Cassell and Cat (Mobley), and Brand and Kaman playing well, they're definitely a good team."
-- The Associated Press
Clippers forward Elton Brand's (36 points, 10 rebounds) path to the basket is hindered by Rasheed Wallace. The Pistons won, 109-101, improving to 15-2 as Chauncey Billups (25 points) and Richard Hamilton (23) combined to shoot 61 percent from the field.
Quote of the Night
-- Andrew Ayres
The strongest rumor out there over the weekend had the Kings and Pacers discussing a swap of Ron Artest for Peja Stojakovic, but Adelman said Sacramento had not had any internal discussions about trading the small forward from Serbia who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
If the Kings feel certain they're going to lose Stojakovic after the season and get nothing in return, they'd be fools if they didn't at least consider whether it would be worth the risk to make a run at Artest, who is under contract for two more seasons and has a player option for 2008-09.
Artest told the Star he'd like to be traded to the Cavaliers or Knicks, but Indiana would almost certainly try to trade him to a Western Conference team.
The Hawks, owners of an NBA-worst 2-16 record coming into Saturday's game against San Antonio, defeated the Spurs 94-84. It was the first time since 2002 that a team in sole possession of the league's worst record defeated the defending NBA champion (the Bulls beat the Lakers twice within 26 days under those circumstances four seasons ago). Atlanta's margin of victory was the largest by a league-worst team against the defending champs since the 7-40 Clippers beat the Rockets 122-107 on Feb. 9, 1995.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Craig (Detroit, MI): Bruce Bowen at the Olympics? You have lost all credibility! He'll be 50 by 2008!
Atlanta Hawks GM Billy Knight told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that coach Mike Woodson is "not getting fired." And he also answered questions about perceived shortcomings in the Hawks' drafting and player development.
"People can say whatever they want to say. I really don't care about that. I really don't. That doesn't faze me one way or another, whether it's heaping accolades or taking shots. People are allowed to do that and they're going to do that. As an organization, we can't let that affect the way we do our job. I like the way our young guys are coming along. Again, they're working hard and doing everything that's asked of them. We're in the midst of this process right now and we're all doing what we can to make things better.