You can’t be successful in basketball without a good point guard, and that applies at all levels from high school to college to the NBA. The game has evolved so much in the past 10 years that a lot more is required of a point guard, and the position has become more valuable than a center. Not only do point guards have to run the offense, but they must been able to run screen-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, they must be able to drive-and-kick, they must be able to stop dribble penetration, and they must be able to knock down jump shots on occasion to keep the defense honest.
NBA teams have placed a premium on point guards, and three of the last top overall selections in the draft have been point guards: Derrick Rose (2008), John Wall (2010) and Kyrie Irving (2011).
This past June, seven teams took a point guard in the first round and it seems like five of them will have an immediate impact. OneManFastBreak.net examines the best first-year point guards for the 2011-12 season:
KYRIE IRVING, Cleveland Cavaliers
The No. 1 overall pick in 2011 will have the ball in his hands from Day 1. The Cavaliers, who are still healing from the permanent scar left by LeBron James in 2010, are banking on the former Duke star to resurrect the franchise and reenergize Quicken Loans Arena. There is little doubt Irving has the overall game to be a very good NBA floor general. The big question with him is health and conditioning after missing nearly all of last season because of a foot injury.
BRANDON KNIGHT, Detroit Pistons
The former Kentucky Wildcat is a big point guard (6-4, 177) who doesn’t shy away from the big moment. The Pistons will pair him up with Rodney Stuckey, who plays better as the off-guard. Knight turned in an impressive performance in his preseason debut, going head-to-head with Irving, and showed first-year Pistons coach Lawrence Frank that he can handle the offense despite not having a full training camp.
KEMBA WALKER, Charlotte Bobcats
Speaking of handling big moments, nobody played better in the clutch during last year’s college basketball season than Kemba Walker. The 6-1 guard from New York led Connecticut to a superb run in the NCAA tournament, winning the NCAA title and the Final Four MVP. Walker played the shooting guard spot for Jim Calhoun last season, so he’ll have to get used to running point for the Bobcats. It shouldn’t be a long adjustment period because Walker is a quick study and has supreme confidence in his ability. If given an opportunity to start, Walker could challenge for Rookie of the Year.
JIMMER FREDETTE, Sacramento Kings
The Kings made a bold move by acquiring the Brigham Young star in a draft-day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. In his preseason debut, Fredette dropped 21 points without breaking a sweat against the Golden State Warriors (although he was being defended by Steph Curry). Defense will be somewhat of a concern, but the Kings will take his 3-point shooting over his matador defense any time. Kings coach Paul Westphal will have a little bit of a dilemma because he has to find a way to get Jimmer on the court without taking away minutes from Tyreke Evans, John Salmons and Marcus Thornton.
RICKY RUBIO, Minnesota Timberwolves
The T-Wolves have waited two long years to get Rubio, and now that the 21-year-old has landed in Minnesota fans at the Target Center will fall in love with the Spanish stud – and we’re not just talking about the ladies. Rubio is a natural point guard: pass first, pass second, shoot only if necessary. He won’t pile up points, but he’ll rack up the assists, steals and sneak in some rebounds. His size (6-3) allows coach Rick Adelman to play him at off-guard and pair him up with newly acquired J.J. Barea in the backcourt. Rubio is an electrifying player who has been playing pro ball since he was 14 years old. If Adelman lets him run the team, watch out for Ricky-mania in Minnesota.
NORRIS COLE, Miami Heat
Pat Riley, one of the best talent evaluators in the league, has picked up some valuable late-round picks in the past (Udonis Haslem, Dorell Wright, Mario Chalmers) and he has another late-round gem in Norris Cole from Cleveland State. Cole, listed at 6-2, fits the mold of a Miami Heat player: tough, tenacious, confident, selfless. Although Chalmers will start for coach Erik Spoelstra, Cole should see action as the backup point. Cole handles the ball slightly better than Chalmers and can create his own shot.