Let’s play a game of point guard name-association, shall we?
At the NBA Awards last month, Russell Westbrook was celebrated for a sublime regular season performance with his first MVP award. It was reward for a year where he led the league in scoring while averaging a triple-double in the process, and carrying the Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder to sixth-place in the crowded West. Westbrook narrowly edged out James Harden of the Houston Rockets, who also came close to matching Westbrook’s statistical output all season while finishing third in the conference. Both players were neck-to-neck all season in one of the most-debated MVP races in recent history.
Westbrook’s award ended the back-to-back MVP streak of Stephen Curry of the Warriors, who had been the league’s first unanimous MVP last season and had the last laugh when he lifted the NBA championship a month ago. Curry got his reward after edging out his counterpart Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers in the Finals, the same Irving who, a year ago, had hit the biggest shot of his career to secure Cleveland’s first franchise title.
WATCH: Best plays of Russell Westbrook’s historic 2016-2017 season
When he got his recent $201 million-dollar contract extension, Curry was briefly the highest-paid player in NBA history. Then the Rockets outdid the Warriors by handing James Harden $228 million. Until this offseason, the highest-paid player was Mike Conley, who the Grizzlies signed to a $153-million-dollar deal. While Harden secured his future, his new teammate Chris Paul took a fascinating gamble with his: leaving much-deserved money on the table to opt in to the final year of his contract with the Clippers to be traded to the Rockets.
Despite being respected as one of the most influential players of his era, Paul failed to make any of the All-NBA Teams. As did Conley, who still hasn’t been an All-Star despite his clear value to his franchise. In a crowded fray of these talented backcourt players, Eastern Conference All-Stars John Wall (Wizards) and Isaiah Thomas (Celtics) were both handed All-NBA honours.
WATCH: John Wall shifts gears to launch Wizards towards Game 7
And we haven’t even mentioned current or recent All-Stars like Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, Tony Parker, or the former MVP Derrick Rose. Charlotte are led by Kemba Walker, Miami by Goran Dragic, Phoenix by Eric Bledsoe and Atlanta by Dennis Schröder. Ricky Rubio will captain the ship in Utah and Jeff Teague will take his place in Minnesota. D’Angelo Russell could be ready for a breakout in Brooklyn and the Clippers finally brought Serbian Milos Teodosic over to wreak havoc in the NBA. In Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo was anointed as the unofficial PG by Coach Jason Kidd, unleashing the true ‘Greek Freak’ to become the league’s Most Improved Player.
And we’re just getting started. The future looks cluttered with game-changing point guards, too.
Let’s play another, simpler word association. Point guard Markelle Fultz was selected number 1 by the 76ers in the 2017 Draft, while Ben Simmons—last year’s number-one and Fultz’s teammate in Philadelphia—continues to insist that he will be the team’s starting point guard. Lonzo Ball went at 2 to the Lakers, De’Aaron Fox was taken by the Kings at 5, Frank Ntilikina by the Knicks at 8, and Dennis Smith Jr. by the Mavericks at 9. The new talents will add fresh blood and help to evolve this position into exciting, new directions.
WATCH: 2017 NBA Draft recap
From Magic Johnson and John Stockton to Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson, there has always been a steady stream of great quarterbacks in the NBA, but in this era, it is far and above the most stacked position in the NBA. With the new handcheck rules, offenses that thrive on penetration and shooting, and athletic and shooting abilities that have overcome many advantages of size, almost every team’s biggest star is now their primary ball-handler. No team can hope for success in 2017 without employing a good point guard – and with a field so crowded, even merely ‘good’ might not be good enough!
You can follow the writer KARAN MADHOK on Twitter @Hoopistani.
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