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News » Rookie point guards are stealing the show

Rookie point guards are stealing the show

Rookie point guards are stealing the show

For a partial explanation, we solicited input from a professional.

"It's kinda interesting how players who come to the NBA from Europe are generally considered soft," said one NBA personnel executive employed by an Eastern Conference team. "In some cases, that's valid, but most of the professional play in Europe is really physical. In terms of the contact against a ballhandler that's allowed, it's night and day. The NBA protects the ballhandler, so a kid with the speed and handle of Jennings is built to succeed in our league."

Beyond having the freedom to execute a knee-buckling crossover without being grabbed or hip-checked, Jennings plays with an exuberance that permeates most games he participates in. And, even though he's no threat to Steve Nash in the assists derby (yet, at least), he seems eager to pass.

Jennings credits his year of riding the pine with producing a humility that makes it obvious that working in the NBA should be considered a blessing.

Also, relatively blessed are the Minnesota Timberwolves, who — while still wondering what they'll do with a chip named Rubio — are receiving strong point guard play from Flynn. Through a seven-game sample size, Flynn is giving the T-Wolves 14 points (on 48 percent shooting) in 27 minutes per game.

Flynn is sharing time with newly acquired Ramon Sessions, whose departure from Milwaukee created playing time for Jennings. So, although Flynn is having a fine start to his professional career, Jennings (backed up by Luke Ridnour) has a more impressive early list of responsibilities.

Although his future as a point guard is very much up for debate among league observers, Evans has seized a great deal of responsibility with the Sacramento Kings. Riding shotgun for big-time scorer Kevin Martin for the season's first five games, the former Memphis Tiger was providing the Kings with 13 points per game and shooting 37 percent while frequently working from the point guard position.

In the two games played since Martin was lost for two months with a broken wrist, Evans — working at shooting guard — delivered a total of 55 points on 50 percent shooting in a pair of Sacramento victories.

That's where John Calipari shifted Evans in something of a desperation move last season. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Evans certainly doesn't look like a point guard while swaggering in off the bus, and his scoring ability probably will make it difficult to keep him there as his career progresses.

But the Los Angeles Lakers have demonstrated that if you can defend the position, pass the ball downcourt in a hurry and use half-court sets (or doubles against a superstar named Kobe Bryant) to create shots, a card-carrying point isn't necessary for playoff success.

A more conventionally sized rookie point guard is Tywon Lawson of the Denver Nuggets. Lawson, averaging 22 minutes per game as the backup for Chauncey Billups, is providing 11.4 points, 3.0 assists and converting 55 percent of his field-goal attempts. In Lawson, the Nuggets have one of the league's foremost fast-break push men, a commodity that has enabled them to rank second in the league for turning possessions into points.

In addition to putting exquisite pressure on the defense, Lawson can either play alongside the bigger Billups or allow the veteran to sit a spell and stay fresh for postseason work. Lawson, who piloted North Carolina to the NCAA Championship last spring, was chosen at 18 by Minnesota, then shipped to Denver after the Timberwolves decided not to attempt signing three rookie point guards.

Coming off the board 11 picks earlier was Curry, who's averaging 31 minutes and 9.5 points for the Golden State Warriors. Curry has the potential luxury of working alongside Monta Ellis, who (in theory) can share the ball-handling load or take on the defensive duty against an opposing point. It also can be fun playing for Warriors coach Don Nelson, who rarely seems to mind a bad shot taken or defensive assignment missed.

Curry has loads of work to do defensively but is making a cozy 50 percent of his field-goal tries. It also should be noted that Curry's 2.2 turnovers per game prevent him from making the league's top 50 for miscue frequency.

For the record, the rookies are doing reasonably well at protecting the ball, with only Flynn (ninth) ranking in the top 10 for turnover abundance.

"The guys on your list all have a great ability to put the ball on deck and go by a defender," our personnel executive said. "In this league, dribble penetration always makes you viable. But I think they all have to become more focused on using that ability to create scoring opportunities for their teammates."

Except for Jennings, of course, they did some of that in college. But that has to be their main focus now.

"It's just good to know that we do have potential floor leaders coming up."

But in the struggle for the O'Brien trophy, it doesn't hurt to be able to control what occurs inside the lane. If Griffin returns in fine form, he should have enough time remaining to make his importance felt near the basket.

Unfortunately, the U.S. basketball machine is not exactly doing a great job of producing a lot of players capable of doing similar things

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: November 10, 2009


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