The rich got richer and the poor got point guards.
That was the theme on NBA Draft Day. Big trades dominated the pre-draft afternoon. Cleveland got richer by formally adding Shaquille O’Neal, to better match up with Orlando. Then Orlando added Vince Carter to improve their chances of getting back to the Finals. San Antonio added Richard Jefferson to better compete with the Lakers out West. The Lakers added a lot of cash to keep the team together that just won the title.
Most teams just want to find a way to get to that level, and they are counting on point guards to help get them there. After two big men went one-two at the top of the draft (Blake Griffin as expected to the Clippers then Hasheem Thabeet to Memphis) 9 of the next 10 picks were guards.
The Minnesota Timberwolves don’t even have a coach, but they now have plenty of point guards. Minnesota had made a trade with Memphis earlier and had both the fifth and sixth pick in the draft. With that first pick they got the guy they said afterwards they really wanted, Spanish playmaking sensation Ricky Rubio.
Rubio, however, didn’t return the love. He looked a little stunned by the pick and openly shivered when someone asked him about the cold winters in Minnesota. Then later Rubio’s father told a Spanish newspaper his son may play a couple more years in Spain.
But if Rubio isn’t handling the ball, then Johnny Flynn of Syracuse will be, he was the guy Minnesota picked sixth. Of course, which of those guys gets the ball most will be the decision of the coach. Once the Timberwolves get around to hiring one.
Oklahoma City went with shooting guard James Harden to pair with Russell Westbrook as the backcourt of a young and talented team. Sacramento got Tyreke Evans, the guard that led Memphis to 27 straight wins, then later made a trade to bring another quality guard, Sergio Rodriguez, in from Portland. Pair those two with Kevin Martin and it is clear Sacramento is building from the backcourt.
Don Nelson and Golden State added Stephen Curry, a guard and another guy who can shoot lights out but can’t defend, so he should fit in fine in the Bay Area. DeMar DeRozan goes to Toronto as the guy who has to be good enough to convince Chris Bosh he wants to stay — no pressure there. New Jersey traded Vince Carter earlier in the day then picked Terrence Williams, a player who is an all world athlete who doesn’t always seem focused on the court. Meet the new guard, same as the old guard.
The list goes on and on — Gerald Henderson to Charlotte, Jrue Holiday to Philadelphia, Ty Lawson getting picked by Minnesota then getting traded to Denver (to back up Chauncey Billups, a great place to be an understudy), Atlanta gets Jeff Teague, Utah takes Eric Maynor, New Orleans wants Darren Collison.
Why all the guards? Because a few years back the NBA told its referees to start calling the game differently — any hand check at all out on the perimeter was to be called a foul. That changed the game. You try to stay in front of a Steve Nash or Tony Parker or Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul if any little touch is a foul. Suddenly quick guys who could drive the lane and finish owned the game.
This year, there were a ton of small, quick guys in the draft. Guys well positioned to take advantage of the new rules, of the way the game is evolving. They all have holes in their games, weaknesses they will need to fix or find exploited nightly. The NBA is a merciless place. But the guys that can grow will find that they are well suited to this league.
And they will make some general managers getting confused looks tonight seem like geniuses in a few years.