When the NBA rolled out its Top 10 plays of the ’08-09 season, I thought it’d be cool to do my own list of the Top 10 players of the season. But when that got too bloated — I had like 30 “honorable mentions” — I decided to break it down by position and go beyond just the NBA.
Let’s (hopefully) clear up one thing first: This is NOT a “best players” list. If you see John Wall ahead of Chris Paul here, I’m NOT saying the high schooler is better than the NBA All-Star. Instead, I’m looking at the whole picture: Who had an overall better season? Who made the biggest impact on their level? Who put the biggest stamp on the game of basketball, from high school to college to the pros? Who made this season his own? So with that, here are my Top 10 — not “10 best” — point guards from the ’08-09 season.
10. Devin Harris
Before injuries slowed him down, Harris had a regular spot in the NBA’s top 10 scoring list and had the Nets in position to make a surprising playoff run. In what was still a breakout season, Harris ended up averaging a career-high 21.3 points (14th in the League), 6.9 assists and 1.7 steals. Although N.J. missed the postseason, Harris made the All-Star team and hit the craziest NBA shot of the year.
9. Ty Lawson
Led North Carolina to an NCAA national title, setting a championship-game record with eight steals against Michigan State. The ’09 Bob Cousy award winner (best PG in the country) and ACC Plaayer of the Year averaged 16.6 points, 6.6 dimes and 2.1 steals, then landed on the Nuggets as a first-round pick.
8. Chris Paul
CP’s season was like an Olympic gymnastic routine. As good as he was throughout the bulk of it, he lost major points for an ugly finish that will be the neduring image of his performance. Paul led the NBA in assists (11.0) and steals (2.8), and along the way set a new League record for consecutive games with a steal (108). He also finished fifth in MVP voting, was Dime’s pick for Defensive Player of the Year, and on that Olympic note, picked up a gold medal in Beijing. But in the playoffs, Paul was dominated by Chauncey Billups head-to-head, and the Hornets were dispatched in historically embarrassing fashion by the Nuggets.
7. Tyreke Evans
Everyone expected ‘Reke to be a quick one-and-done at Memphis, but for the first part of his freshman year, it looked like he wasn’t ready to make the leap. Then John Calipari moved Tyreke to point guard around Christmas-time, and the Tigers went on an undefeated run that didn’t stop until the Sweet Sixteen. Tyreke (17.1 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.1 spg) scored a season-high 33 points in that final game, went pro and was chosen 4th overall by the Kings.
6. Deron Williams
Olympic gold aside, Deron also had a rough start to his season, as an ankle injury kept him grounded pretty much until Thanksgiving. After being snubbed for the All-Star Game (again), Deron was a beast over the second half. He was Utah’s best player in the playoffs (20.2 ppg, 10.8 apg), but couldn’t get them past the Lakers on his own.
5. John Wall
The best high school player in America was at the center of a long, high-profile recruiting battle that included everyone from Baylor to Duke to Miami before he finally settled on Kentucky. Wall has been compared to Derrick Rose athletically, with Chris Paul’s ability to control a game and lead a team. He averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for Word of God Academy in Raleigh, N.C., and is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft if he leaves after his freshman year.
4. Tony Parker
One of these days, Parker is gonna get people to stop saying he’s just a role player without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili by his side. Parker had his best season in ’08-09, averaging 22 points and 6.9 assists, making his third All-Star Game, making the All-NBA third team, and more often than ever before, taking over as the Spurs’ go-to guy in big games. His 55-point, 10-assist show against the Wolves in November was the best all-around performance by any PG all year. In the playoffs, Parker and Duncan basically took on the Mavs by themselves, with Parker putting up 28.6 points and 6.8 dimes in a five-game series loss.
3. Derrick Rose
The Rookie of the Year front-runner from opening night, Rose ran away with the trophy (16.8 ppg, 6.3 apg) while bringing his hometown Bulls back to the playoffs and making himself a staple on the highlight reel. Rose’s first-round series against the Celtics certified his place as one of the best PG’s in the game and set the table for a new era in Chicago.
2. Rajon Rondo
It was all about the postseason for Rondo. His regular-season numbers were solid (11.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 8.2 apg, 2.6 spg), but when it was money time, Rondo went to another level. He won his one-on-one battle with Derrick Rose in the first round, damn near averaging a triple-double (19-9-11), then almost did it again in the second round against Orlando (14-10-8).
1. Chauncey Billups
Chauncey got to come back home to Denver, led his squad to the Western Conference Finals, and proved he wasn’t just a product of Detroit’s system — more like he was Detroit’s system. The methodical destruction of Chris Paul in the first round of the playoffs reminded everybody that Chauncey (17.7 ppg, 6.4 apg) can’t be overlooked in the “Best PG on the Planet” discussion.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
5. Stephon Marbury — The NBA’s definitive pariah of the moment at least got a playoff bonus out of the deal.
4. Patty Mills — Got buckets against NBA guys in the Olympics and probably left school thinking he’d be a first-round lock. Somehow fell to 55th, then broke his foot in his first pro practice.
3. Ronald Steele — Once upon a time, he was an All-American at ‘Bama and future Lottery pick. But a series of foot, ankle and knee injuries forced Steele to basically retire in the middle of his senior year.
2. Monta Ellis — He’s not really a PG, but the Warriors insist on making him one, so he cracks the list. Set to blow up after inking a $66M deal last summer, Monta busted his ankle in a moped accident (that he initially lied about) and had a forgettable 25-game season.
1. Jamaal Tinsley — At least Marbury was able to wriggle out of his situation and draw some interest from a couple teams. Tinsley is being treated like Aunt Rose’s spoiled stuffing that’s sitting in my fridge as we speak. No one wants it at this point, and I’m kind of afraid to touch it and throw it out, so it’s just being ignored until the stink overpowers the kitchen and I don’t have a choice.