There really is nothing better in basketball than that feeling you get from shaking someone with a nice move. Ever since the AND 1 phenomenon and the Allen Iverson experience, those ankle-snapping, defense-abusing moves have dominated highlight tapes.
I recently talked to one of the premier young point guards in the NBA, Minnesota’s Jonny Flynn, about how getting to the rim factors into his game.
“It’s so much better when you are at the top of the key and you are just walking (the defender) down, walking him down and he knows he’s by himself,” Flynn said. “He has his teammates saying, ‘I got you left. I got you left’ and ‘I got you over here.’ And he knows he’s on an island. But to just do that move when you’re coming down like that and he knows he’s by himself and in the spotlight like that, that’s when it’s the best time.”
The way the NBA game is being played now, with rules that benefit quick perimeter players and the drive-and-kick being so important, having a point guard who can use his speed, handle and strength to get into the lane is increasingly important. With the exception of a few teams and systems (e.g., L.A. Lakers), it’s almost a requirement in order to play the lead guard position.
Chris Paul has it. Mardy Collins doesn’t.
And while John Wall will almost assuredly find his way onto this list very, very quickly, here are the five best point guards in the NBA right now at getting to the rim:
The debate about whether this 20-year old really is a point guard will probably be ongoing for some time. But he played the position most of last year, and as the game moves forward, defined positions become less important anyway.
The numbers don’t lie. Evans averaged over 10 “inside” points per game as a rookie — half his total output — according to 82games.com. There is perhaps no other lead guard in the entire league that boasts Tyreke’s dangerous combination of size and ball-handling. Evans has a wingspan that exceeds 6-11, which is insane compared to other top PG’s like Chris Paul (6-4) and Deron Williams (6-6). That size enables Evans to get his shot off against almost anyone — only nine percent of his shots around the rim were blocked last year. While he may lack the explosive quickness and speed of the other players at his position, Evans is a one-on-one phenom and has different moves for every spot on the court, starting with his patented Euro Step.
Up until his rumored trade demands this summer, CP had been a forgotten man for months, shrouded in injuries on a decimated Hornets team. People sometimes forget he was considered by far the best point guard in the world not long ago.
Is there anyone better at getting to the rim off the screen-and-roll? At this point, Paul could be the NBA’s ultimate lane creator, utilizing different speeds and knowing when to use his floater and when to drop it off. His inside shooting percentage (61%) points directly to this. Also, as the only real threat on the Hornets for the past few years — outside of David West’s mid-range jumper — defenses loaded up on CP. No one else on this list draws the same level of defensive attention. Yet, Paul still lives in the paint.
When talking about just pure speed, it’s tough to find anyone more blinding than Rondo. Add that to his huge hands and you have the recipe to effective finishing at the rim. Phil Jackson used to marvel at Michael Jordan’s ability to contort his body and move the ball around in the air while still being able to hit shots. Rondo’s enormous hands give him the same advantage (that’s also one of the main reasons why he’s such a great rebounder). A first-time All-Star last year, Rondo has a great floater and is one of the best at maneuvering and throwing up shots from weird angles around the hoop. Most defenders never really know when he is going to shoot because his style is so different. Rondo hits 65 percent of his shots around the rim.
He also benefits from being surrounded by a few pretty good players. As Boston moves forward and the ball is in his hands more often, Rondo might become the best in the NBA at this. And if he gets a decent 17-footer? Watch out.
This cat is like the LeBron James of point guards. Rose seems like he was sculpted from the same mold that created Bo Jackson. He is stronger than Rondo, more explosive than Evans and bigger than Paul. Evans has the benefit of size and can often bull right through a defender’s chest to get a bucket. Rose can do the same. He might only be listed at 6-3, but Rose’s total body strength gives him an advantage over other small guards. Whereas some guys have to completely beat their man off the dribble, Rose needs to just use that dangerous first step to get someone on his hip. Once that happens, he has 40 inches of upwards explosiveness, making a blocked shot pretty much impossible.
The best part for Bulls fans? Rose is clearly improving and is one of the leaders of this summer’s young USA Basketball national team. Last year in the playoffs, Rose went off for almost 27 points a game, pushing himself at the most important time. When it comes to finishing in the lane, the Chicago leader was made for this.
Williams is another one of the League’s young guards who has evolved into the chief boss on his team. Since coming into the League, Williams became a master of the screen-and-roll with since-departed teammate Carlos Boozer. And while only 31 percent of his offense comes around the hoop — that’s more a product of an outstanding perimeter game — Williams shot 61 percent inside. With him, it’s not about being creative or having huge hands. He is just highly skilled with a body that is made for absorbing contact. Because of that extra muscle, Williams doesn’t need space to rev up. In the half-court, he is just as adept bullying around defenders as he is zipping past them on fast breaks. This 26-year-old is about as complete as you can get as a rim slasher.
And it’ll be tough for Williams to continue to improve in this area when he’s already considered the best in the League.
Honorable Mentions — Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison