The Top 10 Backup Point Guards In The NBA

About halfway into the fourth quarter last night, Norris Cole had everyone in the building and all who were watching on national television wondering Who Dat? By the end of the night, Cole was the hero and he had national columnists asking the following morning if straight up, we were really going to love him forever… or was it just a hit and run? Is he for real? In just his second game as a pro, Cole dropped 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, didn’t shy away at all from the big shot and unlike the starter, Mario Chalmers, he stayed within his game, not constantly dribbling into the lane and turning it over.

So now the Big Three has a secret weapon, a 6-2 sponge from Cleveland State who’s already proven he probably won’t shrink in the moment during the playoffs. Even if he never becomes the starter (Don’t bank on it. It’s a great thing to have a sparkplug lil’ guy come in off the bench and drop buckets at the start of the second and fourth quarters. Plus, Cole doesn’t even want to start.), Cole has a big chance to make an impact this season outside of posing and mean-mugging in the Heat’s GQ photoshooo… I mean their intro video.

You can’t put Cole into any “top” list just yet. Not after one game. Good, because I don’t feel like quoting average rappers anymore than I have to. For now, even though I suspect Miami’s man of the moment might be here by the end of the season, there are some others who have bigger credentials. Here are my top 10 backup point guards (FYI, Jason Terry is no point guard).


10. Eric Maynor
Playing big minutes in the 2011 NBA Playoffs caused Maynor’s hype to spike a little too high. No, there’s absolutely no way the Thunder would be better off with him starting. But for a player whose numbers tell me he sucks – career averages of 4.5 points and 3.1 assists – Maynor is part of the reason for the Thunder’s explosion: smart, gritty and tough.

He’s in a perfect spot. He’s not quick enough or a good enough shooter to warrant starting for a decent team. But Maynor’s such a good conductor that pitting him against other second units allows OKC to get buckets without having to rely on KD or Westbrook all the time.

9. Kirk Hinrich
So he lost his job to Jeff Teague in the playoffs, so what? So he’s out until probably the middle of February at the earliest because of shoulder surgery, so what? Hinrich’s long been considered one of the toughest and more underrated guard defenders in the league. He makes shots and plays hard. That’s starter material for a lot of teams – the Lakers? – and perfect requirements for an outstanding bench guy for others.

In Atlanta last season, Hinrich put up modest starter numbers (nine, two and three), and may not even reach those as a backup whenever he does suit up this season. But we all know the boy can play.

8. Leandro Barbosa
Considering Barbosa and Jerryd Bayless are both half point guards – neither one really wants to pass, they’d rather take 20 shots a night – we could combine the two to create one backup point. Playing next to Steve Nash for years in Phoenix, Barbosa probably never ran one offensive set past the second option. Now in Toronto, without another master chef to set his plate, he’s had to change up his style. He’s still Speedy Gonzales. We just don’t see as much of that anymore.

In the Raptors’ win in Cleveland on Monday, Barbosa went for 14 and four off the bench. He may never be the cheetah he was in the desert, but Canadians could still settle for consistency.

7. J.J. Barea
The little engine that could doesn’t play like a typical point guard. He can’t. No one would want a 5-8 (I don’t care what the roster says. I’ve chilled with Puerto Rico’s son. He’s 5-8… maybe 5-9.) floor general. But he scores in bunches, breaks down defenses and will forever be a Made Man because he took out the two-time defending champs last spring, and then completely shifted the momentum of the NBA Finals. How many 5-8 jitterbugs have ever done that?

While his role in Minnesota might appear to be “Come in and play off the ball next to Ricky Rubio,” it’s already apparent through two games that Barea and Rubio will both be running the offense. Rick Adelman won’t play it conservative or traditional. Rubio might be more likely to run a set offense and more apt to throw a pass that gets someone on ESPN to get all butterfly-like, but Barea has his own unique qualities. When he comes down with it, Barea’s looking to attack harder than a 15-year-old Halo geek high off Sour Patch Kids.

6. Beno Udrih
I find I get the most satisfaction out of fantasy when I’m fleecing my boys out of unknown players. Udrih is perennially one of the most underrated players in the league, and one of the few who looks just as good in real life as he does on paper. He’s come a long way since he was a rookie backup in San Antonio who was getting undressed, maimed and embarrassed by Detroit’s Lindsey Hunter and Chauncey Billups in the Finals.

For the past four seasons, he averaged around 13 and five for Sacramento. Now in Milwaukee backing up Brandon Jennings, his fantasy and on-court impact will diminish solely because of more time on the pine. Yet I can almost guarantee he’ll be finishing a lot of games this season since we all know the rest the Milwaukee’s guards aren’t exactly marksmen.

5. Ramon Sessions
One of the most underrated players in the league has had to deal with constant teasing throughout his career. Everywhere he goes, Sessions somehow ends up in the starting lineup, kills it, and then a trade, signing or healed injury sends him back to the bench. Already this year, Kyrie Irving has supplanted him, even though the rest of the season could look a lot like Night One:

Irving: 26 minutes, 2-for-12, six points, seven assists
Sessions: 21 minutes, 6-for-12, 18 points, four rebounds, six assists

The competition never fazes the small town kid. Over the summer, he told me it wouldn’t be a problem fighting over playing time with the rook and Baron Davis. Now that B. Diddy is gone, at least Sessions knows exactly what his role is: come in and outperform the starter every other night.

4. George Hill
One of the main reasons for the excitement swirling around the Pacers is the trade that brought them Hill. Hill’s proven he can start or come off the bench, proven he can make threes (career 38 percent) and definitely proven he’s one of the best young defensive guards in the league (ask Kobe Bryant, who can’t do anything with Hill’s 6-9 wingspan).

Hill brings versatility and toughness to Indiana’s bench and will probably play next to starter Darren Collison a lot this season. Because of his experience in San Antonio, you know he can play fourth quarters. Some backups shouldn’t even see the court during the playoffs.

3. Lou Williams
He’s never been much of a passer, but gets the nod as Philly’s backup point guard because of how often he handles it in the half-court. In the 76ers’ opening loss in Portland, he finished with only two assists but somehow managed to find room to throw up 17 shots (a team high) in only 27 minutes. When he’s not getting his Robin Hood on for the Philly streets, Williams is running high screen-n-rolls and breaking down defenses with floaters and dashes to the rim for 30 minutes a night. So what if he’s more of a combo guard than a traditional point guard. Williams handles the rock and dictates so much of the 76ers’ offense that you know he has the keys.

Despite all this, he’s still just the second-best Williams on this list.

2. Andre Miller
Did you know between his rookie season and the end of last year with the Blazers, Miller started every game except for 17? He’s played in damn near 1,000 of them and it took until he was 35 years old, 12 years in for someone younger to finally snatch the pre-game glamour intro away from him. Ty Lawson isn’t giving up the gig anytime soon, so unless Miller gets traded again, he’s stuck. Thankfully, George Karl seems intent on becoming the first coach in NBA history to field a lineup where everyone plays equal minutes and everyone gets equal shots. Thankfully, this ain’t church league and Miller ain’t a choir boy. The guy who came to represent the NBA’s iron man by not resembling anything close to iron, Miller has averaged 14 and seven in his career. This year in his first game against Dallas in his new role, he was spectacular: 18 points, five assists and even hit two threes.

Whatever his role is going forward in Denver, he’s easily one of the best bench guards in the game.

1. Mo Williams
There’s nothing wrong with backing up Chris Paul. Every point guard in the world would probably back up CP3. Williams averaged around 15 and six last season in L.A. and shot just a few tiny percentage points below 40 percent from three. He’s been given a bad rap for the last few years ever since he become the best player LeBron ever played with in Cleveland (as if that’s his fault). The truth is he’s better than solid: a decent defender, a great shooter at any time before May and can run an offense for 82 nights a year.

Williams would’ve started this year for a possible playoff team. Now after a trade, he’s a Sixth Man of the Year candidate on a championship contender.

What do you think? Did I miss anyone?

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