After an incredibly exciting round of games yesterday, the NBA is officially back. What are the main stories? Who are the most important players? What should you pay attention to this season?
Today, I will cover the Men, the Myths, and the Legends of this year’s Eastern Conference.
Later in the week, I will tell you what to watch for out West.
Without further ado, here’s part one of my Eastern Conference Preview, which analyzes one of the most compelling debates in basketball today: which point guard (and more generally, which type of point guard) would you rather have running your team – Rajon Rondo or Derrick Rose?
Image source: Obsessed With Sports
The Men – Derrick Rose-Rajon Rondo III
Allow me to introduce a new idea about point guards to you: Active vs. Passive.
As an English teacher, these terms have always intrigued me. An active verb is a verb in which the subject of the sentence is doing the action: Rondo threw the ball.
A passive verb is a verb in which something is being done TO the subject: The ball was thrown by Rose.
Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo perfectly represent the paradox between the old-style point guard and the point guard of the future: Rondo actively makes his teammates better; Rose passively makes his teammates better.
Now just ignore the terms for a minute. This is not meant as an insult to either player (the term “passively” might automatically make one think I am trying to say that Rondo is the better player). Let’s further define these “active” and “passive” terms.
Active v Passive / New School v Old School
Rose isn’t your prototypical old-school point guard. Rose plays like LeBron, not Chris Paul.
I have gotten into so many arguments with people about LeBron – Is he a good passer or isn’t he? You see, LeBron has always been considered a “great passer” because he makes unselfish passes out of double- and triple-teams. LeBron makes his teammates more efficient because they get so many wide-open looks.
Derrick Rose and LeBron both start every possession with one goal in mind – “I’m getting to the basket.” They instantly attack, and if the other team doesn’t bring help, they will score almost at will. As soon as the other team shifts over, Rose/LeBron is able to find the open guy.
To me, LeBron and Rose are smart passers. They are unselfish passers. But I don’t think they are GREAT passers. Most of the passes they make are incredibly simple passes to wide open teammates…they rarely find seams in the defense that nobody else can see.
What does all this mean? Not a whole lot really.
Rose and LeBron are still 2 of the top 5 players in the league. Really, it probably just represents the new direction that basketball is heading. The new goal is to constantly attack your opponent – constantly put pressure on him – and that’s what Rose and LeBron (and Russell Westbrook for that matter) do better than anyone else.
But Rondo, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, and the old-school point guards play differently.
Their goal, first and foremost, is to get their teammates involved. Whereas Rose sets up the defense in such a way to create an open lane for himself, Paul will set up the defense in such a way to get Blake Griffin a dunk. As Bill Simmons once said, the goal of a point guard is to keep everyone involved for the first 44 minutes, and then be able to take over in the last 4 if necessary. This causes a completely different set of difficulties for the defense.
So which is better? Would you rather have an active or a passive point guard?
Rondo/Chris Paul supporters will argue for an active point guard. Rondo and CP3 actually make their teammates play better. They get them involved throughout the entire game, and then in the final 2 minutes, the defense won’t know who to guard. If Ray Allen, KG, AND Pierce are all confident because Rondo has been getting them the ball, who do you guard?
They will argue that LeBron and Rose actually cripple their teammates because they are so used to simply standing around and watching that when LeBron/Rose get double-teamed down the stretch, they aren’t ready to make plays. In crunch time, every good defense will take Option A away…LeBron and Rose don’t know how to go to Option B.
However, LeBron/Rose supporters will argue the opposite.
LeBron and Rose are generally unstoppable, so why wouldn’t you want them forcing the issue and stretching the defense at every opportunity?
Derrick Rose and LeBron James are both League MVPs. Their teams win a ton of games every year. How can you say that the passive approach doesn’t work?
It’s an interesting argument to be sure. Personally, I would lean towards having an active point guard, but it’s certainly not a position that I’m dogmatic about.
So back to Rose and Rondo – two guys that notoriously dislike each other (Coach K had to cut Rondo from Team USA because he took everything so personally with Rose).
Rose v Rondo
Two seasons ago, they matched up in one of the greatest point guard matchups of all time in the playoffs. Rondo barely edged out Rose – mainly because he had the better team.
Because of that, last year, I dedicated an entire piece to the “Era of the Point Guard” and ranked Rondo as the #2 point guard in the entire league.
Unfortunately, Barack Obama sent Rondo into an awful shooting slump and Rondo had an off year (if you call 11 points, 11 assists, and 2 steals per game an off year). Meanwhile, Rose became the league MVP, partly because nobody wanted to vote for LeBron, and partly because Rose was unbelievable. He added a jump shot that made him unguardable. You could no longer stand five feet away from him and keep him in front – he would just kill you from 20 feet.
After weeks of trade talks this offseason, and everyone’s assumption that the Celtics were finished, it appeared the rivalry was over – out with the old (Rondo) and in with the new (Rose). But then, Rondo answered everything yesterday and came back with a nasty edge.
Apparently, somebody gave Rondo a jump shot for Christmas this year, because all of the sudden he was money from the midrange.
It’s much too early to tell, but if Rondo is indeed hitting that shot consistently, I don’t think there is any question that he’s one of the top 3 point guards in all of basketball. He’s an old school point guard that completely controls the game – the tempo, the ball movement, even the defense. If he can hit the open jumper, the battle with him and Rose will be neck-and-neck once again.
It’s the most fascinating rivalry in basketball. You have two of the most physically gifted point guards EVER battling in completely contrasting styles. Rose can score 30 on any given night. Rondo is a constant threat to drop 15 dimes and swipe 5 steals.
Who is going to get the edge in 2012? We will certainly have to stay tuned.
Click to continue to part two of Jon’s Eastern Conference Preview – ‘The Myths’ – which tackles two erroneous thought processes being regurgitated time and again by fans and analysts alike as the 2011-12 season gets underway.