There's no telling what happens if Deron Williams had chosen the Dallas Mavericks in the fated summer of 2012, if he hadn't been swayed to Brooklyn by the desperate acquisition of Joe Johnson. Watching him languish and fall from stardom with the Nets make you wonder how the same wouldn't have happened in Dallas, but we're all familiar with the butterfly effect. In a different system in his hometown, coached by Rick Carlisle and assisted by one of the league's premiere training staffs, maybe the story plays out very differently.
But Williams is here now, reaping the benefits of a revived career even though he's not much different from the player of last year. Williams' failings in Brooklyn were not totally based on his actual production, but more the failing of his expectations that come with the lofty contract handed to him. In Dallas, there are some differences: he's able to finish better at the rim but hasn't shot quite as consistently behind the arc. But really, he's similar to the player he was in Brooklyn, but has been transported to a system that appreciates him for his is, rather than disparaging him for who he was supposed to be.
Behind Williams is J.J. Barea, who earns a bad reputation because his flaws are so obvious and in your face. You know he's a bad defender when someone blows past him and easily launches shots over the minute Puerto Rican. You know he's prone to overdribbling sometimes when he uses up 14 seconds of the shot clock without any tangible benefit. But especially since his jump shot corrected itself after a very poor start (he's actually having his second best shooting season of his career), Barea is fine. The Mavericks need his penetration and they ask him to dominate the ball when he's on the court -- otherwise why would you play him? -- which directly leads to some of those painful moments that makes you dislike ol' JJB.
Beyond him, there's Raymond Felton, who sees some time at backup point on occasion, and Devin Harris, who is really just an off guard now. Personally, I see a noticeable drop in what the offense can do when Felton takes the reins for Williams or Barea, but as a veteran, his playmaking skills are appreciated on a team with only a few players who can beat their man off the dribble.
All week, we're ranking where the Mavericks fall positionally in the Western Conference. Here's where the point guards sit.
The point guards in the West
This is a no brainer. Stephen Curry is the best player alive and Shaun Livingston is unfairly good as a backup with a killer back-to-the-basket game and an unfair amount of size given his superb playmaking skills. Leandro Barbosa can play point for the Warriors in a pinch, too, but let's not even bother going that deep. Steph alone earns a No. 1 ranking for Golden State.
Russell Westbrook hasn't become any easier to handle, deservedly earning a spot as an All-Star starter this season, and while backup point guard was a question coming into the year, Cameron Payne has done a remarkably solid job in the past few weeks locking down that position for Oklahoma City.
It feels like Chris Paul has dropped off, because certainly you don't hear about him as much these days with all the Blake Griffin-led drama around Los Angeles. But Paul's just as consistent as ever, putting up 19 points with a 46/38/88 shooting slashline and more than nine assists per game. Of course, he's backed up by Austin Rivers, who probably wouldn't be a rotation player on any team not coached by his dad, but Paul's good enough for the Clippers to earn the third slot.
Damian Lillard really does have a lot of Steph in him when you consider his basketball mannerisms and the way he plays offensively. He not Curry, of course, and still far from it, but he's a dynamic scorer who requires the attention of defenses anytime he steps past half court. While Portland has used backup guard Tim Frazier, it's combo guard C.J. McCollum who ends up running the offense when Lillard sits more often than not. Those two are solely responsible for the Trail Blazers being more relevant than anyone might have predicted.
Mike Conley's still a really, really solid player, even if he's having a bit of a down year by his recent standards. Mario Chalmers isn't a terrible backup, either.
I still don't know exactly where I fall on Rajon Rondo, which makes sense. His numbers truly are gaudy -- 12 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, 45 percent shooting, 36 percent behind the arc. The Kings are bad when he's not on the floor, but they're worse with him on it. But unlike Dallas, where his on/off numbers also reflected poorly, at least Rondo's tangibly making plays -- passes, defense, boards -- that help the team. Darren Collison's a pretty nice backup, too, so sure, what the hell, let's put them sixth. But I still wouldn't touch Rondo with a 10-foot pole, mind you, but it's worked out alright for the Kings.
Tony Parker has clearly taken a step back -- but, at least to extent, it has been a voluntary one. While he's only scoring 12 points a game, he's doing it on 52 percent shooting, and while he's barely shooting threes, he's knocking down 43 percent of the ones he does take. The Spurs are great because of the point guard position, but with Parker just doing a solid, consistent job and Patty Mills' incendiary shot making behind him, it's just a solid, consistent cog in the machine.
8. Dallas Mavericks
Williams is slowly morphing into Dallas-era Jason Kidd, where he's a physical, smart defender, plays off the ball a lot and knocks down threes. There's differences, no doubt, and I'm sure Rick Carlisle would roll his eyes at that comparison, but you can see some similarities pop up between the two. For a team that wants to center itself around a ball handling small forward in the next couple of years (most likely), that's not such a bad thing.
As for the ranking, I think it fits. There's quite a bit of a drop off between No. 8 and No. 9, in my eyes. Imagine a large ocean rift beneath this sentence.
[it's very large and deep]
[yup, this deep. did you know the deepest point of the ocean is actually deeper than Mount Everest is tall?]
[ok, we've dived far enough, let's continue the rankings.]
9. Phoenix Suns
Eric Bledsoe's out for the year and Brandon Knight's been banged up, too. When healthy, though, Knight's been scoring well if, albeit, not too efficiently. This was a weird team to rank. Talent wise they belong higher, but based on what I've seen this year, and that they don't really have a meaningful backup, this ranking will have to do.
They start Norris Cole. Jrue Holiday is playing really well off the bench, but again, they start Norris Cole. C'mon.
11. Denver Nuggets
I'm told by people who watch more Nuggets basketball than I'm able to stomach that Emmanuel Mudiay really shows promise. Either way, I'm not going to judge him for what's essentially a trial by fire given his lack of college experience. (Or maybe that helped him more, who knows. But he clearly has shown he's not polished, and this year is working to correct that.)
Ricky Rubio might be at the top of my "players who need a change of scenery" list and Zach LaVine really, really isn't a point guard, but might as well keep playing him there just to make sure you get another nice-lookin' pick.
I like D'Angelo Russell. I think he'll be a nice player in the NBA. He clearly has been struggling with the learning curve at times, though. Related: I actually have a great new nickname for Byron Scott and it's "learning curve."
14. Houston Rockets
Man, I tried to tell Rockets fans that Ty Lawson wasn't necessarily going to work out ... and welp, not in the slightest. Patrick Beverley's fine, but the Rockets are free falling and fully deserve this ranking.
15. Utah Jazz
I still have a lot of faith in Dante Exum, too, to at least become a solid league average point guard with great defensive skills. Raul Neto's been pretty alright for Utah, too, all things considered. But this position is clearly weak for Utah and it's been holding them back.