Here on Rufus on Fire, teams are ordered in a way that's interesting probably only to me.
1 -- LeBron James represents a vaguely philosophical sea change in how we understand basketball. He's a power forward who Paul Silas originally wanted to play some point guard. Magic Johnson broke the mold, but James is a mold unto himself. In short, we are all witnesses to the growth of a basketball player who can beat the best defensive teams in the world when he commits to it.
Unfortunately for LBJ, expectations are ridiculously high. That he hasn't won a title or an MVP just yet shouldn't be a mark upon his record. Remember that His Airness didn't win it all until his seventh season, and we're only entering Year Six of the LeBron Era.
2 -- Let's put it on the table: LeBron could certainly follow the Kevin Garnett career path. The best sidekick the Cavaliers have given him is Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Now, Big Z has been a rock for James's entire career, but it can't last forever, and he has his shortcomings, especially on the defensive end.
To become the prohibitive title favorite, the Cavs will probably have to move beyond Big Z. When Ilgauskas is gone, who will run with Bron Bron? The obvious target is Chris Bosh. CB4 is the all around talent that can simultaneously reinforce and complement LeBron's strengths on both ends of the floor.
There will be swingmen and a few big men available, but the big wild card will be at the point guard position. Cleveland will be rolling in cap room. Wherefore wilt thou be, Steve Nash? Given LeBron sticking around and a big man like Bosh, there will still be money left over to sign an aging genius like Nashty to a short deal. At 8 million per for two years, 36 and 37 year old Nash could free the offense to be a juggernaut behind Bron Bron and Bosh's scoring. Defensively, he's no great shakes now and certainly won't be then, but the right moves will mask his deficiencies.
Bron-Bosh-Nash in 2012!
3 -- In the present, among the supporting players, Ben Wallace has become a necessary evil; everything he does, Anderson Varejao now does better. If JJ Hickson becomes a rotation player, all the better, so the big men can go four deep and the team doesn't have to rely on the likes of Lorenzen Wright.
In the back court, my irrational love for Sasha Pavlovic continues unabated, and no one has yet come close to curing me of it. Wally S is the local boy, and Boobie is the playoff hero, and Delonte West is clearly the best defender. But Pavlovic offers a more flexible matchup challenge for opponents since he has more weapons at his disposal than any of the others, though he might not be as talented in specific skills as those others. Regardless, these four, properly deployed, should cause fits for whichever lucky soul is spared having to cover LBJ.
4 -- Again, in the present, Mo Williams will hold down the fort. He's the kind of guy who is underrated because of where he was drafted and because he's been playing in Milwaukee, but true hoopheads know he's solidly in the class of starting quality points.
Here's something interesting, though. Which of these contemporary point guards would you want, based on their age 21-23 years, their first three seasons in the league?
(All stats are per/36 minutes)
POINT GUARD A
21 -- 13.2 pts, 3.5 ast, 3.4 reb, 9.4 PER
22 -- 13.0 pts, 7.7 ast, 3.9 reb, 14.1 PER
23 -- 16.5 pts, 5.4 ast, 3.4 reb, 15.0 PER
POINT GUARD B
21 -- 14.2 pts, 6.7 ast, 4.0 reb, 14.2 PER
22 -- 13.9 pts, 6.9 ast, 3.4 reb, 13.5 PER
23 -- 13.8 pts, 7.1 ast, 2.9 reb, 13.8 PER
It's not obvious, but it looks like Point Guard B is more of a traditional distributing point guard and Point Guard A is more of a scorer than pass-first guy. If you looked at those stats and immediately recognized that Point Guard A is Mo Williams and Point Guard B is Raymond Felton, well, you weren't as shocked as I was to find that our supposed two guard in a point guard's body has had a comparable start to his career as Williams. In fact, during a recent conversation with the hooperati among my friends, conventional wisdom held that Williams is obviously better than Felton.
Since Williams will likely plateau sooner rather than later, and Felton still has a little bit of growing to do, this season might be a fair comparison head to head, Felton's fourth. Williams will have almost zero burden to score this year, so his points should go down and his assists go up--Hey! They should go to Felton's levels!--but we'll have to wait and see.
5 -- According to 14/16 voting, NBA fans think Cleveland is a playoff team.