Greg Anthony: On Point

The NBA analyst breaks down the golden age of the point guard.

The NBA analyst breaks down the golden age of the point guard.

Photo: Jim Davis / The Boston Globe via Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

Having manned the point for the NBA for over a decade, and had a front row seat observing the game as an analyst and commentator, Greg Anthony knows what it means to succeed as a floor general better than most. And as far as he’s concerned, we’re in a golden age. We talked to Anthony, the Brooklyn Nets’ new color commentator, about the state of the position.

You won an NCAA championship as the pointguard for UNLV, and then played another 11 years in the NBA, so you obviously know the position. What’s your take on the current crop?

We’re going through a real renaissance in terms of the position.  The players are as physically gifted as they’ve ever been in the history of our league. From a skill-set standpoint, you have so many guys at that position who can be the best player on the floor on any given night. So for us to have an opportunity to watch the development of some of the younger guys, like a Kyrie Irving, coming off a brilliant Rookie of the Year campaign, and still a young guy, is special. Or waiting to see how Derrick Rose responds to a knee injury when he was an MVP just a season ago. Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, I mean the list just goes on and on. Steve Nash still playing at a tremendously high. You have to be a bit in awe and appreciate not just their ability but the importance of that position to the success of your team.

If you were to start a team, what point guard would you want?

It’s a tough call. It’s kind of like a QB in football: It depends on what style you’re going to play. In terms of being just a pure point guard you look at guys like Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo, who are pass first players. They do that as well as anybody, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you wouldn’t want a guy like Derrick Rose, when he’s healthy. Chris Paul is another guy who can just take the game over. I think if you looked at every facet of the game and everything they are capable of doing, if healthy, I would go with Derrick Rose because he’s also a tremendous defender. But again, he’s coming off a significant injury, and it’s going to take him some time to get back to that level. I’ll tell you this, I’d be real happy with whoever I had to get after him or even a third guy. The thing about the level that’s being played at the point guard position is there are so many guys you could win a championship with. They’re that good. You think of Tony Parker, how brilliant he’s been, coming off his best season last year. Russell Westbrook is an unbelievable talent and still developing and learning. The other thing about a lot of these guys is that they are very young, but they are very mature for their age and playing at such a high level. There are no losers in that group. Deron Williams, I think, is going to have a tremendous bounce-back season. Sometimes he gets lost in that discussion because until now the Nets have been not necessarily as competitive as some of the other teams that the other elite point guards play on. I think you’re going to see that change this year. 

Do you think because there are so many elite point guards it forces everyone to raise their game?

Absolutely. Ultimately what makes all these guys great is they want to be the best.  The thing about the truly great ones is their minds don’t work like the everyday person or player’s mind works. You’ve got to want to be better than the other guy. They respect the abilities of each other and most of them may not come out and say “I’m the best,” but deep down I guarantee they all feel that way. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. You get a little extra oomph when you’re going into a game and you know you’re going to go up against Derrick Rose tonight, or Chris Paul the next night or Steve Nash or Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo or Russell Westbrook. You know you have to bring your game because those guys are all capable of embarrassing you. 

What about some of the younger guys: Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, John Wall. They may not be in the top ten but they’re all potential All Stars.

I think Ricky Rubio was just unbelievable with what he was able to do, coming over from Spain. And really it wasn’t even as much about his game as it was about his infectious nature, which I feel just uplifted that entire team. He reminded me a lot, and I’m not comparing the players just the zest with which they played, to how Magic played. Just the big smile, where everyone on the team could see how much fun they were having. It’s a huge advantage when you can bring that element to the floor because it takes the pressure off, allows you to play. You know not everybody plays their best when there’s tremendous pressure, some guys want to feel relaxed, and I thought he allowed that to happen. Kyrie Irving for me is more like Nash. I just think his skill set and his intellect at that position at his age is probably the best I’ve seen. Now he’s not necessarily the uber-athlete of a Derrick Rose or even a Russell Westbrook, but he could be like a Chris Paul 2.0. He’s got the complete package. The thing I love about Kyrie is, a lot like Chris Paul and Steve Nash: they do what’s necessary. They do what’s necessary to make a play. They have so much more ability than they even show. But you know those guys are all about winning and so when you win oftentimes it’s not just about putting on a show.  Obviously you want to entertain the fans and let them get a glimpse of you ability, but it’s also about making the right play and that guy’s skill set and what he can do with the basketball. It’s a bit scary when you think that Irving’s 19-years-old and he is going to continue to get better because he’s got such a tremendous passion. That’s something else that you’ve got to appreciate. The thing about playing at this level, you have to be passionate about it.

You played point guard for the Knicks.  What did you think of Jeremy Lin last year?

I thought it was unbelievable. What a great story for that young man to get the opportunity to prove his mettle out on the floor, and do it on the biggest stage in sports, it was unreal. It was so much fun because he’s such a pleasant human being and so humble and he’s worked so hard. It’s just a great lesson for people in all walks of life. I loved the fact that he never lost doubt in his confidence or his ability and then when he finally got the opportunity he was prepared for it. There’s a lot of guys who were in situations like his, but for whatever reason they started to feel sorry for themselves and then when they got an opportunity they were unprepared. He seized the moment. It opened up a lot of eyes of people who hadn’t spent as much time looking at our product. I’m just glad that ultimately he got rewarded for what he’s been doing, and I’m excited to see how things go in.

Do you think the Knicks’ new point guard, Raymond Felton, has a chance to bounce back?

No doubt. You have to be in the right situation in a good system, and his skill set really complements what the Knicks want to do. I kind of understand why they didn’t bring Lin back. It wasn’t just about the money, it was also about the fit. The style they’re playing wasn’t necessarily the most conducive style for Jeremy Lin to be successful. Raymond Felton is a better fit. He’s better defensively, he can contain the basketball, he can stretch it beyond the arc and he can also be effective without having the basketball.  And don’t forget about Grandpa, Jason Kidd.

What do you think of Stephen Curry, the Warriors’ point guard?

He is a unique talent,  who can obviously stroke it. I just hope that his health will ultimately allow him fulfill his talent. Steph’s another one of those guys where it’s all about fit. He’s not the prototypical point, but he can be a lead guard. And there’s a difference between the prototype and that lead guard.  Offensively as gifted as anybody in terms of his ability to shoot it at that position and be a solidplaymaker. Steph’s in a situation where he can really prosper, but ultimately I think it comes down to his health.

Russell Westbrook has gotten some criticism for being more of a scorer than a distributor. Do you think it matters or has the position changed?

It does matter. I think the kid was unduly criticized because first of all, who was he going to pass it to?  Everyone said he needed to be more of a play-maker, but really he has to be more of what he was. He was just as much of a reason they were in the finals as Kevin Durant. We all know how great Durant is, but in that system, Russell Westbrook has to go and get 24 or 25 a night.  Also, ook at the progression he’s made over the last four years in terms of his impact on the game. He has gotten markedly better every season and this year he took a huge leap offensively and that coincided with OKC taking a huge step forward as a team. And that’s why you heard Durant talk about it: “We need Russell,” because Kevin knows the importance of having that type of scorer. Your personnel determines a lot of what you’re going to do on the floor. That’s his role. Westbrook’s got to go out and score. Does he have to make plays for people too? Absolutely, but he’s also got to be a primary scorer for this team to go out and compete for a championship. 

On the Olympic team this summer, Lebron James was one of the main distributors, and Miami does not have one of the elite point guards. Where does that leave him?

The thing that people never understood about Lebron James is that he is a point guard, and an elite one. Lebron James is the only guy in the history of our league who has averaged 30 points over the course of a season and had scoring not be what he does best. That speaks to the talent that this young man has. I’m not saying he’s best to ever play the game, but to me he’s the most talented basketball player to ever play.

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