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.