This feature was first published as the cover story in the 110th edition (2013 - No. 13) of SLAM China Magazine. Here is my original English version of the story.
Bring together the ingredients of the perfect point guard. You can ask for floor vision, leadership, ability to take the outside shot, ability to drive in and create, the ability to score, the ability to dish, and oh, the speed. Lots and lots of speed. And when four of the most exciting young point guards assembled under one roof, all of the ingredients came together like a perfect mosaic to create the breathtaking future of the NBA.
So what more can you ask for? An All Star, a Rookie of the Year, a number one draft pick, and perhaps the most exciting European player of All Time. Over the past week, Jrue Holiday (newly traded to the New Orleans Pelicans), Damian Lillard (Portland Trailblazers), Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves) and John Wall (Washington Wizards) were all in Beijing and all together under one roof. At an average of less than 23 years, these four point maestros are the fast and furious future of the league.
SLAM caught up with all four with quick-fire questions to see how each one completes the puzzle and develops into the perfect point guard.
SLAM: Jrue: How much of a challenge is it to move on to a new team in the off-season and be leader in the backcourt, with new coaches and new teammates?
Holiday: I have had a lot of different coaches in my life already, and I have faith that the coaching staff will help in making the transition easy.
SLAM: Jrue, How do you see yourself fitting into the Pelicans offense?
Holiday: I think it’s gonna be easy. Need to study their game, watch them play, and I’ll take what they have, that’s my style of game. I think everyone’s gonna be happy in the system, we’ll use many screen-and-rolls, a lot of pick and rolls, I can hit the threes going around the big men and going around the guards.
SLAM: Damian, Congrats on the Rookie of the Year award. Did you start off last season actively aiming to be the league’s ROY?
Lillard: It was definitely a goal of mine. Like I always said, I always set out to be productive. I played a lot of minutes, so the opportunity was already given to me. I just wanted to take advantage of it as much as I could.
SLAM: Damian, What is going to be the challenge ahead to get into the playoff picture for the Trailblazers?
Lillard: I think we need to improve defensively. Now we have a year under our belt playing together. We know each other a little bit better so we should be better because of that. As long as we make the improvements we need to defensively, I think we’ll be a better team. Hopefully, we can find a way to get into the playoffs.
SLAM: Ricky, It was a tough finish for you guys with all the injuries at the end of last season. How good can the Timberwolves be at full health in the upcoming year?
Ricky Rubio: We’re still working and we’re still building a team, but I think we have something going on. I’ve very excited for the next season to see if everybody can be healthy and we can get to the playoffs. That was our goal for the last two years. We couldn’t reach it for many reasons, and one of them was too many injuries. I’m working hard this summer to improve my game.
SLAM: Ricky, What goal do you choose of achieving first – An Olympic Gold or an NBA championship?
SLAM: John, Your Wizards started the last season slow, but once you got back, you became one of the top teams in the East. What are your expectations going forward for the next season?
Wall: I personally feel that to be a great point guard in this league, you just gonna win, so my goal is to make the playoffs.
SLAM: John, What was the biggest challenge coming from an injury like you had early last season?
Wall: The biggest challenge is being mentally prepared, being mentally strong, just fighting through it when you know you can’t play. I wanted to do a good job being a leader for my team, to be like a coach on the sidelines.
SLAM: Personally, how do you plan to improve your own game over this off-season to get to the next level?
Holiday: I’d like to see myself in the All Star Game again and hopefully make it to the playoffs. I think that’s the ultimate goal: to get to the playoffs and win championships.
Lillard: I think I just have to expect more for myself. I of course have to work on my game. I have to get my percentages up, work on finishing better, on new ways to score, and find a way to make my teammates better. If I can do those things and everybody else also improves their game, then we should be a playoff team.
Rubio: It’s a very important off-season for me. Last year I was hurt and I couldn’t get good workout for my knee. This year, I’m really focused on working on my body, and in getting stronger, and after that, improve my jump-shot and get ready for the next season.
Wall: Just be working every day in the summer to improve my jump-shot, and finishing on floaters to make myself a better player.
SLAM: So who is the fastest out of all four of you?
Holiday: I think John’s probably the fastest. John’s an incredible athlete; you have to play against him to see it. And then, it’s probably me.
Lillard: Probably me and John Wall.
Rubio: I have to go with… Me! [Laughs]… I dunno, we have to compete and see who is better.
SLAM: And who in the group is the toughest for you to defend?
Holiday: They all bring something really different. John is fast, strong, gets to the basket. Ricky Rubio, obviously is very deceptive: he can throw the ball behind your back and all of a sudden, somebody’s open! And Damian can score from just anywhere on the court.
Lillard: John is pretty good, but Jrue Holiday is probably the toughest, because he’s the biggest.
Rubio: All three are tough! I can’t pick one, but if I had to say, I’ll say… Jrue!
Wall: I’ll probably say Dame [Lillard]. Dame is a very good young player and probably one of the toughest to play against.
SLAM: Who is the best point guard in the NBA right now?
Lillard: Before he got hurt I think it was Derrick Rose, but right now it’s probably Chris Paul.
Rubio: Before the injury, I think Derrick Rose was on another level. When I played against him, he was the toughest one to guard. Now we’ll see how he’ll recover. It was good for him to take a year off and be ready. I suffered the same injury and I know that it’s very tough. So yes, I’ll say, number one is still Derrick Rose.
Wall: It’s very tough, depends on what you need from what point guard. Every other point guard gives you something different.
SLAM: What do you need to do in your game to get to number one?
Lillard: I think I can be a better floor general, make the game easier for my teammates, control the pace of the game better. The top point guards are an extension of the coach on the floor and I think I can do a good job of playing the point guard position, but it takes experience to grow into the ‘coach on the floor’ role.
Wall: Just keep improving, like I said earlier, on my jump-shots, floaters. Just watch every aspect of my game and work every day.
SLAM: Which player as a youngster did you idolize or model or game after?
Lillard: When I was younger I really like Allen Iverson, so if there was anyone that did model my game after, it was him.
Rubio: [Long Pause] I like basketball and I like to watch all kind of players. But especially if I had to name one, I’d name Steve Nash. There’s a lot of Magic Johnson. There’s a lot of great point guards in this league!
Wall: My favourite player was Allen Iverson growing up. But I want leave behind my own legacy so people remember John Wall.
SLAM: If you could pick any player in the NBA to throw a lob up to, who would it be?
Holiday: Probably Blake Griffin
Rubio: Um… [Long Pause]… I would say… I’m think about a lot of names… Vince Carter… In his prime, Vince Carter.
Wall: Blake Griffin.
Holiday: It might be my jump-shot.
Lillard: My athleticism.
Rubio: It’s a secret, I can’t tell you!
Wall: Can’t tell you, it’s undercover.
SLAM: And what is your kryptonite?
Holiday: That’s kinda tough: I’m trying to model my game so I don’t really have one.
Lillard: I’m not even sure man. I probably don’t have one.
Rubio: I can’t tell you that either. If I tell you my kryptonite then they’re gonna stop me!
Wall: If there’s one thing that can hold me back, it’s myself. I’m the only person that can hold myself back.
SLAM: With so many NBA events happening in China over the summer, it seems that the off-season is the ‘in-season’ in China. What do you think about the growing interest of the game here?
Holiday: I think it’s awesome. I think basketball is definitely a world sport, and the NBA is kind of the hierarchy of that. So just being able to come here and to interact with fans who will probably never get to see us in person, it’s awesome. They’re excited for us to come over here and it makes me personally feel good and makes me wanna come back!
Lillard: The sport is growing here and it’s a great opportunity for us to come over here and experience how passionate the fans here are. They are huge fans of us and they don’t have access to us the way the people in America do. For us to come over here, it’s an experience for us and the fans. It’s amazing to see how much they know about us here. I see people wearing my jersey, knowing my first name. It’s just mind-blowing.
Rubio: It’s awesome. That’s why I was really excited to come here. I came here in 2008 (Olympics): I knew basketball was huge here, and I think it’s even bigger now. I love basketball and I like when people are excited about it. Fans of China are the best ones at that – they’re excited to watch basketball and we feel that, so we too are excited to be here.
Wall: This is my first time to China and it’s great to be here in this tour as China Basketball also gets bigger and bigger. There’s no better time to be here.