Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE/Getty Images
Deron Williams and the Sophomores had the Rookie squad on the run all night.
The 2006 Rookie of the Year, Paul, and the young man at the helm of one of the league’s premier teams are sure to share the spotlight in future All-Star Games. But not this year.
Williams and Paul instead served as quarterback on the same squad Friday, feeding their athletic, high-flying teammates and, from the outset, ran the rookies right out of UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, posting a 155-114 win. Perhaps David Lee should consider sending a gift basket to his two young teammates after they set him up time and again for point-blank scoring opportunities, leading to the Knicks forward being named the game's Most Valuable Player after going 14-of-14 from the field and scoring a game-high 30 points.
“Our coach (Marc Iavaroni) is from the Phoenix Suns,” Williams reasoned as to why the Sophomores posted a Challenge record 155 points. “We had to get out and run. That was the main thing. We wanted to push the ball in transition, be aggressive, bring it to them early and it worked for us.”
Another explanation could be that both were showing those who make such decisions that they should have been included in the Western Conference backcourt with the big boys on Sunday.
Even so, Williams, much as he did on Valentine’s Day when he showed the Cavaliers no love by dropping 33 and 12 on Cleveland after learning he wasn’t named a replacement for the injured Nash, went out and dominated early. Scoring 14 first-half points and distributing the ball to the Sophomore frontcourt, Williams fueled his squad to an early lead that would never come into question. Williams finished the game with 19 points on eight-of-12 shooting, to go with seven assists.
“I definitely wanted to be in the big game,” Williams said, “but it just didn’t happen for me. I’ve got a long career ahead of me so I have other chances. But I had fun in this game and I definitely enjoyed playing in this one.”
Paul, who came on in relief of Williams had nearly as many first-half assists (11) as the entire Rookie squad (14). He would finish the contest one steal short of a triple-double, tallying game-highs of 17 assists and nine steals, along with 16 points.
The beneficiary of the bulk of those dimes was Golden State’s 2005 second-round pick Monta Ellis. During a two-minute stretch late in the first half, Paul found Ellis on fastbreak lobs on five of nine trips down the court.
“He was talking about it before the game and on the sideline,” Ellis said after scoring 28 points. “I told him, ‘Throw it up and I’ll go get it – wherever you throw it.’”
While an exhibition such as this is hard to judge a player, Paul looked to be back in the form that earned him the Eddie Gottlieb trophy – awarded to the league’s top first-year player – and a trip to Japan as part of the U.S. men’s senior national team. Paul threw pin-point passes, displayed blistering bursts of speed and even climbed the ladder for an alley-oop finish of his own.
Prior to Friday’s highlight show, Paul had logged nine contests in a Hornets’ jersey to help his team right the ship. The Oklahoma-based, New Orleans team started the 2006-07 season strong, winning eight of its first 11 contests, but a number of injuries, Paul’s included, led to the team bottoming out at 16-25 before CP3’s return.
Williams, meanwhile, looks to be the real deal as a pass-first scoring threat, much in the mold of John Stockton, for which Jerry Sloan-coached teams have come to be known. When Williams wasn’t finding Lee for uncontested flushes, he was stepping back and canning long triples, as he did late in the first half on back-to-back possessions.
“I think what you saw today were stars of tomorrow,” Sophomores assistant coach and Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson said. “I go back to a good friend of mine, who coached Marquette (University), Al McGuire. He said, ‘You should never be guard poor.’ And we were not. If you have great guards like we had tonight, you’re going to read about these people for years to come. And they’re going to win basketball games.”