Earlier this month, TV commentator and former Rockets head
coach Jeff Van Gundy raised some eyebrows when he called Rafer Alston the second-best
point guard in the NBA behind Chris Paul during a live telecast.
While that statement might qualify for the exaggeration of
the year award, you have to tip your hat off to what Rafer (a.k.a. Skip To My
Lou) is doing on the basketball court.
For someone who has been typecast as everything from a
street baller to a coach killer, it is good to see Rafer in a system that fits
Many of us have known about Skip for awhile. Through the And1
tapes and the SLAM Magazine covers,
Rafer has been a playground legend ever since he was 15-years-old. The
sleepy-eyed point guard from Jamaica, Queens was like Pete Maravich at New Yorks
Rucker Park with his sick handles and flashy passing.
But unlike many playground legends and street ballers, Skip
has been able to crossover.
As a pro, Alston has faced his share of up and downs. There are
three instances where Rafers career was at a crossroads:
1. I remember
watching him rack up the DNP-CDs (did not play coach's decision) as a member
of the Milwaukee Bucks his first three years in the League. Playing behind Sam
Cassell and Lindsay Hunter, Rafer hardly got any burn, and I thought for sure
he was heading down the same path as God Shammgod a flashy point guard who failed
to adjust to the pro game.
2. After a brief
stint in the D-League, Rafer worked his way back in the NBA with stints with
Toronto and Miami. After an impressive playoff showing with the Heat, he locked
up a long-term, $30 million free agent contract with the Raptors.
Almost immediately, Rafer butted heads with coach Sam
Mitchell, and there were even reports of physical altercations between the two.
It got so bad in Canada
that Skip was contemplating retiring. Luckily for Rafer, the Raptors shipped
him to the Rockets before the 2005 season.
3. Rafers reputation
took a serious hit last summer. After two run-ins with the law (charges were
dropped in both cases), people questioned whether he was more trouble than he
was worth. On top of that, the Rockets acquired two point guards by drafting
Aaron Brooks and signing Steve Francis. The move was speculated as the Rockets
looking to replace Alston.
It didnt take long for Skip to prove he was starter, and
was a major factor in the Rockets 22 game winning streak. Although his numbers
are nearly identical to last year (13.2 points, 5.4 assists), he is looking
more confident on the floor, and he is doing an excellent job leading the flow of
the Rockets offense. He has the leadership skills to take Houston deep into the playoffs.
While he is definitely no Steve Nash, Deron Williams or
Chris Paul - Rafer has come a long way in this league and could start for most
NBA teams. But more important than that, he finally proved after a decade of
obstacles that he is more than an And1 street baller.