It's All In The Game: Rafer Alston Skips To The Top

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

him perfectly.

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 York’s

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 Rafer’s career was at a crossroads:

1. I remember

watching him rack up the DNP-CD’s (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. Rafer’s 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 didn’t 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.