Thursday, 25 Apr 2024

Q&A: Who are the Best Ball Handlers in NBA History? Insights from Nate “Tiny” Archibald

Nate “Tiny” Archibald, a significant figure in NBA history, revolutionized guard play with his impeccable ball handling, combining speed and playmaking to create new avenues to the rim. As a member of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, he led the league in both scoring and assists in 1971, and later won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 1981. Recently, Archibald was included in the prestigious NBA 75 list, recognizing his contributions to the game. In this condensed and edited conversation, the NBA Hall of Famer shares his thoughts on contemporary guards, the most formidable opponents he faced, and the remarkable career of Stephen Curry.

Congrats on being selected to the NBA 75. What was your initial reaction?

Archibald: First and foremost, I felt honored. Considering the many talented individuals outside the 75, I never anticipated being part of that elite group. The NBA has evolved significantly since its 50th anniversary, so this recognition holds a special place in my heart.

Who are some of your favorite players to watch?

Archibald: It’s crucial for guards to possess exceptional ball handling skills. Players like Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker exemplify the prototypical New York guards who possess a unique ability to penetrate the defense and finish at the rim. They excel at creating opportunities for themselves and others. Nowadays, teams prefer bigger guards who can shoot and defend multiple positions effectively, which adds another dimension to the game.

A player I really enjoy watching run the show is Dallas’ Luka Doncic.

Archibald: The emergence of European players like Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic signifies the evolution of basketball. These individuals bring a fresh perspective to the game. They may not fit the traditional mold of guards, such as Magic Johnson, but their versatility, scoring prowess, and passing ability make them dominant forces in the backcourt. They have a profound impact on the game and deserve recognition.

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You were known for your attacking style of play.

Archibald: Absolutely. I played with relentless aggression. Regardless of the challenges or the physicality of the opponents, I persevered. Growing up in challenging circumstances made me resilient and determined. I come from humble beginnings, where meals weren’t always guaranteed. Playing in the NBA was a privilege, one that countless individuals aspire to secure.

Earlier you mentioned Kyrie. Does his game remind you of yourself?

Archibald: I don’t watch games as often these days since Kyrie is not currently active. Nevertheless, Kyrie’s father (Drederick) mentioned that he plays similar to me, but in truth, there’s no one quite like Kyrie Irving. He possesses a unique style of play that sets him apart. Comparing my game to his or vice versa is challenging. The NBA landscape has evolved significantly, and it’s impossible to transpose players from different eras accurately.

Back in the day, who were two of the best point guards you either faced or saw?

Archibald: When it comes to ball handling skills, two players stand out in my mind: Pete Maravich and Isiah Thomas. They were incredible ball handlers who constantly kept their opponents guessing. Maravich’s shooting ability was exceptional, while Thomas exhibited superior ball control and quickness. Both players had the potential to embarrass defenders on any given night. I believe Kyrie Irving belongs in the same category as these legends.

I’m a life-long Sixers fan. No love for my guy Allen Iverson?

Archibald: Allen Iverson was undoubtedly a remarkable scorer, but when it comes to ball handling, his style leaned more towards scoring than playmaking.

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Even though I think he is more of a combo guard, Curry is going to go down as one of the greatest point guards ever.

Archibald: Stephen Curry’s shooting prowess places him in a league of his own. No player in NBA history has matched his long-range shooting ability. In terms of ball handling, players like Isiah Thomas and Pete Maravich had superior skills, but they didn’t possess Curry’s three-point shooting capability. Curry’s dedication to practice has honed his skills to perfection. His work ethic is unparalleled, and it’s evident in his exceptional performance on the court.

What I love about basketball is with repetition, you can quickly get better.

Archibald: Indeed, repetition is key to improvement in basketball. Great shooters of today have perfected their craft through relentless practice. As for myself, I focused on attacking the rim because defenders couldn’t contain me. I would spend hours playing against various opponents, trying different moves and strategies. Nowadays, more emphasis is placed on shooting rather than driving to the basket. However, when a player successfully executes a drive, it showcases their dedication to perfecting all aspects of their game.

Crazy that the best 3-point shooter ever played at Davidson, not some big Power 5 school.

Archibald: Stephen Curry’s journey from Davidson College to becoming the greatest three-point shooter of all time is truly remarkable. Initially, Curry was primarily known as a sharpshooter, but over the years, he has developed phenomenal ball handling skills. Currently, he ranks among the top ballhandlers in the game. His ability to create his own shot and navigate the court without the need for screens is truly exceptional. Players like Pete Maravich, Isiah Thomas, and Kyrie Irving possess similar penetrating abilities, but Curry’s shooting prowess is unmatched.

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Although lead guards are scoring more now than ever before, Chris Paul is still the ultimate pass-first quarterback on the floor.

Archibald: Chris Paul’s basketball IQ is truly phenomenal. He possesses an unmatched understanding of the game and utilizes his knowledge to his advantage. His ability to read and exploit angles on the court is remarkable. Despite his age, he still outperforms younger, faster opponents because of his expertise in breaking down defenses. Chris Paul’s passing ability is unrivaled, and during crunch time, he consistently finds ways to dismantle opposing defenses.

Russell Westbrook with the Lakers and James Harden with the Nets have struggled at times this season. What do you think is going on?

Archibald: James Harden is currently adjusting to new teammates after his injury last year and the subsequent changes to his team. He is focusing more on passing the ball and less on scoring, which is a significant shift from his stint with the Houston Rockets. Additionally, he has faced challenges in terms of foul calls and getting into peak physical condition. However, I have no doubts that he will figure things out and regain his scoring prowess.

As for Russell Westbrook, joining the Lakers is a transition that requires some adjustment, particularly while playing alongside LeBron James. Westbrook’s game is phenomenal, but he needs to find his rhythm within the Lakers’ system. It may be beneficial for him to play more minutes with the second unit. We witnessed his dominance with the Washington Wizards, and he has the potential to excel once he finds his groove in Los Angeles.