To survive in today’s NBA, you need a good point guard. You just do. Of the teams that finished last season with the eight best records, six of them either had an All-Star point guard or LeBron James. The other two teams were the Indiana Pacers (who, without the stability that a good point guard brings, fell apart down the stretch) and the Houston Rockets (eliminated in the first round).
The point guard on a basketball court is like the quarterback on the gridiron. He’s the general, the leader, the boss.
The NBA in 2014 is littered with talented point guards. And just like the “Who’s the best quarterback in the NFL?” arguments, few NBA debates spark disagreement like the “Who’s the best point guard in the NBA?” debate does.
Delusional Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant fans notwithstanding, we’re all generally in agreement that James is, hands down, the best basketball player in the world. The point guard debate is a different monster. There are four or five different guys that, depending on whom you ask, can be considered the NBA’s alpha dog point guard.
The good news is that I’m here to finally settle the debate. Here are the NBA’s top 20 point guards.
20. Ricky Rubio
Let’s be clear: Ricky Rubio should be better than the 20th-best point guard in the league. As evidenced by his unmatched passing flair, he has rare talent – talent that most NBA point guards don’t have. He also plays better defense (he averaged 2.3 steals per game last season) than most.
But until Rubio develops a jump shot, he won’t crack the top 15 at the position. He shot only 38 percent from the field last season. 38 percent! I’m pretty sure I could shoot 38 percent!
Actually though, Ricky, work on that jump shot.
MCW had quite the rookie season, for which he was deservedly named the Rookie of the Year. He had per game averages of 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.3 assists, making him only the third player ever (the others being Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson) to average at least 16 points, six rebounds, and six assists as a rookie. And if you’re in the same sentence as Magic and The Big O, you’re probably doing something right.
18. Kemba Walker
It took Kemba a year or two before hitting his NBA stride, but he’s quickly developing into a nice player. He can score, his shot is much better than it was three years ago, he defends well, and he’s steadily improving as a passer.
Michael Jordan is on the verge of creating something special in Charlotte, and Kemba is certainly a reason why.
17. Jrue Holiday
Two years ago, I often made the case that Jrue Holiday was a top-10 point guard. But the 2013-14 season wasn’t kind to Holiday, who played in only 34 games and who saw his numbers across the board drop off. Still, I’m hopeful that he and Anthony Davis can grow into one of the best point guard-center tandems in the NBA.
16. Isaiah Thomas
It’s easy to forget about Isaiah Thomas, who spent his first three seasons in Sacramento before the Phoenix Suns acquired him this summer, but he was quietly really, really good last season. He scored more points than all but three other point guards and still managed to average 6.3 assists per game. Thomas also finished with the fourth-best PER (player efficiency rating) among point guards. His numbers will likely dip in Phoenix, where Goran Dragic owns the reigns to the starting point guard job, but Thomas proved in 2014 that he more than belongs.
15. Jeff Teague
Just ask the Indiana Pacers how lethal Jeff Teague can be when he’s on. At times in their first round series, it looked like Teague was going to single-handedly lead his eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks right past the top-seeded Pacers.
He didn’t, of course, but Teague did show the rest of the world what he’s been showing Atlanta fans for three years: that he’s an explosive talent fully capable of taking over games. Teague, who finished the season with averages of 16.5 points and 6.7 assists per game, got the Hawks within one win of advancing past the Pacers – thanks largely to his 28-point performance in Game 1 and his double-double (22 points, 10 assists) in Game 3. And that was without Al Horford, one of his primary running mates.
Not bad, Jeff Teague. Not bad.
14. Deron Williams
It feels like yesterday that the Deron Williams-Chris Paul comparison was a legitimate one. Man, oh man, have times changed. Today’s Deron Williams is injury-prone, often out of shape, and teetering towards below average status as a starting point guard.
It’s very possible that last season was the beginning of the end for Williams. Aside from his rookie season, he had career-lows in points per game, assists per game, and rebounds per game. He still has time to flip the script, but on an aging team, that time is running out for Williams.
13. Mike Conley
With Marc Gasol out of the lineup for 23 games, Conley took on more of a scoring role last season, and it resulted in the highest scoring average (17.2 points per game) of his career. He’s been one of the few constants on a Grizzlies team that has now made the playoffs in four straight seasons. If nothing else, Conley is a winner.
12. Ty Lawson
Ty Lawson was one of the few bright spots on a Denver Nuggets team that regressed badly last season. After winning 57 games in 2013, the Nuggets won only 36 last year and finished 11th in the Western Conference. But Lawson finished with career-high averages in points (17.6), assists (8.8), and steals (1.7) per game, proving himself more than just a product of George Karl’s system.
11. Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry sort of came out of nowhere last season. At age 27, Lowry – who started all 79 games he appeared in for the Toronto Raptors – had, by a mile, the best season of his career. He was the main cog in Toronto’s 48-win team, leading the Raptors to an Atlantic Division title and to their first playoff appearance in six seasons. He was snubbed from his first All-Star Game, but don’t be shocked if he’s at Madison Square Garden for the midseason exhibition next February.
10. Rajon Rondo
When healthy, I still believe Rajon Rondo, who led the league in assists per game in two of the past three seasons, is capable of being a top-5 point guard. The problem is, of course, that he’s never healthy: Rondo has played just 68 games since the beginning of the 2012-13 season. It’s sad, because there’s nobody I’d rather watch play basketball than Rondo, but it’s possible that he peaked three years ago. Still, stay tuned.
Damian Lillard followed up a very good rookie season in 2013 (he won Rookie of the Year) with arguably a better sophomore season. His assist totals declined, but Lillard scored more, shot better from three, and turned the ball over less.
Behind him and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers were the NBA’s surprise team, winning 54 games and advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals. And it was Lillard’s game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Game 6 that clinched the series – a shot that put him in a group with Michael Jordan, John Stockton, and Ralph Sampson as the only players to make series-clinching buzzer-beaters.
8. Goran Dragic
As a New York Knicks fan, I can attest to just how good of a point guard Goran Dragic is. He torched the Knicks twice, first with a 32-point outburst in November and again in January with a 28-point, 8-assist game.
Dragic, who has long been a nice player, made the jump last season, when he averaged over 20 points per game and shot better than 50 percent from the field and better than 40 percent from three. He also averaged only a hair under six assists per game. His Suns, despite winning 48 games, were left out of the playoffs, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Dragic emerged as a star in 2014.
7. Kyrie Irving
I didn’t love what I saw from Kyrie Irving with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, but let’s keep a few things in mind:
• He was coached by Mike Brown.
• There wasn’t much talent at all around him. Even Anthony Bennett saw decent playing time.
• He was coached by Mike Brown.
We now have two sources of proof that, when surrounded with good players, Irving can significantly elevate his game. He was the All-Star Game MVP last February and was just named the MVP of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, in which Team USA won gold.
To me, it means something that Irving is capable of being the best player on a court full of NBA stars. Of course, it’s especially encouraging because, this season, he’ll get to play alongside two of the NBA’s best: Kevin Love and LeBron James. Watch out for Kyrie in 2015.
6. John Wall
I’ll always remember the 2013-14 NBA season as the season I turned into a John Wall believer. Wall finally developed a three-point shot, finished tied for second in the league in assists, was eighth in steals per game, and was fifth among all point guards in points per game.
With Wall running the point, the future for the Wizards – who made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008 – is as bright as it’s ever been.
5. Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose, to me, is the best point guard in the NBA. He’s the most athletic player in the league, outside of LeBron. He’s the only point guard since 2006 to win MVP. He’s had some of his best games against the league’s other elite point guards.
But because Rose hasn’t seen NBA action in two-and-a-half years (not including the 10 games he played last season), I simply can’t bring myself to put him above the four players who are still to follow. But make no mistake: if Rose proves healthy this season, it won’t take much for him to regain his title as the best point guard in the world – or at least it won’t in my book.
4. Tony Parker
You could argue that, since 2005, Tony Parker has meant more to the success of the San Antonio Spurs than even Tim Duncan. Yes, that’s how good he’s been. I won’t go on a tangent over his statistics, but I will link to them.
Just take a minute to follow that link and appreciate what Parker has done in the past decade. It’s incredible, really. Oh, he’s also a four-time NBA champion, a Finals MVP (in 2007), a six-time All-Star, and a three-time member of the All-NBA Second Team.
I’ve ranked him just fourth on this list, but no active point guard has the track-record or the resume that Parker does.
3. Chris Paul
Yes: Chris Paul, third. The third best point guard in the league, according to me. And, yes, I agree with you: He has the purest point guard skills in the NBA. But Paul is now entering his 10th NBA season and has still yet to play in a Conference Finals.
Even with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and the great Doc Rivers on his side, CP3 couldn’t get past the second round this past May. Sorry, that’s inexcusable. The worst part for Paul? His title window is closing. Starting next spring, he needs to figure out how to be the same All-NBA point guard in the playoffs that he is in the regular season. Until he does that, he can’t crack the top-two at this position.
Hopefully any doubts related to Russell Westbrook’s greatness were erased in May 2013. That’s when, without him, the Thunder lost four straight games to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals and were eliminated in just five games. If nothing else, it proved that Westbrook doesn’t get in Durant’s way, nor does he derail the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Rather, Westbrook propels his team. Sure, Durant is the best player on the Thunder, but Westbrook is the team’s motor. He makes them go. His dynamic style – though it sometimes results in carelessness – creates chaos that opposing defenses hate attempting to defend and usually can’t defend.
And after a 2013-14 regular season in which he missed 36 games, Westbrook was sensational in the playoffs. In three series, he had eight double-doubles, three triple-doubles, six 30-point games, and one 40-point game. Seriously, who does that? Well, Westbrook does.
Stephen Curry can do it all: He’s arguably the best pure shooter the league has seen; he’s (by far) the highest scoring point guard in the NBA; he rebounds well for his position (he was tied for third in rebounding among point guards last season); and, despite his score-first mentality, Curry can distribute – he finished sixth last season in assists per game.
The numbers aside, Curry has a certain swagger to him that I love. He’s always confident but never arrogant. Last month, he deemed himself a better offensive player than LeBron.
Here’s the thing: I believe that Steph believes he’s the best player in the league. I obviously disagree with him, but it’s an attitude that I admire and it’s an attitude that I think could propel him into legitimately challenging LeBron and Durant for the 2014-15 NBA MVP.
Yep, you could say I’m a Stephen Curry fan.
What do you think?
Follow Michael on Twitter at href=”http://twitter.com/https://twitter.com/michaelburke47″>@michaelburke47.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.