DimeMag

The Top 20 Point Guards in the NBA Today

Since the NBA’s decision to outlaw the hand checking that predominated the backcourts in the Jordan years and just after he retired (the second time), the league is now point guard dominant. If you take into account LeBron‘s role on Cleveland and Miami as a point forward, Kobe‘s role as the Lakers’ offensive focal point at the top of the key, point guards have won seven of the last eight MVP awards (obviously Steve Nash and Derrick Rose are the other, more traditional points that have won the league’s top regular season honor). Thankfully for the purposes of this list, off guards and point forwards like James and Kobe aren’t included, but it’s a testament to how important they are that offensive instigators have been at the top of the voting for the league’s highest individual award.

Teams increasingly rely on the point guard if they want to have any chance of competing for a title. If you look at the top teams around the league, they all have something in common: a great point guard (sorry Knicks fans). Defenders are no longer allowed to bully the man they’re guarding with a hand on the thigh, keeping them in front as they’re trying to get the team into an offensive set, and a more free-wheeling offensive league means point guards are in high demand; witness Deron Williams‘ highly-coveted services this offseason even after shooting close to 40 percent from the floor last year in the Nets’ final season in New Jersey.

Because point guard is – arguably – the most important position in the league right now, you’ll forgive us for stating this list is a better translation for team success than any other position featured, and that’s ignoring the fact we’ve asked this important question before. Point guards are that important. With the exception of the aforementioned Williams, the entirety of our top five consists of players whose teams advanced past the first round of the playoffs last year, and Williams new, just over the Hudson and East River, Brooklyn Nets team could join that group this year. If you want to win a title, and don’t have the luxury of a LeBron, you better have a top-flight point guard.

Just as we did last season, we’ll be going position by position this week, giving you the best players at each spot heading into the NBA’s regular season. Stay tuned for the SGs, SGs, PFs and Cs. For now, here are the 20 best point guards in the league today…

*starts the year injured and on the bench.

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20. GEORGE HILL, Indiana Pacers
Ahh yes, the man that replaced Darren Collison in Indiana last season (Collison, truth be told, just missed out on this list), George Hill played his way onto Indiana’s starting lineup last season, but he broke into the NBA consciousness, like Collison, during the ’09-10 season with the Spurs. In their first round playoff series against Dallas that year, he averaged 22.6 points a night, and helped them advance in six games. If he continues to mature as a point guard, and plays as well as he did in the first round against Orlando last year (outplaying Jameer Nelson in five out of six games in the process), his 5-year, $40 million contract signed this offseason could be a bargain. Or it could be an awful investment; it’s tough to see what he can do when he hasn’t really played as a team’s starting point guard for a full 82-game season.

19. JAMEER NELSON, Orlando Magic
Don’t tell Dwight Howard, but the former St. Joseph’s standout isn’t such a bad point guard. Maybe he’s not worth the $25 million deal (over three years) he signed in July, but he’s been an All-Star, he’s been a part of one Finals team and two teams that went deep into the playoffs. He’ll also consistently provide a rebuilding Magic team with 15 points and 6-7 assists a night. Hopefully his final game against Indiana last year, where he dropped 27 points, is a prescient look towards this season, where they’ll need all he can provide as they attempt to rebuild after the Dwightmare finally ended.

18. JEREMY LIN, Houston Rockets
This is tricky. After this year, Lin could drop a bunch of spots or he could rise a lot further. So far in the preseason, he’s been shooting horribly (7-for-28 in 99 minutes of action over four games as of this writing), but it’s preseason after all. He’s still making less money than Devin Harris, and Harris may not even be starting with Jeff Teague playing so well last year in Atlanta. Hopefully for Houston fans, Lin picks up his shooting and runs McHale‘s offense like he did when he took New York (and the world) by storm last season. And look at it this way, when has James Dolan been right about anything? I wouldn’t bet against Lin playing up to the level we saw when the Knicks went on their win streak, and I already miss having him in New York.

17. MIKE CONLEY JR., Memphis Grizzlies
The lefty point for Memphis used to just be known as that guy who played with Oden at OSU. With Oden out of the league these days, Conley’s finally coming into his own on another dangerous Memphis team. With, fingers crossed, a full year of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Conley should see an uptick in his assist numbers. Since O.J. Mayo went to Dallas, he’ll be the primary outside shooter when teams collapse on Gasol/Randolph. Look for another productive year and increases in all offensive categories. The Grizz will need it if they’re going to compete in a loaded Western Conference.

16. STEPHEN CURRY, Golden State Warriors
The ankles are a problem, but the black hole that was Monta Ellis in the other guard spot means Curry will finally be allowed to control the ball full-time. His defense is questionable as is his size (most opposing guards are stronger), but his shot and playmaking ability are top shelf (even though this ranking has him at the middle point of the league’s starting point guards). He could very well make the leap this year, or re-injure another ankle. Time will tell.

15. KYLE LOWRY, Toronto Raptors
Once Houston GM Daryl Morey went all in on acquiring Dwight Howard, Kyle Lowry and his frugal contract were traded to Toronto even though he’s still possibly the best bargain in the league: making only $6 million a year through 2014 while averaging 15 points and seven dimes a night, plus above average defense. If he gets the minutes in Toronto, and all signs point that way, he could very well move up by this time next year.

14. GORAN DRAGIC, Phoenix Suns
It must feel good that Dragic’s lone season in Houston was enough to earn him a return trip to Phoenix in the wake of Nash’s departure. And who wouldn’t love the new contract he signed with Phoenix in July that will pay him $30 million over four years. Look for similar stats as his partner in Houston last year, Kyle Lowry, but with the added bonus that lefties are always trickier to defend. Replacing Nash is another story altogether, but Dragic has the skills to produce enough so that losing Nash won’t seem as awful as it first appeared.

13. RICKY RUBIO, Minnesota Timberwolves*
Might have been a lot higher if he hadn’t torn his ACL in March last year, but he’s come a long way from being basically written off after his last year in Spain. He’s a much better defender than people expected, and of course, his incredible floor vision and effervescent love for the game made last year’s early season ‘Wolves team a must-watch for League Pass subscribers. His shooting dipped as the year went on, but hopefully he’ll come back stronger, having practiced his jumper before getting cleared for contact drills. Minny fans are lucky to have him, but with Love going down, everybody is going to have to wait a little longer before they’re both on the court for the Timberwolves.

12. JRUE HOLIDAY, Philadelphia 76ers
Philly’s young point has shown flashes of brilliance, but saw a decrease in playing time and production in his third season last year. That’s not to castigate Holiday’s skills, but he did have higher averages in points and assists in his second season. With the addition of Andrew Bynum and the loss of Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala (both were guys that sometimes took over point duties from Holiday), he should see an uptick in minutes and with a big man to feed down low he’ll probably improve his assist percentages. This is a watershed year for the former UCLA Bruin: will Holiday make the jump into the top ten, or fall back in the pack with another lackluster drop in production?

11. JOHN WALL, Washington Wizards*
The injury to Wall’s patella over the summer means he’ll miss at least two months, and Nene‘s foot isn’t that much better, which means Washington will again struggle this season – at least in the beginning. This isn’t a good sign for a franchise that needs Wall to step up and be the franchise savior he was touted as coming into the league as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 Draft. Wall didn’t see an improvement in his shooting or his turnovers last season as the Wizards started incredibly slow. This most recent injury is just another setback for one of Dime‘s favorite point guards. We wish Wall a speedy recovery, but he’ll need to show us more than he has in his first two seasons if he wants to again crack the top ten of this list.

10. TY LAWSON, Denver Nuggets
Are you excited to watch the Nuggets this season? You’d be a fool to miss their sprint up and down the court as they’ll attempt to match the run and gun teams of Kiki Vandeweghe lore. The Nuggets’ offensive juggernaut will be rolling again with the speedy Ty Lawson running the point. Sure, Andre Miller might cut into his minutes a tad, but it’s Lawson’s team to run for the most part. Regardless of whether Miller gets some time at point this season, Lawson saw career highs in points and assists last season, without a huge drop in his field goal percentage (a shade under 50 percent) or his 3-point shooting (still over 35 percent, but under his career average of 40), per basketball-reference. He’s gonna be the quarterback of one of the most exciting teams in the league, and a must-watch on anybody’s NBA League Pass.

The Nuggets might be the most explosive team in the league this year with the addition of Iguodala, the re-signing of JeVale McGee, a full season of Danilo Galinari, another year of experience for the “Manimal,” Kennth Faried, and with Karl back as coach. But their success largely rests with UNC alum, Ty Lawson, as he enters his fourth season and facing the expectations that surround an up-coming team like Denver. There is a reason he’s cracked our top 10. Each year in the league he’s seen his PER and Win Share increase, and there’s no reason to doubt that trend will continue.

Whether he can crack the top 5, like he mentioned when we spoke with him back in September, is dependent on his continuing to improve, like he’s done in his first three years in the league. He’s got the speed (good God is he fast–he torched the Lakers in the playoffs last season) and the skills to be a top 5 point in this league, now he just has to go out and follow through on them. There’s no reason to believe he can’t; although, as you’ll see, he’s got some pretty stiff competition ahead of him.

9. BRANDON JENNINGS, Milwaukee Bucks
Look who moved up a spot from last year’s rankings. Brandon Jennings is also looking for a new contract this year as well, with Milwaukee having until Halloween to re-sign, or he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. You can be sure in a league where the point is so important, he may command a max deal or something close to it. So why is Milwaukee dragging their feet, and why isn’t Jennings ranked higher after seeing increases in his points per game, win share, true shooting percentage, effective shooting percentage and PER (he actually had a smaller PER than the man behind on this list), per basketball-reference?

Part of the problem lies in his inability to finish near the rim. For a guard with skills like Jennings, he doesn’t get into the paint as often as you’d like, and doesn’t pass nearly well enough to warrant a max deal. His assist percentage was a measly 26.7 last season. Even though it was an improvement over his mark of 25.9 the year before, it’s still barely half of the next guy on this list. Jennings has to improve his ability to get the ball to Milwaukee’s scorers. With the addition of every statistical bloggers nightmare, Monta Ellis, to the Bucks last season, he has a backcourt mate that has the ability to light it up (or shoot his team out of contention, too). The only question is whether Jennings can add that passing component to his offensive game. He has to increase his shooting percentage when he does get in the lane, but as I mentioned he’s improved his shooting every year.

Like a lot of the point guards on the cusp of the top ten or in the top ten, Jennings needs to prove he belongs here. His future earnings, as well as where he actually plays, depends on it. It’s gonna be fun to watch.

8. STEVE NASH, Los Angeles Lakers
Welp, we’re finally gonna get a chance to see – possibly bloody– Steve Nash in the playoffs again. After consecutive years of the Suns missing out on the postseason, and after the future Hall of Famer and 2-time MVP was saddled with some mediocre and cheap role players in Phoenix (thank “frugal” Suns owner, Robert Sarver, for that), his trade to the Lakers, not to mention Dwight‘s arrival, finally gives Nash another chance at his long coveted title. Even at an age, 38 years young, where most players are talking retirement or sitting on the bench as role players collecting retirement funds, Nash is still among the league’s elite.

Last year, playing with a second-tier cast of teammates, Nash was still able to average a double-double (finishing second, behind Rondo, in assists), while shooting an incredible 53 percent from the field, per basketball-reference. He had his team on the cusp of the playoffs where they were only eliminated in the closing weeks of the break-neck-paced season. Nash did all this while averaging his lowest minute total since his 1999-2000 season in Dallas. Yes, he’s a defensive liability, but he knows where to position himself even if he’s not fast enough to guard most points these days (or really ever). Plus, Dwight will alleviate a lot of defensive shortcomings for all the Lakers this season.

While Nash can no longer play 35 minutes a game, he’s still very effective for 30 minutes, and he’s the first real point guard Kobe Bryant has ever played with. Look for Nash to possibly crack the top five point guards in the league this season, as you can be sure he’ll get more open looks on the perimeter when Dwight draws double-teams. He’ll rack up assists feeding Kobe Bryant when Kobe’s cutting off the ball. He’ll have more offensive options to pass to then he’s ever had in his career (sorry Amar’e and Dirk, but you aren’t Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol). Have we mentioned that he’ll also be able to run the high screen-and-roll with both Dwight AND Pau Gasol, who is still one of the best power forwards in the game?

Look for Nash to again be his efficient best, even if in some decreased playing time. His always scary back will feel a lot better with Kobe, Dwight, Pau and even a scary-svelte Metta World Peace to play when he’s resting on the sidelines. Now let’s all hope Kobe can let Nash do his thing without demanding the ball too much down the stretch. Or, if you’re a Laker hater (and there are plenty of them after their unbelievable offseason), maybe this is the season where Nash finally shows his age. We doubt it though, as Nash continues his macrobiotic diet and otherworldly conditioning. It’s pretty nice to be Steve Nash these days. He deserves it.

7. KYRIE IRVING, Cleveland Cavaliers
Did you see Kyrie Irving embarrass the U.S. Olympic team during tryouts this summer? Uncle Drew made them look silly, so it’s no wonder our nation’s Commander-in-Chief is a fan. Dime has justifiably featured him a lot, whether it was his ubiquitous presence in Cleveland’s top plays last season, the top rookie plays, or simply a top 5 Kyrie Irving tape. He’s going to be a future Olympian, and he’ll make it easier for Cleveland fans to forget about that other guy. He already has a Kobe rivalry brewing and he hasn’t even started his second season! Even though some think he’s due for a reductive sophomore slump, he could very well enter the league’s elite point guard club (membership benefits include a lifetime supply of Isiah Thomas critiques).

In just 30 minutes of action a night during his ROY season, Irving averaged over 18 points, over five assists per game, and over a steal per game, while shooting a highly respectable 47 percent from the field, 40 percent from behind the arc, and over 80 percent from the free throw line. True, he’s only played 51 games as a pro, but his efficiency (his PER of 21.4 is over the 20 threshold for most All-Stars). He also had the 12th highest APER (alternate PER), per Hoopdata. That last stat was 5th-best among all point guards last season. Have we mentioned he’s only played 51 games so far?

Look for Irving to either experience that much overwrought sophomore slump, or possibly climb into the top five on this list if he continues to show the super-efficient stats and playmaking ability he gave us a glimpse of in a strike-shortened 2012 season.

6. DERRICK ROSE, Chicago Bulls*
Derrick Rose is the only guy on this list not named Steve Nash that has an MVP award. So why is he not in our top five? Well, perhaps no player in the league has more people worried about his future. His ACL tear in the opening game of the playoffs against Philadelphia last year led to an outcry of abuse directed towards David Stern. The thinking was that the breakneck pace of the shortened season was somehow at fault, so Stern’s scheduling was to blame. The veracity of that claim is certainly in question, but the feelings of sympathy from around the league for Bulls fans and for Rose showed everyone just how special of a player he’s become. If he was 100 percent entering this season, you can be sure he’d be a lot higher on this list, and possibly in the top spot.

Because his future is so uncertain, and because this is a top point guard list right now, we had to drop him. Please, don’t send too many angry emails to the editors. But even in 39 injury-plagued games during last year’s regular season, Rose still showed why he’s normally a top-three point guard even at less than 100 percent. He still managed to average almost 22 points and a shade under eight dimes per game. His shooting percentages dropped a bit, but we can owe that to his embattled health all season, and his team’s over-reliance on his ability to get into the lane and initiate Chicago’s offense. Without him, the Bulls anemic ability to score was most apparent when Philly upset them in the first round of the playoffs after he went down.

For now, Rose is rehabilitating his knee and the prognosis has him possibly returning some time after February’s All-Star break. There are whispers he could sit out the entirety of the season to ensure Chicago’s future doesn’t risk further exacerbating that knee, but for the hyper-competitive Rose, think again. We believe every NBA fan, no matter what city you’re from, will all rejoice when on some bitterly cold Chicago night in late February or early March, Chicago’s PA announcer utters the words: “And now, entering the game, Derrick ROOOOSSSEEE!” We’ll all be happy when that happens, and you can be sure Rose will be placed once again with the league’s elite at the point position.

5. DERON WILLIAMS, Brooklyn Nets
There are going to be people who will be upset at how low Deron Williams is on this list (I live in Brooklyn, so feel free to hand deliver any hate mail, so I can explain). There was a time, not that long ago, when Deron Williams was – rightfully – considered the equal of the No. 1 player on this list, but after getting dealt from Utah mid-way through the 2011 season, Williams has toiled in Jersey with a smattering of NBA also-rans, and his play has suffered as a result.

Per basketball-reference, Williams has seen almost all of his advanced offensive ratings dip since he’s come to the East Coast. Sure, when you’re playing with the cast he had this past year in New Jersey, some of that’s expected, but Steve Nash still continued to put up excellent numbers with a comparable squad in Phoenix. Now it’s also true that the Nets only looked like a real basketball team last year when Williams was doing his thing, but his dip can’t be overlooked in assessing these current rankings.

The good news for Deron Williams apologists is we’re probably going to see a markedly different player this season after the acquisition of Joe Johnson from Atlanta, the re-signing of Kris Humphries (I know, but still), a healthy Brook Lopez, and the re-signing of Gerald Wallace to hold down the small forward spot while also logging minutes at power forward to spell either Humphris or Lopez. I’m still not sold on the Brooklyn Nets as a serious contender in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but Williams wouldn’t have spurned his hometown Dallas Mavericks if he didn’t think the Nets had a serious chance to at least compete at the level he used to experience with Carlos Boozer, AK-47 and Jerry Sloan in Utah.

If Williams can return to the level of play he achieved as late as 2010-2011, he’ll be right back in the discussion of best point guards in the league, but his dovetailing play the last one and a half years can’t be overlooked when doing these rankings. Thankfully, he’s still right in his prime at only 28 years old, and the excitement of finally playing at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, plus the addition of All-Star Johnson in the backcourt, not to mention Humphries, Lopez, Wallace and sixth man MarShon Brooks means there’s light at the end of the Deron Williams tunnel. Feel free to label me a lunatic for not having him higher on this list, but now he has even more incentive to dominate in the Nets’ inaugural season in Brooklyn.

4. TONY PARKER, San Antonio Spurs
Tony Parker has three NBA titles to his name, and he’s one of the fastest and most unstoppable players in the open court, so why is he never really considered when people talk about the NBA’s top point guards? Part of it has to do with his teammates in San Antonio: Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Part also has to do with everybody’s favorite curmudgeonly, sommelier coach, Gregg Popovich. But maybe it’s just because he’s not a player that makes you say “wow” a lot. That’s a shame because of Parker’s nifty runner in the lane, where he lofts a seemingly off-balance shot while traveling close to full speed past whichever defender is unlucky enough to guard him, just beats the big men rotating over, and drops neatly through the net. It’s one of the most unstoppable plays in the league today.

He’s entering his 12th NBA season, but Parker only turned 30 this past May, and he produced career highs in PER and win share last season despite seeing a drop in his shooting percentage and scoring, per basketball-reference. Before running into the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals last year, Parker and his Spurs teammates had rattled off 20 wins in a row, and a remarkable 31 of their last 33. With their superstar, Duncan, in the last years of his career, and with Manu also on the downside of his prime years, Parker has helped San Antonio remain among the West’s elite. Remember he won an NBA Finals MVP against LeBron’s Cavaliers in 2007 (the only player on this list with an NBA Finals MVP award), so this is not a player to take lightly, regardless of the lack of hype.

Parker might not be as sexy as a lot of guys on this list (although being French probably helps with the ladies – sorry Eva), but he’s Popovich’s go-to player these days on a still upper-tier Spurs team that will again compete for a title. That’s not so bad for a guy that many continue to overlook. If we had to guess, we’d say that Parker wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s easier for him to sneak up on opponents if they’re not paying enough attention.

3. RAJON RONDO, Boston Celtics
Like Westbrook, Rondo had a breakout game in the playoffs where fans sat stunned and marveled at his offensive exploits from the point guard position. Normally, Rondo’s churlish insistence on passing up – sometimes wide-open – layups in favor of a pass out to the wing for a three meant he was loathe to instigate his own offense. But in Game 2 against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, Rondo went off, shooting 16-for-24 from the field on his way to 44 points (like Westbrook’s game in the Finals, Rondo’s team ultimately lost, but both players were the only reason their teams were even in contention in those games). On a big stage, Rondo finally showed that he can score, something that’s been the primary mark against him in the past.

Rondo’s reluctance to simply take what his defender gives him means opposing defenses sag back into the paint and dare Rondo to hurt them from the outside, where his iffy shooting has always been looked upon as the reason he can’t be considered one of the league’s best at point (not to mention some serious problems at the free throw line). It’s a testament to Rondo’s alien-ability to thwart huddled interior defenses that’s helped him attain his place as one of the game’s best point guards without a reliable outside shot. But that shot is improving, and he showed in that Game 2 loss to Miami he can carry this team offensively if he needs to.

Most accounts point to a Boston team this year that’s coalesced behind their mercurial point guard, and the estimable David Aldridge of NBA.com says, “There are rumblings around the league,” from people he respects, that “Boston is going to be very good this year.” That’s mostly because of Rondo and his new role as Boston’s leader. This is no longer Kevin Garnett‘s team or Paul Pierce‘s team. It’s Rajon Rondo’s team, and everyone involved knows they’ll only go as far in the playoffs as Rondo’s play allows. That’s not such a bad thing for Boston fans as their point guard continues to improve and may be set for a year where he reaches the upper echelons of not just his position, but the league in general.

2. RUSSELL WESTBROOK, Oklahoma City Thunder
The night Russell Westbrook went 20-for-33 from the field for 43 points in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, some fans finally became aware that he might be the best point guard in the league. Others had long known he had the competitive drive and talent to be considered one of the best already. How else to explain someone that unstoppable on a stage like the NBA Finals (not to mention, one of the main reasons they even made the Finals)? For a guy that’s suffered through his fair share of criticism in his role as the point guard of the Western Conference’s best example of small-market success, he’s handled the questions about his shot selection and ability to get Kevin Durant the ball with an annoyed “no more questions for you, bro” and a laughable pair of lens-less frames. Russ simply lets his superior play speak for itself, while also improving some of the lesser parts of his game.

His ability to pull-up for a jumper (a shot, it should be noted, that’s impossible to stop because he’s so quick that defenders have to give him room, and he jumps straight-up after stopping on a dime), has turned him into a nightmare for opposing point guards. He’s improved his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage every year he’s been in the league, per basketball-reference. Yes, he still commits too many turnovers (over 3.5 a game, but his turnover percentage – the estimated number of turnovers per 100 possessions – has actually dropped each year he’s been in the league), but that’s a small price to pay for everything else he does for the Thunder. He’s playing more in control these days, and starting to get a feel for when he should attack the rim, and when he should get Durant the ball and drift over to offer another shooter in case Durant is doubled.

Russell Westbrook is far from a perfect basketball player, but that’s what makes him so exciting; he still has so much room to improve, and he’s already this good. He’s only going into his fifth year this season, but we already have him ranked as the second-best player at his position in the league. Think about that the next time you get the urge to pull a Skip Bayless. Yes, he plays with arguably the second-best player in the league in Durant, but he might be the toughest guy in the league to defend one-on-one, and he’s only going to get better.

1. CHRIS PAUL, Los Angeles Clippers
It’s hard to argue against Chris Paul as the best point in the league. A friend of mine, the one who looks eerily similar to Brian Scalabrine, hates Chris Paul’s attitude on the court (it has a lot to do with flopping and complaining to the refs when he should be getting back on defense), but I don’t think there’s a point guard alive that personifies the traits you want in your floor general more than Paul. He possesses, in equal parts: leadership, smarts (he’s the king of the two-for-one at the end of quarters), and skills necessary to hold the championship belt of “best point guard alive.” It wouldn’t be the first time he’s earned that distinction, either.

Last year, Paul led the once-woeful Clippers to second place in the Pacific Division, this after they’d finished fourth the year before. He was second in the league in PER, at 27.02, with only LeBron’s superhuman 31.00 besting him, per Hoopdata. If you look at his stats, he shot almost 48 percent from the field, 37 from three, and 86 percent from the line. For someone that handles the ball as much as Paul, and is basically at the forefront for any opposing defensive scheme, that’s very impressive.

His numbers are almost always exceptional, but Paul’s smarts could be the most important part of his game. His strategy in last season’s lockout-shortened season when back-to-back-to-backs threatened to derail any team that didn’t rest up a bit, was to play the first three quarters of most games on cruise control. He got Blake Griffin involved and tried to get some other Clippers going as well to keep the games close. Then, come crunch-time in the fourth quarter, he started going after his own offense.

Sort of similar to the late ’80s Isiah Thomas, Chris Paul is a point guard that could probably average closer to 30 a night if he really wanted to, but prefers instead to lead his team. He runs his squads like a coach on the floor, but when it comes time to win, he’s going to be there, dropping his pretty elbow jumper, or going all the way to finish at the rim. He vastly improved a Clippers team stuck on the cusp of the lottery during Blake’s rookie season, and featuring a coach, Vinny Del Negro, that’s – shall we say – offensively challenged. Paul is doubly advantageous on that last point. Since Paul is a one-man coach/player able to organize and execute an offense that doesn’t really need a coach, it’s not such a big deal when Vinny inevitably forgets to call out a play from that ubiquitous rolled-up piece of paper he’s always carrying. Chris Paul almost single-handedly kept the Clippers relevant last year before they fell to the dominant Spurs during the Western Semifinals in four straight.

Perhaps you remember the opening game of last year’s playoffs in Memphis when the Clippers entered the fourth quarter down 21 points (what was later extended to a 24-point deficit with a little more than seven minutes left). Paul made sure Vinny Del Negro kept him on the floor, and led one of the most epic comebacks in playoff history, outscoring the Grizzlies 35-13 in that last quarter to go up 1-0 and get in the head of every Grizzlies player for the rest of the hard-fought series. The Clippers would go on to win the series 4-3 after winning the pivotal Game 7, again on the road.

Chris Paul wins basketball games, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another player in the entire league (regardless of position) you’d want leading your basketball team out onto the court. That’s why he’s Dime‘s top point guard entering the 2012-2013 NBA season, and that’s why the Clippers are in contention in a loaded Western Conference, even if Vinny Del Negro is still their coach.

Who do you think is the most overlooked point guard in the NBA?

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