Point guard is the most important position in basketball; this player is essentially the coach on the court, or the NBA-version of the quarterback. Just like the quarterback, middle-to-good quality point guards can score a fat contract if they can put together a strong season or two. Outside of the “Who is the top player?” debate (which LeBron snatched from Kobe these past two years), there is no NBA-related argument, right now, quite like naming the top point guards.
With a recent infusion of premier talent through the draft in the past few years, getting a unanimous top five, or even top three is hard to do. So it’s my turn to tackle this subject. To put together this list I relied on a mathematical equation that combines… just kidding. I relied on the players’ recent history (especially the last two years), and focused on the present more then the past (example: Steve Nash circa 2005 is clearly not the same as Steve Nash 2014, and the list reflects that). Also, there are a number of different prototypes with point guards. There’s the traditional game-manager type, the scoring point guard, and a variety of players that fit somewhere in between. I value scoring and passing on an equal playing field, but I don’t consider small guards (like Monta Ellis) as point guards. To me, they are shooting guards stuck in a point guard’s body. So, you wont see them on this list.
Let’s take a look at the 20 best point guards in the NBA right now.
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20. STEVE NASH
Blasphemy that Nash is this low? Well, he should consider himself lucky. I very nearly went with Raymond Felton and Jameer Nelson ahead of him. In the end, Nash doesn’t put up the numbers that he used to and is basically a walking toll booth on defense. But he’s still an incredible shooter (barely missing out on 50/40/90 again last year) who can run any offense in the league. He shouldn’t be criticized for only averaging 12.7 points and 6.7 assists last season, with a PER of 16.00, because, really, what did you expect? He was the fourth option behind Kobe, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. A drop in production was expected.
Nash’s prime is long gone, but he’s still a solid point guard who can make shots and play selflessly. You can do a lot worse than that.
19. GORAN DRAGIC
Dragic became one of the most underrated players in the NBA during last season’s second half. Playing for Phoenix, a complete mess right now, the 6-3 point guard was one of the organization’s lone bright spots. The 27-year-old received his first real extended time as a starter last season. It showed early in the year as Dragic struggled in almost every way possible through December and January. But after that? In each of the final three months, he averaged at least 8.5 dimes a night, and upped his scoring average all the way up to 17.4 during April.
Finally, Dragic gets extra points with us because he’s nastier than you think. A fiery competitor, his old feud with Sasha Vujacic isn’t the only bullet in his chamber. Eric Bledsoe may change things a bit with Phoenix’s gameplan, but Dragic is tough enough to earn his 35 minutes a game.
18. RICKY RUBIO
The 22-year-old Spaniard has been in the limelight since going pro in the Euroleague at the age of 16. Boasting career averages of 10.7 ppg and 7.7 apg, he’s shown he has the ability to become a star. He has a lot of positives. He’s arguably one of the top three passers in the NBA, capable of creating spectacular plays out of nowhere. He’s an above-average defender and rebounder for his position (posting career averages of 2.3 steals and 4.1 rebounds) and can get to the bucket.
The negatives? He flat-out cannot shoot the ball from anywhere outside the paint (36 percent from the floor, 32 percent from three). Pro-Rubio supporters can point to J-Kidd as an example of a young point guard who went from terrible to league-average shooters as they grew, and really that’s all Rubio needs to succeed. If he can force defenders to play him tight, he’ll be able to do more than simply orchestrate an offense, and take more command for himself. Only time will tell whether or not he improves to stardom or becomes nothing more than an important role player.
17. JEFF TEAGUE
Teague came into his own last year, improving his production to new highs (14.6 ppg, 7.2 apg) as he stepped into a larger role for the Atlanta Hawks. They must think he is an important part of their rebuilding process, as they decided to match a four-year, $32 million offer sheet from the Bucks. He is also one of only 10 players to increase their scoring output in three-straight seasons.
A quick guard who looks to attack the basket rather than sit out on the perimeter, Teague has improved an area of his game each offseason (midrange jumper, then last year adding a floater to his arsenal). Teague should have an even bigger role this year for the suddenly rebuilding/reloading Hawks, now running a “Spurs East” (both coach and GM are former Spurs employees) which bodes well for Teague seeing as how Tony Parker has improved over the course of his career.
16. JOSE CALDERON
Surprised he’s on the list? You shouldn’t be. The league-leader in three-point percentage last year (46.1) also boasted the sixth-highest assists per game (8.6). Yes, he might have a hard time defending nearly anyone (really, he is an atrocious defender) and yes, he probably didn’t deserve a four-year contract worth a shade under $30 million at the ripe age of 32. But he is one of the league’s best game/floor managers, not to mention the holder of the highest career free throw percentage ever in a season (98.1). He might not be an explosive athlete, but Calderon is a smart vet who rarely makes mistakes.
15. KEMBA WALKER
The 2011 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Walker’s position on the list may surprise some due to him playing for perhaps the worst team in the NBA. But Walker has improved over the course of his two seasons, increasing his scoring (17.7 ppg), assists (5.7) and steals (2.0) while raising his field goal average nearly 7 percent in his second year (still a paltry 42.3) by forcing less shots. While he probably will never be an above-average shooter (he is/was/will be a chucker), the addition of Al Jefferson (the first real post presence in Bobcats history) should relieve some of the scoring pressure from Walker and help him increase his low assist numbers.
If some of the supporting casts improves (Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist, the newest Zeller boy), Walker’s numbers might rise even more. Walker may ultimately be destined for a role as another Monta Ellis, but for now his youth and continued improvements to his game get him the number 15 spot.
14. BRANDON JENNINGS
The first player to skip college basketball and play overseas, Jennings has been playing professionally since he left high school. Four years into his NBA career and now 23, we still don’t know exactly how good Jennings can be. Here’s what we do know: he’s a chucker (routinely shooting in the high 30s percent, only once reaching 40 percent) and a mediocre-to-average three-point shooter statistically (though he did manage to raise his average up to 37.5 percent last year). Is this a result of his proneness to bad shot selection or because he’s been forced to carry a subpar offense every year? We should find out exactly how good Jennings is this year playing for his new team, the Detroit Pistons (who traded Brandon Knight and randoms for him this offseason).
Jennings is one of the quicker guards in the NBA capable of finding a way into the paint (though he struggles to finish). Though his assist numbers have never been high (5.7 for his career, 6.5 last season) they should increase playing with Greg Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond on the other side of the pick-n-rolls. He’s had some major highlights: second-youngest, behind LeBron James, to score 55 points in a game, and put up 36 in the Garden. Jennings is surrounded by the most talented players of his career. Let’s see if he can take the next step this year.
13. TY LAWSON
Since coming into the league back in 2009, Lawson has consistently raised his scoring and assists numbers, as he becomes the leader of the run-and-gun Nuggets (13.2 ppg, 5.2 apg for his career; 16.7 ppg, 6.9 apg last year). Arguably the quickest guard in the league, Lawson has proved over and over he can get to the hoop, and score from downtown. He’s also shown the ability to draw fouls, a must when you stand 5-11 in a game of giants. Will he improve his statistics again and, along with the next person on the list, challenge for a spot in the All-Star Game? That depends on how new coach Brian Shaw (a former guard himself) uses Lawson in his new system. Right now, it looks like Lawson is headed to be the last “almost All-Star” level point guard. That’s not a shot at Lawson… more so a product of playing during a time when there are so many talented point guards developing. Dare I call him the Big K.R.I.T. of the point guard class? Can I go there?
12. DAMIAN LILLARD
We know last year’s Rookie of the Year can ball, and we recently learned he can rap too, but Lillard’s career should be focused on the court, where he’s a part of the next generation of All-Star level point guards. Lillard is looking to build off a rookie year in which he averaged 19.0 ppg and 6.5 apg, all the while playing more minutes than any other player in the NBA. With deep shooting range and a scoring attitude, the next (as is with most young point guards) step is reducing the turnovers (3.0 per game). With an improved supporting cast, including a much deeper bench, we shouldn’t have to see Lillard playing nearly as many minutes this year, which should lead to better efficiency and an uptick in production. D-Lill says he wants to be an All-Star this year, and he might just be one.
11. MIKE CONLEY
When Conley received a five-year, $40 million extension back in 2011, most of the analysts said the Grizzlies overpaid for a league average guard. Looking back, they couldn’t have been more wrong. After seeing Lawson, Curry and Jrue Holiday (to name a few) sign extensions worth $10-plus mil a year, it’s hard to complain with the results. Also, Conley has improved from a game-manager type of lead guard (the “you need to surround him with more talented players to win” type) to a near All-Star level of production.
His best quality is still his defense (finishing in the top three in steals per game the last two years), but he also showed he is a reliable third or fourth option offensively (boosting his scoring to 14.6 ppg) last year. But for Conley to take the next step and not get passed over by say, Damian Lillard, he needs to show he can be even more of the vocal point on offense (scoring more on his own and creating for himself) with Zach Randolph steadily declining. (Which in it’s own right is depressing to watch live. There were numerous times last year where Randolph couldn’t get off the ground enough to elevate for bunny shots, then missing put-back after put-back, slowly morphing into the over-the-hill black hole guy who plays at the Y. Nobody wants the black hole guy on their team.) Conley will have an even bigger responsibility on offense this year, and is one of the keys to Memphis succeeding.
10. JOHN WALL
It pains me to have John Wall this low. I grew up in this era of suburban white players mimicking the “John Wall dance” and nothing would make me happier than to see Wall take the next step into that elite class. He’s so fast, almost too fast for his own good. (At times he gets so far ahead that he jumps to make a play before knowing whether he wants to pass or shoot, and ends up forcing an off-footed floater that almost never falls. It’s like his body is moving faster than his head is.)
To me, he a mix between Rondo and Westbrook (a worse shooter/finisher than Russ, but a more athletic and bigger version of Rondo). He is one of the better defensive point guards, and has the ability to be one of, if not the best defender at that position. He also has a considerable size advantage over most point guards as well. If he doesn’t learn how to shoot, he needs to develop the Andre Miller post-up skills.
With all that being said, he came back from injury last year and upped his point average (18.5) and field goal percentage (over 44). With an improved supporting cast this year in the capital city (Beal and Porter on the wings, Nene down low), Wall has less of a burden offensively. If he learns how to shoot (or shoots less from outside), Wall should make the next step into the elite category. Out of the top 10 on this list, Wall has top-three level potential.
9. JRUE HOLIDAY
Holiday stepped up his production to another level last year as the main scoring option for the suddenly rebuilding Sixers. Holiday improved in every major category last year, achieving career-highs in points, assists, steals and rebounds (17.7, 8.0, 1.6 and 4.2 respectively). He was therefore rewarded for dealing with an awful season by being named an All-Star.
Now, in New Orleans (with Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis making a possibly exciting core going forward), Holiday has weapons around him. A big guard, standing 6-4, Jrue has the ability to be a top-level defender and playmaker in N.O. While he’s been in the league for four whole years now, Holiday is still only 23 and with lots of room to grow even more.
8. STEPHEN CURRY
Nobody looked better (outside of LeBron) than Curry in the playoffs. And nobody made more three-pointers in a season than Curry (ever). What’s even more outstanding is that he shot those threes at 45 percent. Take a moment to really consider that; Curry made nearly half of his attempts from long range, even though he was routinely given no space to operate, and did most of the work on his own, off the dribble. Sure, he is a sub-par defender with slow feet. But the man can flat-out play basketball, and other than Ray Allen, nobody has a prettier shot. Remember this outbreak against the Knicks, he scored 54 in the GARDEN?
Has he reached his peak? I say no because he can improve his driving and assists a little more. Either way, if Curry ups his scoring and assists even more this upcoming season (22.9 ppg, 6.9 apg), he could be a legitimate top five MVP candidate.
7. KYRIE IRVING
Irving gets the nod over Curry because he’s 21 and Curry is 25. What they have in common is a potent one-on-one game (though Irving is not as deadly as Curry because of the shooting prowess), and an atrocious defender acumen. In his second year, Irving was named an All-Star (averaging 22.5 ppg and 5.9 apg) while being the first, second and third scoring option in Cleveland. He already has proved his worth as a scorer from range, and now apparently has his sights on becoming one of the better finishers as well. Oh, he also grabs nearly four rebounds to boot.
Irving seems like the love child of Tony Parker and Curry, only the light version. He can finish and shoot. He has a vast array of floaters and twisting finishes. With the addition of Andrew Bynum (cross your fingers, Cleveland), Irving might have found his pick-n-roll partner in crime. If he ever learns to be league average on defense (I think it’s more of an effort, rather than talent variety), he could overtake a few spots and move into the top five. With an improved supporting cast in Cleveland, Irving is behind the wheel of the metaphorical car driving towards the playoffs.
6. DERON WILLIAMS
A three-time All-Star, D-Will has been overlooked since he entered the league. That’s what happens when you’re compared to Chris Paul. But think about that before you say, “Why is he up so high?” At one point, it was a legitimate argument as to whether or not Paul or Williams was better. (Okay, maybe it was really never legitimate, but people did argue about it! I remember ESPN back in the Deron-Jazz era. I’m not crazy) Anyway, Williams has his negatives: he is not the best defender (talent or effort wise), and he has, in the past, taken plays, games and maybe even a season off. He also reportedly forced out a Hall of Fame coach too.
Yet J-Kidd (coach version) wants D-Will to average double-digit assists again this year. Williams has averaged 17.8 points and 9.0 assists for his career and now with a supporting cast that included Pierce and Garnett to go with an improved Brook Lopez, and whatever is left of Joe Johnson, Williams leads a Brooklyn team looking to unseat the Heat in the East. A big guard (Another point guard with weight issues when he’s unmotivated… why does this keep happening? From now on I’m referring to this as the Baron Davis Syndrome), Williams can score from anywhere, dish out assists and manage a game as well as anyone.
5. RAJON RONDO
There is a great article on Rondo over at the Celticsblog.com where the author differentiates between All-Stars who are cornerstone players (Tim Duncan, Kobe, LeBron) and assets (he says James Harden, Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay). I don’t totally agree with him, but I like his concept. I think the true top 10 “cornerstone” players are superstar players you can’t trade for anyone who isn’t also a cornerstone player. What does that mean? Sadly, it means my favorite player, Carmelo, would fit into my “asset All-Star” category. (You don’t trade cornerstone players for anything, even if he’s leaving. You sit there and take it like Cleveland. Okay, maybe Denver did the right thing, but Carmelo still is not a true cornerstone player.)
Anyway, what does this have to do with Rondo, and when will I have a word limit? Well, Rondo has been the subject of much debate since he started for the original Big Three championship team in 2008. Nobody seems comfortable to say whether he is nearly as good when surrounded by lesser quality players. What we do know is Rondo is a four-time NBA All-Star, and the closest thing to Jason Kidd (in the sense of triple-doubles at least) we have. He is routinely a top-five level performer in both assists (finishing second, first and first the last three years) and steals.
The two-time First Team and Second Team All-Defensive selection clearly impacts the game defensively. He also had the most triple-doubles last year, and has the fourth most of active players. But what will he do when he is asked to score? Rondo, while improved, is still a sub-par shooter (48 percent from the floor but 26 percent from deep for his career) and sometimes has the temperament of a five-year-old. This is the year we find out just how good Rondo is (I assume he will come back fine from injury). Will he carry a young Celtics team on his back? Or will he prove to be a problem child who needs scorers around him to succeed? Time will surely tell.
4. DERRICK ROSE
Do you hate Rose for taking a year off unlike superhuman running back Adrian Peterson (who suffered a torn ACL himself)? In my opinion, no. Basketball is different than football, and Rose’s greatest asset is his phenomenal quickness, speed and agility. Was he probably 100 percent and could have played come playoff time? Sure, but when your mind isn’t ready then you’re more reluctant to make those quick motions, and may end up re-injuring yourself in the process. When your job is based on your body, can you really blame a guy for making sure he’s 100 percent?
Anyway, assuming Rose is healthy, he should be better than ever. A year of shooting should have improved his stroke (where he was already improving his three-pointer) and rumor has it he developed a Tony Parker-esque floater as well. Sure, he gambles a little on defense, but the three-time All-Star and one-time MVP averages around 21.0 ppg, 6.8 apg and 3.8 rpg for his career, and has looked, at times, like he might challenge our No. 1 point guard for the top spot. If he returns to his same physical ability and improves at the same rate offensively, Rose should overtake CP3 in a few years. But for right now, considering no one has seen him play a game in the NBA in nearly 17 months, we can’t rate him any higher than No. 4.
3. RUSSELL WESTBROOK
Three injured point guards in a row! Westbrook, like Rondo, is coming back from injury this year. Assuming he comes back full strength, Russell’s continued improvement is a key for OKC to win it all. After averaging 23.2 ppg, 7.4 apg, 5.2 rpg and 1.8 spg (19.9, 6.9, 4.8 for his career), we finally saw Westbrook get passed the “Is he ruining Durant?” debate after OKC crumbled without him. Is he perfect next to Durant? No, but he’s about as good as you can ask for. A three-time All-Star, Westbrook needs to improve his shooting percentages and decision-making. Assuming he does this, Westbrook could grab a few votes for MVP in the future, as nobody (outside of D-Rose) combines such breathtaking athleticism and playmaking.
2. TONY PARKER
The three main reasons people hate on TP:
1) He plays for the Spurs, which somehow means he must be a product of the Spurs/Duncan culture of winning (which is true with some players, but not Parker)
2) He cheated on the beautiful Eva Longoria
3) He’s French
Those are often the main arguments on message boards and Internet articles. So the main negative, at least basketball-wise, is his career for the dominant Spurs. But the five-time All-Star and three-time All-NBA player has become the reason they continue winning as Duncan’s career comes to an end (and Manu Ginobili as well, if the playoffs are any indication). Parker has averaged around 20 points and seven assists a night the past two years (19.1 ppg, 5.3 apg for his career) and has morphed into a dark horse candidate for MVP votes for parts of the last two seasons (before he gets injured and slows down). Yes, he is injury prone. But he has become a much improved midrange shooter to supplement his floaters and layups, and his passing has become a strength when it was once nearly a weakness.
Remember back to the playoffs last year? How may times did Parker single-handedly keep the Spurs around? Before he was injured it looked like they may pull off the upset. Is he a product of the Spurs system, or simply a master technician, capable of running the system to near perfection? Either way, a healthy Parker means a high rating on this list for at least another year.
1. CHRIS PAUL
The standard that all point guards are judged by. I can spend three pages (I won’t) on Paul, or one sentence (I won’t do that either) simply because he is so dominant. No point guard has come near his level of production, or gotten the most out of his team like Paul has. The reason Doc Rivers is in L.A., heck, the reason the Clippers are relevant in L.A. is because of CP3. (If you don’t think either of those are correct, you haven’t watched enough basketball. Chris Paul gets whatever he wants in L.A. If he said “I want pink uniforms or I’m leaving,” Donald Sterling makes the change. On a related note, Donald Sterling is the worst owner in the NBA.)
Simply put, Paul has been the most efficient point guard the last few years; think back to the N.O. versus L.A. Lakers playoff Series of a few years ago, where a clearly not full strength Paul still punished the Lakers (who were back-to-back champs) over and over. He had a triple-double in three quarters one game, and had 33-14-7 in Game 1!
For his career, Paul has averaged 18.6 ppg, 9.8 apg, 4.4 rpg and 2.4 spg. The six-time All-Star nearly won the MVP award in 2007-2008. He has led the league in assists twice, and steals per game five times. He is also a five-time All-Defensive team selection. At the age of 28, Chris Paul is in his prime and it’s evident in his orchestration of the so-called Lob City Clippers. Paul can beat you pretty much anyway you can think of: off the dribble, driving to the hoop, from downtown. But what makes him so special is that he uses his offensive threat to get everyone else involved in the offense, evident by the career years players often have once they join his team. Right now, there is no better point guard in the NBA than Chris Paul.
What do you think?
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